15 Sports Biz Things from the 2016 LEADERS Summit

The annual LEADERS Business Summit brings together top global names from sports business and never fails to deliver tremendous insights into the industry. There are remarks on marketing, sponsorship, emerging technology, growing sports, leadership, and more. While I did not attend the London-based event (which included a stop at Stamford Bridge), following along thanks to Twitter revealed some fantastic lessons and themes from the sports biz leaders of today. Here are 15 of them [it’s a quick read, don’t worry!]:

1. Bleacher Report wants to “own sports moments

Sports is the last bastion of consistent live moments, in many ways, and everyone wants a slice. Social media is peppered with graphics, GIFs, videos, and, uhh, “wit” to try and win the Internet, so to speak, during sports moments. Bleacher Report aims, like many, to be unique, and their CEO Rory Brown particularly pointed out how infusing content with animation has been popular. (Clearly, many others are adopting this, too).
Some great stats were shared, too, including that B/R reaches over 200 million people per month, 90% of whom are mobile users.  Even with such lofty numbers, however, monetization remains a challenge. Attention is a strong currency, but a clear pathway to converting that into big dollars is  still evolving.

2. 200 million fans in China watched the NBA Finals in 2016

Perhaps the theme of major pro sports eyeing China for the next infusion of fans and revenue is nothing new,  but it i more a reality now than ever before. This astounding stat illustrates the huge potential there, in addition to the plans and current activities of European football clubs that were discussed at the Summit. There will be more and more media, marketing, content [including AR And VR], and travel to China among all major pro sports.
Globalization is upon us for real this time and teams and leagues are focused on a genuine presence and path in the country. The intentions to engage corporate partners at the local level abroad was made clear and represents a promising way to wade into all markets in the country. Karen Brady, the Vice Chairman of West Ham United F.C., emphasized the need for teams to better understand the audience sponsors are trying to reach. More knowledge on both sides will help all parties involved. A lesson that can apply to any team or league with fans and corporate partners that transcend its domestic, let alone local, fan base.

3. Esports is growing and it’s making money, too

Peter Moore, Chief Competition Officer for EA Sports, offered some impressive data around esports, particularly those of the EA brand (often not as closely associated with “traditional” esports, like DOTA and CS:GO). There are over 148 million esports fans globally, a compelling stat itself. In 2016, 32 million individuals played FIFA 16, the 2nd most popular game in the US. And, upon reporting the FIFA Ultimate Team earned $654 million in revenue, Moore stated “We see it as the future of competitive gaming.” Esports have been around the world a while, but are new in the sports business world.
It’s hard to say what the future of esports looks like, from a business perspective, but there is little doubt it’s here and more is coming as everyone gets their piece of the pie.

4. 37% of people watching esports do not watch traditional sports.

It is surely statistics like this that widen the eyes of those in sports business. It represents the opportunity to reach and capture a new, significant consumer base. This also suggests that there exists the opportunity to convert current sports fans into consumers of esports, too. Esports is having its moment, no doubt.

5. 15% of fans at Superbowl 50 in San Francisco used Uber to get home

It’s hard to get 15% of any group of over 70,000 fans to do anything, but that was indeed the case for the world’s most popular consumer-driven, mobile taxi service. More and more sports and entertainment venues and teams are partnering with Uber, designing their lots to facilitate and streamline the Uber experience, and building an Uber integration into their mobile apps. Uber is a name that will become increasingly ubiquitous for sports and entertainment, as sports business evolves to forsake some parking revenue in the name of fan experience.

6. Sports and music are perfect partners

Another bedfellow for sports business is music. We’ve long heard the idea that athletes want to be musicians and musicians want to be pro athletes, but the industries are becoming ever more intertwined. Particularly salient was the notion of music for esports, let alone on video games and at sports venues and games, representing a great opportunity for growth, like buying a song on iTunes after hearing it on a video game. Music has always been a soundtrack to our experience of sports and esports, and the business side of it all is now catching up to that consumer connection

7. The Process is working for the Philadelphia 76ers…at least off the court

Despite a poor record with the Sixers losing over 81% of their games the last three seasons, ticket sales have TRIPLED in that time. That is stunning and is powered by an enormous sales staff that is the biggest in pro sports in the US, and possibly the world, and what is described as an “inclusive corporate culture.” Staffs can be scaled and sized up, sure, but unless it’s all effective and operating synergistically, it does more harm than good. “Your brand is the sum of your customers’ experiences,” said Sixers CEO Scott O’Neil. Every fan touch point must be evaluated and optimized. While the team endures growing pains on the court, their sales vehicle is already humming.

8. Aim to reach “modern fans”, not a “young audience”

This was an insight that came from the Bleacher Report panel and others. It’s about keeping up with the fans more so than keeping up with the kids. It is important to be innovative, to enhance fan engagement and experiences, but it’s easy to get seduced with a compulsion to follow and adapt what the youngest generation or a specific age group is doing. It’s interesting and important to consider the difference between targeting the “modern fan” vs. the “young consumer” and how that should dictate strategy for anyone in sports business.

9. The Atlanta Hawks are reaching Millennial fans

While the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks have gotten their share of attention for social media strategy and “Swipe Right (Tinder) Night,” they are studying the fans they want to reach, and reacing to their habits. “There are new opportunities in print,” said Atlanta Hawks Chief Creative Officer, Peter Sorckoff. “Millennials now view print as luxury, in-depth reading time.” There is deep engagement happening and teams can aspire to capture this level of attention.
They are adjusting their marketing budget to adjust to the modern fan, too, with 60-70% of their marketing digital, 50% of which is geared to mobile. There are so many more medium to which attention spans are being diverted and the Hawks are staying nimble to find each and every opportunity to grab that attention.

10. Fans won’t adopt new technology right away

Stop me if you’ve heard this before – the 49ers and Levis Stadium are doing technologically advanced things for their fans at games. Their impressive mobile features boast, among other things, the ability to order concessions and have it delivered to your seat, and instant replays from several angles delivered right to your phone. Such features were touted as key contributors to reinvigorating the live attendance experience for fans. Sean Kundu, Vice President, New Ventures for the 49ers and General Counsel for app maker VenueNext shared some stats that showed adoption can be slow. Now three seasons into in-seat delivery and mobile ordering, Kundu said the 49ers are doing a bit under 1,000 orders per game.
There may be a ceiling to how many mobile orders the venue can handle on a given game day, but it has likely not been reached yet. The camera offerings are something thousands of fans and access via their app. And the 49ers impressively deliver replays of every play within 4 seconds. However, under 1,000 fans access any replay each game. There are certainly some valuable lessons to be taken away about what fans want to do at a game .

11. Of 200,000 attendees at the Ryder Cup, 70% activated their RFID wristbands; with fans mostly in the 45-55y/o age range

This information came from Antonia Beggs, Head of Client Relations for the PGA European Tour, and underscores that, in fact, new technology adoption can be accomplished, if introduced and executed effectively. Even with an older fan demographic, by baking in the RFID experience into beginning the event and into organic experiences they would have at the event, they achieved extraordinary activation numbers from the RFID bands. RFID technology has long performed well at PGA Tour events all over the world for a few years now.

12. Per Steve Cannon, CEO of the AMB Group (Atlanta Falcons, Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta United), there is just 3% overlap between Falcons season ticket holders and Atlanta United season ticket holders.

Definitely a compelling statistic here and underscores the under-served soccer market that justifies Atlanta United becoming Major League Soccer’s newest franchise, beginning play next season. It’s no small secret the number of soccer fans in the US is on a growth trajectory and there may exist a wide swath of fans not overtaken by the country’s other major pro sports. Even in a crowded pro sports market in Atlanta (which has all covered, except for an NHL club), Atlanta United has found new sports fans, excited for futbol.

13. The new Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta will be completely digital allowing complete re-branding for every event it hosts.

The proliferation of multi-purpose venues, coupled with the increasing demand for targeted, digital advertising has brought in this innovation and trend. We’ll no doubt see more of it in the future, on TV and in person. Should the same ads be seen at an NFL game as a Taylor Swift concert, a Disney on Ice performance, and a Korn concert? This is a capability and a space in which all parties will have to (and should want to) evolve with the technology.

14.Maverick Carter on the success of Uninterrupted content: “It’s got to be authentic, insightful, and entertaining.”

LeBron James’s longtime manager and confidant, Maverick Carter, offered up the simple statement underlying the LeBron-backed Uninterrupted platform, which hosts streaming video and other media straight from athletes. Sure, it seems so easy, but many would do well to look at their content and really evaluate whether it meets that criteria. Sure, having raw content directly from athletes is not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it’s important to know and establish standards to which your content should be upheld.

15. Brandon Gayle from Instagram, Head of Global Sports Partnerships for Instagram: “Creative without strategy is just art.”.

I thought this statement was equal parts instructive and insightful, with applications across the board.


Thanks again to LEADERS for putting on another fantastic event. For more information on them, visit their website.

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