IMG and its digital agency Seven League launched their Digital Trends Report 2023, exploring the technologies and developments that will shape the sport media landscape for rightsholders over the next 12 months.
Featuring insights and analysis from Seven League’s global team of experts, the report breaks down the biggest developments in the sector and how they will influence the ways sports brands and organisations engage fans and audiences. This includes Twitter and Meta’s future directions, TikTok’s future as a streaming platform, Apple and Amazon’s latest plays as sport broadcasters, the digital growth of women’s sport and the evolution of Web3 – to name a few.
Seven League CEO, Lewis Wiltshire said “The past year has witnessed the greatest moment of transition the technology sector has seen in a generation. We’re now entering a new era of the internet that embraces streaming, content, communities, data and commercial. In this year’s Digital Trends Report, we bring together all the expertise across Seven League’s vast network, combined with IMG’s global scale and commercial prowess, to offer rightsholders a glimpse into what they should be considering for their digital strategies over the next 12 months.”
Headline predictions from the Digital Trends Report 2023 include:
The Membership Wars: Live sport is a unique driver of audience acquisition and retention, especially when part of a broader subscription bundle – as we’ve seen with Amazon Prime’s NFL Thursday Night Football coverage. Next year, sport is going to see the continued advancement of tech-focused companies such as Amazon, Alphabet and Apple into this space. If rightsholders want to entice this new generation of broadcast partners, they’ll need to show they can bring engaged fan communities to the table.
Web3 becomes useful: While early uses of blockchain technology in sport have revolved around collectibles – next year, innovation will be focused on improving the relationship with fans and customers rather than using these new technologies to solely make money. Looking ahead, we’ll stop using phrases like NFTs and move towards more fan-friendly language. 2023 is also going to see an evolution in the use of web3 technologies in the areas of ticketing, fan engagement, re-sellable digital merchandise and loyalty programmes.
AI and the future of content: 2022 saw the emergence of exciting new forms of computer-generated content, including Marks & Spencer’s very own virtual influencer, Mira. In 2023, we will see the sports industry start to experiment with an exciting new content toolkit to engage audiences that now expect more immersive and interactive entertainment, such as creating immersive 3D content from still images. Look out for hyper-realistic recreations of historical sporting moments from the grainiest archive footage and even alternative commentary formats that marry live data feeds with AI-generated speech from famous voices.
Sport gets serious about communities: This year we’ve seen the evidence that while traditional social media platforms can bring fans closer to the brand, it’s rarely about developing fan-to-fan relationships. Moving forward, sports properties will be looking to established community platforms like Reddit, Discord, WhatsApp and Substack to build that connection with their audience through basic fandom. The opportunities for sports rightsholders to get serious about investing in fan communities have never been broader.
Go big… or go different: From news, music and games to retail and messaging – today’s sport fans have more content at their fingertips than ever. To avoid becoming subsumed by the wealth of content now available across platforms like TikTok, rightsholders have a choice to innovate their content output and go bigger … or go different. Looking forward, sports brands should be giving their creative teams the freedom and permission to trial new content ideas and collaborations that vary from the archive, highlights and analysis-based content we’re used to seeing.
D2C ≠ DIY: Direct-to-consumer strategies have long been seen as the answer to fan engagement. However, next year the sports industry will realise that D2C is not a catch all solution, and while it will remain extremely important to stay connected to understand your customer better – they’ll look to trusted third parties to help them navigate both D2C and B2B business revenues. D2C does not have to mean DIY.
Digital drives women’s sport: The past 12 months have seen great progress in the digital growth of women’s sport – with the launch of athlete-backed media venture TOGETHXR and the first 24-hour streaming service for women, the Women’s Sports Network. Next year, digital will continue to drive the model for women’s sports through the likes of OTT platforms, social channels, NIL rights, and sponsorship from brands seeking a direct connection to specific communities. With the FIFA Women’s World Cup approaching in 2023, the conversation around women’s sport will come to the forefront once again with many brands and stakeholders asking “what more can be done?”
Now in its fifth iteration, Seven League has issued its annual report since 2018. Past editions have successfully predicted the rise and endurance of athlete-owned digital platforms and unpacked the sport industry’s need for a privacy-focused solution in relation to fan engagement, which was ultimately realized with the launch of Apple’s ATT (App Tracking Technology) in 2021- the biggest privacy measure in a generation.