David Dellea is the Head of Sports Business Advisory at PwC. During the summer of 2020, PwC released their survey, “Sports industry: system rebooting.” Dellea chatted with Infront Lab about topics covered in the survey and current trends in sports, including the impact of COVID, transformation in sports, and esports.
The light at the end of the tunnel.
With countless countries pushing forward with vaccination campaigns, some have already begun fantasising about this figurative light at the end of the tunnel. A post-COVID-19 world, where fans return to the stands, real cheers fill stadiums, games aren’t postponed, and we return to normal, albeit a new normal.
While the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on the sports world, with surveys hinting at the market’s annual growth rate slowing over the next three to five years, there are silver linings we shouldn’t ignore.
“People feel that COVID has acted as an accelerator of transformation,” says David Dellea, Head of Sports Business Advisory, PwC.
“Many organisations really suffered a tremendous wake up call, and have understood that it’s now or never in a way,” he adds. “Now is the time to transform the business and be much more assertive in that transformation agenda.”
While COVID-19 did not spark this transformation, it was instrumental in pushing it along.
This is evident in Dellea’s work. While his team experienced a “paralysis” at the beginning of the pandemic, things have accelerated since.
“Clients are tackling the transformation agenda with even more energy than before,” he shares. “People think there will be a greater allocation of funds towards digital transformation and towards overall transformation, and not a reduction of investment in that area.”
The transformations Dellea is speaking of are taking shape in various forms. This includes changes to the “fatigued” pay model and media landscape, the continued rise of digital and a shift towards a more partnership-oriented industry.
Rights owners are now reflecting on and accelerating their investments, learning how to harness technology and shift their business models.
“Just selling rights to the highest bidder and sitting back and waiting, that clearly no longer works,” he tells Infront Lab. “Here technology obviously does play a central role in enabling change.”
One industry that strengthened its position during the pandemic is the gaming industry. There is a growing number of organisations that are recognising the power of mobile gaming, and Dellea believes sports organisations should invest more in this realm.
But there needs to be a shift in mindset. For many, sport isn’t merely a game, it is serious, with traditions and responsibilities. For them, replicating their sport into a lightweight, casual mobile game may feel like they are detracting from the seriousness of the sport. But that doesn't mean it cannot be done.
“There is a lot in my view that sports organisations can do to leverage their intellectual property within the context of mobile games, in a very engaging, light weight and entertaining fashion,” says Dellea.
In December 2020, Infront Lab developed a hyper-casual game for European Handball Federation’s Women’s Euros 2020 tournament. The goal was to attract younger audiences and engage fans who couldn’t attend the games due to COVID-19 restrictions. The game featured all 16 national teams and players scored penalty shots and protected the goal. It attracted more than 14K players, proving how appealing hyper-casual games are to fans of all ages.
The entire gaming industry is booming, and sports entities must capitalise on esports as well.
For many sports organisations the ecosystem already exists, something that others struggle with. Dellea cites football as an example: clubs, associations, regional associations and leagues can be leveraged.
“If they create a competitive ecosystem that is interesting and engaging and you start to really mobilise the players in their pyramid, then it is a massive machinery that is starting to move,” Dellea explains. “If you start to leverage e-football to bring back life to some of the clubs, the minor clubs, then it becomes interesting.”
Esports can act as a motivator to push younger generations to football clubs, representing their clubs in the real and virtual worlds. This will create a “holistic” entertainment experience as related to football.
The past year has not been easy for the sports world, but that does not mean the industry has not developed and improved. The door has been opened to a vast era of transformation, one that was accelerated by the pandemic. Now we must walk through it and embrace it.
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