How digital technology is giving the right boost to eDrive sports organisations
Not only has this proven to be less expensive, but the remote production technology — provided by Tata Communications — has also helped Star Sports, the broadcaster, customise feeds in multiple languages. In fact, Star Sports did the same for the Premier Kabaddi League, a highintensity spectacle for the Indian contact sport, earlier this year.
Digital technologies, disrupters of how companies operate, are proving to be just as disruptive for entities associated with sports.
Behind the scenes, sports franchisees and allied organisations are making systems more efficient and changing the way they interact with fans. This goes beyond on-field technology like the Decision Review System in cricket or goal-line technology in football, opening up opportunities for Indian IT companies.
The Indian sports market has grown to $2.7 billion from $1.3 billion in a span of five years and is set to be worth $10 billion over the next five, industry estimates suggest.
There are now 15 domestic sports leagues in the country, with the biggest -the IPL - valued at over $5 billion. This is opening up avenues for tech firms — from production technology to social media management to in-stadia solutions.
“Sports is a brilliant example to demonstrate what is core to us as a business — digital transformation. Digital transformation is associated with enterprises, but sport is the final frontier,” says Mehul Kapadia, global marketing head at Tata Communications. Tata Communications is working to digitally transform sports across the world, including Formula 1, golf and MotoGP. For instance, it works with organisers of the Formula 1 races as well as individual teams like Mercedes on aspects including use of data from race cars to make realtime decisions, such as whether to make a pit stop or not.
“We help companies grow into different markets…be operationally better, enrich customer experiences. While we do all of this for enterprises, the best way to demonstrate it and bring it alive is sports,” Kapadia said. “This has become a huge area for us, to serve and contribute to the ecosystem, but also make it a capability showcase for the rest of the enterprise world.” Last year, the company worked on 750 sporting events, and expects that to exceed 2,000 this year.
Sport is not only competing with fellow sports for eyeballs but also Over the Top platforms such as Netflix or Facebook, and it has become essential for brands to revamp engagement with fans.
This explains why Facebook and Amazon bid for streaming rights to the English Premier League (EPL) last year. In the US, Major League Baseball has been live streaming its games on Facebook since 2017 and relies heavily on artificial intelligence (AI) and data for match and player insights.
Beyond production and broadcasting, fan engagement is another area where technology firms are starting to see opportunities. Technology services provider HCL Technologies has signed up with EPL club Manchester United to create a digital brand identity.
It launched a new app for the EPL side last year, and is helping the club use the data generated by the app to improve how it interacts with fans and make money off that data. Since it is a digital property, it is possible to customise it for marketers. The club, for instance, can have different brand sponsors for specific sections or properties by geography.
HCL Technologies owns the intellectual property for the digital platform, and will soon offer it to other consumer-facing businesses having similar requirements. The company also plans to expand its sports portfolio using this as a showcase, along with the work done for the Volvo Ocean race last year where it used remote tracking technology to locate and communicate with the boats out at sea.
“So far, technology was used to optimise operations and make the back office efficient. Now it’s about the business interface with customers, going online and impacting how you configure the value chain and reimagine business,” says Ashish Gupta, Corporate Vice President, Head EMEA (Diversified Industries), HCL Technologies.
Since the new app was launched, it has had almost double the stickiness of other popular consumer apps, Gupta says. Microsoft has created a similar app for Spain’s national football league, La Liga. Infosys, too, has been working with the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), Australian Open and Roland-Garros on digital insights-based initiatives.
The Bengaluru-based IT services provider has been mining data from these tennis associations to create new products. This includes Infosys Second Screen for the ATP, which produces real-time Englishlanguage commentary based on live scores and an immersive virtual reality experience for the Australian Open, watching the match in 3D. The ATP said traffic increased 27% on the stats section of its website after some of these innovations were rolled out.
“If tennis has to remain exciting for fans, it has to embrace technology and offer experiences on-demand and on the go,” says Sumit Virmani, Head-Marketing at Infosys. “This is where a rapid embrace of digital technologies can go a long way in reinventing the sports viewing experience and ensure fan stickiness.” The Indian Institute of Information Technology-Hyderabad, too, has come up with a technology to create player heat maps, which Star Sports has used for the Indian Badminton League. It is now in talks to extend this to other sports as well. One big reason driving digital transformation in sports is how consumption patterns are changing.
The spurt in mobile ownership and cheap data access is changing how consumers are viewing sports. The recently concluded IPL had 462 million viewers on different channels across the Star bouquet.
In fact, the company’s OTT platform Hotstar, recorded a 74% increase in viewership over the last year, with over 300 million viewers and 19.6 million concurrent viewers for the finals.
With sport viewership no longer restricted by geography, technology providers have to ensure that the solutions they create can be accessed across devices and internet connections, like how HCL Tech has done for Manchester United’s 659 million-strong fan base.
“Tennis is a global sport and is very popular, especially across all key markets that Infosys operates in. The fan profile of a grand slam tennis tournament also has a strong overlap with our target audience,” says Virmani of Infosys. “Tennis as a sport also presented a great opportunity to demonstrate the Infosys expertise in digital technologies to re-imagine the tennis experience for players, coaches and most importantly, a billion fans the world over.”
Yet, these are early days for digital transformation in sports. Most companies have just scratched the tip of a rapidly growing market. Wipro has a solution that caters to OTT content providers, while Tech Mahindra has a significant presence in both in-stadia and digital transformation solutions.
While exact figures for technology spends in sports aren’t available, the North American sports market will be worth over $78.5 billion by 2021, growing 47% in 10 years, according to a PwC report. Most sports cater to a global audience spread across Asia, Africa and South America. Meanwhile, India is projected to grow at 15% against the global average of 5%, according to some estimates. With e-sports becoming more popular and sporting franchisees going increasingly global, industry watchers expect digital transformation initiatives to get a further boost.