Observed

  • World Wrestling Entertainment’s YouTube account has 75 million subscribers, dwarfing the NFL, NBA, and NHL combined.
  • Major League Baseball revenue went from $10.5 billion in 2019 to about $4 billion in 2020.
  • Women’s NCAA Basketball Sweet 16 viewership was up 66% in 2020 from 2019. 4.1 million viewers tuned in to the finals.
  • The NBA’s Golden State Warriors currently have 2.6 million TikTok followers and are now valued at around $5.5 billion.
  • Sports companies (and stars) like the speed and flexibility of special purpose acquisition companies; there’ve been 61 sports-related SPACs in Q1 2021.

Formula 1 racing is on track to have a billion fans in 2022, and the global success of Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive series was mentioned as part of the reason why. 77% of new fans fall into the 16-35 age demo.

Drive to Survive cracked the code with a sport that, charitably speaking, can be hard to follow in the U.S. Few American stars, byzantine regulations, and a racing schedule that spans about 500 time zones don’t help. The show focuses on the narratives first, hoping personal viewer investment in racing would follow (see: Friday Night Lights, 2006-2011). 

This has led to a flood of new F1 sponsors, and closer examination from other sports with declining viewership. Agents are studying the brand strategy of drivers like Lewis Hamilton, who spends most of his sporting life under a helmet, and the rest of his life with 21.8 million Instagram followers and endorsement deals with Mercedes-Benz, Sony, BOSE, Bell Helmets, etc. So, more IP! More compelling stories! Your time is now, pro racquetball!

Sports Innovation Lab, a technology-powered market research firm, gave a sharp talk on what teams can do to be truly innovative, and soccer/football dominates the list of 25 most innovative teams in the world. 

What should be included in every team’s innovation strategy? To start, you should launch your own OTT service, get a sports betting partner, and be willing to invest in startup incubators. Also, get moving on building a mixed-use district around your venue (easy!). Getting your brand colors everywhere helps too, from partner clubs to youth development clinics to global merchandising partnerships.

The number one innovative sports franchise was surprising (though it makes sense). Download the full report here.

Amazon just spent 11 billion dollars to re-up streaming rights for NFL Thursday night football games. 240 countries, 150 million subscribers (and counting), available on almost every device … Amazon’s totality looms over conversations about future broadcast revenue like a dinosaur-killing meteor.

So, evolution beckons. Crisp video feeds, a variety of audio commentary options for games, and a willingness to upend staid broadcast norms are only part of it. Amazon simulcasts Thursday night football (and Premier League soccer games, and a ton of other stuff) on Twitch, which has become an ideal playground to try out new ideas. Twitch’s use of influencers over the last couple of years is particularly interesting, as it allows individual streamers to commentate on games, leveraging their fan bases.

That meteor definitely has e-commerce in mind, as Amazon 1000% sees sports as part of its push to increase and retain Prime members, and thus get you deeper into the Prime ecosystem.

Yang is the NYC mayoral frontrunner and was in full campaign mode here. A numbers conversation with Nate Silver is his natural environment. Yang made the point that it sometimes feels like sports embraces data-driven decision-making involving billions of people and dollars in ways the government hasn’t even come close to.

As always, he’s quick with the catchy stats: NYC has lost 88% of commuters, and 96% of tourists. 11% of New Yorkers don’t have a bank account. He’s thinking about commuter incentives to get people back into office and retail spaces, versus deterrents like more bridge and tunnel tolls.

He was also very candid about how justifiably disillusioned he was with the Knicks after they let Jeremy Lin go, and how Madison Square Garden’s sweetheart $555 million property tax exemption (MSG hasn’t paid property tax since 1982) should be revisited.

NEOU’s spirited Digitalization of Digital Fitness talk dropped some chunky stats:

  • Global yearly spend on health and wellness: $600 billion.
  • Since March 2020 investors have poured $1 billion into digital and connected fitness companies.
  • Health and fitness app downloads increased by 47% in Q2 2020.
  • Total health and wellness industry worth: 4.2 trillion.

“Creating community” is the goal du jour for all home fitness brands, with Peloton leading the pack (read the Elle article “Inside The Peloverse”). While the explosion of home workouts altered gym membership, and spare bedroom furniture layouts, I’ll be curious to see how things like yoga will shake out in a couple of years. There’s a fine line between convenience and cabin fever, and there’s a definite thirst to get back to some version of the in-person group experience.

One of the buzzier sessions featured Daryl Morey, Mark Cuban, and the minds behind Top Shot, the fruit of an NBA/Dapper Labs partnership that allows fans to purchase and sell video clips (called moments) in an online marketplace. Dapper Labs is the evil genius behind CryptoKitties.

Still murky on what NFTs are exactly? This Sports Illustrated article helped, as did this Yahoo! Sports piece.

It’s all so easy to jump into. Too easy, maybe. As Cuban said, “You can buy a moment like you can buy socks on Amazon.” A ton of people are buying, a ton of moments are being generated, a lot of it is built using the Ethereum blockchain, the worth of moments is wildly varying, and it absolutely feels like the Wild West. 

Top Shot’s done $500 million in sales, it just raised $305 million in funding, and it has 800,000 accounts (and rising fast). In February a Lebron James dunk moment sold for $208,000.

Many sports venues have seen massive investment and upgrades to HVAC and sanitation systems — cleaner air, more sanitizer and disinfectant, and touchless controls in bathrooms — safety measures that are not going away once everybody’s vaccinated.

The New Sports Fan: Innovation and Data discussion went into how older fans in particular want to know that things are safe and that there will be enforcement of rules if somebody is, say, maskless or unvaccinated in their section. Ditto for younger fans, who already prefer open-air, open-plan experiences. 

It’ll be an interesting collision of values. Teams don’t want to alienate any potential customer, but they also don’t want the risk, hassle, or liability of people who flaunt the rules. Fervent fans who want to go back to the old days, with beer and personal freedoms in hand, will have to begrudgingly get in line.

Less certain is how exactly your data will be leveraged down the road as NBA arenas screen attendees using CLEAR Health Pass, and if it will indeed be used for “touchless ticketing, biometric payments and age validation.”

Safety and “seamless user experiences” are outward drivers of cashless, ticketless transactions, moving forward the idea of a completely trackable customer journey by light-years.

One-click food, beverage, and merchandise orders also provide a massive boost to a team’s real-time data collection. All of your pre-, post-, and in-game behaviors will now be far easier to track, aggregate, extrapolate data from, then leverage. 

Don’t expect too much overt language about selling your data, though. All your tracking info might be collected with some fine print like, “From time to time we share info with trusted partners in order to provide you with the best possible fan experience.”