Looking ahead to 2024 and the trends to watch out for in Sport
Bambos Eracleous, Partner for Sports, Media & Entertainment, on the big themes sweeping sport, from the changing nature of fandom to the rise of the ‘experience economy’.
There’s a tendency at this time of the year to look back and review the last 12 months and/or predict what will happen in the future. Our world is all about looking ahead rather than behind, but sometimes I feel I should give up trying to predict anything anymore. Maybe that can be a New Year’s resolution.
That said, I’m in a fortunate position that I get to see and hear things on a whole range of fronts, from various interesting organisations and individuals. I’ve also been lucky enough to work on some great roles this year, and a changing/transforming landscape is key to almost every interim assignment that I’m invited to work on
With that in mind, here are some themes that I think will continue to grow and develop within the world of sport during 2024. Whether you’re an organisation/hiring-manager looking to bring on an interim executive to work on these challenges or a prospective candidate keeping an eye-out for what opportunities may arise, hopefully they make for interesting reading and provide food-for-thought.
The sports fan will continue to evolve as the sports market continues to grow
The global sports market is predicted to be worth over $623 billion by 2027 – that’s five times the revenue of the global film industry. Experiences need to be created in and around sports that capture the attention of all types of fans; this means more innovation and modernisation to generate the most value by reaching the greatest amount of people.
Achieving this means creating entertainment, cultural relevance and bonds between fans and clubs, players and athletes. Content and ‘moments’ must engage fans beyond the action, goals, touchdowns etc.
This is necessary because of the move away from broadcast fixtures and appointment viewing to engaging with sport via a choice of different platforms – social media, memes, documentaries, gaming, podcasting and betting. We know that the new generation of fan will engage with sport on their own terms. They choose who to watch, when to watch and how to watch them; their fandom is driven by their interests and needs rather than where they live and who/what their family/friends follow and support.
Any creative and cultural blind spot could therefore become a major missed opportunity commercially speaking.
Roles that I’ve seen and worked on this year that you should watch out for in this area during 2024: Creative Director, Chief Content Officer and opportunities focussed on Audience Growth and Fan Engagement
What does this mean for TV rights and sports broadcasters?
As fan behaviours and audiences change, they will look to non-traditional channels to consume sports content (on-demand, direct-to-consumer channels, highlights on social media etc). The Premier League may be seen as an outlier given its new record £6.7bn TV rights deal with Sky and TNT Sports, although it should be noted that this represents a lower price per game than the previous deal.
What we are seeing is not fewer fans, but a shift in fan engagement. Forward thinking leagues and brands will adapt to this new reality and the rise of the ‘on-demand’ fan. One aspect of this could entail partnering more with fans to co-author storylines rather than asking them to just consume a league or sports brand’s content
It’s interesting that Amazon stepped away from the EPL rights in the UK against a backdrop of stagnating subscription TV revenues in Western Europe. This situation has had an impact on Europe’s Big Five football leagues as broadcasters have been forced to take a tougher negotiating stance. Aurelio De Laurentiis, owner of current Italian league champions Napoli, slammed the recent Serie A broadcast rights deal as a “total defeat”. As for those media owners who have secured broadcast rights, how will they maximise their ROI through pricing strategies, partnerships and sales?
Roles that I’ve seen and worked on this year that you should watch out for in this area during 2024: Chief Commercial Officers and roles focused on Advertising Sales, Partnerships and Joint Ventures
Sport is moving more towards the world of Media & Entertainment
Given the way we now consume sport (see above), this is a natural evolution. Sport is no longer part of its own world; rather, it is part of the wider Media & Entertainment ecosystem, a key component of broader cultural entertainment.
Sport will need to continue to move and develop like music, TV and film. Clubs will become Media & Entertainment companies – some are already defining themselves as such and, in a possibility I explored in a recent piece, it will be intriguing to see whether more will hire creative directors.
Athletes and teams are becoming storytellers whilst the separate worlds of entertainment continue to mesh into one. How many Taylor Swift fans have become interested in the NFL this year because of her relationship with Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce?
Sport will continue to hire more people from the wider Media & Entertainment industry to recalibrate how it is run and consumed by both avid and casual fans. A lot of my work over the last 12 months, particularly around the launch of new studios and direct-to-consumer platforms, has seen me place people from the world of Media & Entertainment into Sport.
Roles that I’ve seen and worked on this year that you should watch out for in this area during 2024 – Head of Studios, Chief Content Officer, Product Directors
The ‘experience economy’ of sport
Fans want more from their in-stadium experience as well as their ‘game week’ (i.e. the content that keeps them engaged in the days between the games/action). We’ve already seen new stadiums being built as multi-purpose venues, hosting events other than just sport. The next phase is to create entertainment hubs/zones designed to keep fans engaged with the sport/club whilst doing something different.
In July, Manchester City gained planning permission for a year-round entertainment and leisure destination at the Etihad Stadium, while EPL rivals Tottenham Hotspur are next year set to open a new karting experience below their stadium in partnership with F1
With sports organisations becoming Media & Entertainment companies, and year-round leisure destinations, will one seize the title of the Disney of Sport?
The impact of the Las Vegas Sphere is a glimpse of the future. Stadiums and venues won’t just be multi-purpose, they will also be smart and often architecturally significant. The building/infrastructure projects won’t stop there – expect new state of the art training grounds as well as stadiums specifically built for women’s sport. Brighton & Hove Albion are in the vanguard here, having received the go-ahead in principle to find a site for a stadium purpose-built for women’s football.
Moreover, as this excellent piece in Forbes observes, Gen Z and rich consumers are re-shaping the experience economy and are drawn to both uniqueness and, for those with children, edutainment.
Roles that I’ve seen and worked on this year that you should watch out for in this area during 2024: Property & Infrastructure Directors, Programme Directors for Infrastructure Projects (new stadiums, training grounds), Directors of Venues & Stadiums
AI and Tech will accelerate new ways to engage with fans, as well as give rise to the super coach!
For a few months this year all anyone wanted to talk about was AI and the impact it will have on their business and job! Don’t be afraid as the advantages of being at the leading edge of innovation could be huge – just think about the difference it will make in areas ranging from the commercial to fan engagement and personalised content/journeys.
Sport still has a long way to go to use all the data it can capture effectively from a commercial perspective. It will also be fascinating to see how coaching teams will use AI for a competitive edge – scouting, training, recovery from injury, tactics and in-game management could all be super-charged.
Roles that I’ve seen and worked on this year that you should watch out for in this area during 2024 – AI Programme Directors; Chief Data Officers
If you would like to discuss any of the above in more detail, Bambos can be reached on 020 7529 1038 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On behalf of everyone at Odgers Interim, have a great Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!