One of the key aspects of the report Sports industry: time to refocus? (PwC’s Sports Survey 2019) refers to innovation in the sector. “The industry is waking up (and playing catch up)”. Sports organisations need to innovate in order to address changing consumer behaviour and compete against new forms of entertainment and any other form of leisure. According to the survey, nearly 94% of the sports leaders consider the ability of a sports organisation to innovate as either important (15%) or very important (79%). However, just 47% are implementing concrete innovation strategies.
PwC’s report suggests that the right combination of enabling structures, processes and people to make the innovation happen and remain relevant in an increasingly competitive and disrupted industry should be the focus of sports businesses. To go deeper on the topic, we have interviewed some leaders who emerged from an Audiense Insights report we made on the audience of Leaders Week, an event held earlier this month in London.
In the opinion of Lewis Wiltshire, consulting partner at digital sport consultancy Seven League, for true innovation to happen you need all levels of an organisation to buy into a shared vision and mission. “When there is an agreed and shared vision and mission, and when all levels of the business are aligned behind what needs to be done, including the c-suite, you have created a structure where innovation is possible. However, you still need great creative ideas!”, says Wiltshire.
The customer experience as a top priority is mentioned by Bryan Bedford, CEO and managing director at Bedford Agency. “We see customer experience being the ‘battleground’ for innovation and engagement that is driving a reference and recommendation model that is leading to growth for our business,” according to Bedford.
Russell Scibetti, CMO & president, KPI at Kore Software, states that “our systems can relieve a lot of technical burdens from the team and provide them a reliable, actionable system that aggregates all fan and corporate data into one place. This allows organizations to focus their internal staff less on the technical elements and more on the innovation that can be driven through the proper use of data.”
Visibility, accuracy, and consistency are critical to build a culture that can trust and properly leverage data across the board, defends Scibetti. “The same way we know we should personalize content for fans, we should personalize insights at scale for our internal stakeholders,” he says.
According to the PwC’s survey, initiatives related to engagement came out clearly ahead of initiatives related to changing organisational structures. “This confirms that sports organisations need to bolster their ability to engage and actively listen to stakeholders if they are to master innovation,” states the report.
Wiltshire, from Seven League, mentioned the FIFA Fan Movement as an example of engagement initiative as it builds engagement, transparency and interaction between FIFA and football fans all over the world. “It currently stands at more than 1000 fans in 70+ countries in the Fan Movement. This year, fans appeared on stage at the FIFA Women's Football Convention for the first time ever. Thanks to some visionary thinkers within FIFA, fans are empowered and that is changing perceptions of FIFA from the inside out.”
Returning to PwC's report, working with external partners is another essential channel to implement innovation and transformation which is recognised by sports leaders as well (75.7% rated this aspect as either important or very important). Working with partners does not necessarily mean sponsors, however.
Russell Scibetti says that third party partners and agencies tend to work across a wide landscape of sports organisations being exposed to a broad range of challenges and solutions. “We can bring that knowledge directly to our customers, or almost play ‘matchmaker’ to allow our customers to learn from one another,” comments Scibetti, who states the importance of having a way to “step back” and see things from different perspectives, which is challenging when you are consumed with day to day responsibilities. “Use those outside relationships – fans, agencies, partners – to be an active part of the problem solving process,” he suggests.
“Agencies are B2B businesses, shielded from the public glare which can discourage sports organisations from innovation,” says Lewis Wiltshire, who defends the build of strategic roadmaps with the client as a collaborative and transparent process, “rather than going into a dark room and emerging six weeks later with a completed strategy that the client may not recognise”.
Deeper, continuous and iterative customer insights are an absolute key capability in coming up with innovative ideas and have to be handled as critical to the success of the innovation process, states PwC’s Sports Survey 2019.