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Top-tier sports will be more immersive and personalized

Artificial intelligence will take over more tasks in top-tier sports broadcasting, making the viewing experience more personalized and increasingly immersive. New technologies and societal changes have substantially changed sports fans’ expectations and demands on sports content. In our new study, we show how audiences will consume top-tier sports content in the future—and the challenges this shift in behavior could pose to sports media and its production.

In 2020, we watched from our couches as the world’s biggest athletes competed in empty stadiums. We were removed from the action and even the socialization that accompanied our sports consumption. It was our reality and became the “new normal”; society changed, and technology changed to support it. As the world opens again, there are many questions to be answered:

How do these shifts in consumer behavior, driven by new technological advances and societal changes, impact the broader media and entertainment industry? How must top-tier sports media products adapt to meet the next generation’s needs – without losing existing fans? Will we continue to consume live sports and, more importantly, socialize in a stadium in the future? Or will we meet with friends in the metaverse – dialing in from home using virtual reality headsets? Will we continue to watch a relatively standardized tv product? Or will we be able to direct it ourselves, selecting (camera) perspectives and commentary options, perhaps even supported by artificial intelligence automatically catering to all our needs and preferences? And what effects do these changes have on the production of a sporting event?

Two Delphi studies, 25 projections, and 99 experts

To get answers to these critical questions, we asked 99 experts to envision the near future of the top-tier sports product and its production in 2030. More specifically, using the well-established Delphi approach, our first expert panel assessed 14 projections on the future of the top-tier sports product, while – at the same time – a second expert panel evaluated 11 projections on the production of top-tier sports. To ensure a holistic perspective, we put together an interdisciplinary panel of experts, including representatives working for broadcasters and (sports) producers, sports associations, clubs, and leagues, media companies, sports consulting agencies, tech companies, as well as universities. Between February and April 2022, each of the 99 experts determined the expected likelihood of a given projection, the desirability of its occurrence, and the potential impact in the case of occurrence.

The top-tier sports product will be more immersive and increasingly personalized to meet future demands

From the first Delphi study, we see product experts expect future audiences to prefer participative top-tier sports over passive production, with an importance placed on the addition of more immersive features and effectively moving closer to the action. As such, future consumers might increasingly augment their feeds digitally, most notably by adding (and switching between) digital overlays, while also routinely choosing their preferred camera angles – including an athlete’s, a head coach’s, or referee’s Point of View (PoV) – and even the color commentator. Interestingly, this increasing personalization does not stop at the sidelines, as our experts expect audiences not to mind watching ads as long as advertisers tailor those ads to their preferences and needs.

Notably, while our product experts predict that audiences, and especially next-generation audiences, will prefer an active and immersive top-tier sports product, supplemented by serialized spin-offs, most audiences will not experience such a product in a strict virtual environment – at least not as early as 2030. This assessment is mostly in line with the uncertainty about whether most audiences will own sport-related digital collectibles, despite the recent hype around Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). In contrast, our experts envision an increase in mobile consumption and more demand for 9:16 formats on the go (e.g., vertical clips, behind-goal cameras, PoV).

Turning to our second Delphi study, our production experts envision a similar future of immersion and personalization like the product experts. They expect the production of top-tier sports content to allow for personalized virtual advertising and the integration of specific demands from participatory audiences, primarily to increase the engagement of younger audiences. Somewhat similarly, with audiences from the mobile-only generation becoming more and more important commercially, producers might also gear more toward mobile consumption, though not exclusively.

Artificial intelligence is likely to play an essential role in supporting consumers and producers alike

In the future, sports content consumers will face the challenge of making the most of their experience. Accordingly, our experts repeatedly stressed the importance of algorithms in supporting audiences. Even though audiences are likely to indulge (and engage with) sports content featuring constantly visible live data, an algorithm, and customizable overlays might help them separate the wheat from the chaff seamlessly or compile preference-based highlights, among others. Our experts also expect artificial intelligence to support content production units, most notably by automatically navigating cameras using artificial intelligence solutions or planning the logistics more efficiently; that might even lead to fully automatized sports productions, though beyond 2030. Against this background, it does not seem very surprising that our production experts believe that the production of top-tier sports content is possibly remote, meaning wholly off-venue and location-independent, and exclusively IP-based. As a consequence, production will emit significantly less carbon dioxide by 2030.

Experts stress potential differences between fan groups, sports, and the competitions within

We invited a wide range of international experts with deep knowledge of the business of sports, such as American football, basketball, and cycling, as well as of football leagues beyond the Bundesliga, to explore the future of top-tier sports. Our product and production experts routinely

stressed geographical and generational differences, arguing that both foreign and younger audiences, might be more open to interacting with a sport’s product digitally, and between sports. While nearly all predict a more personalized product, regardless of sport, our experts agree that personalization might be more natural in sports such as Formula 1 or golf, where audiences cannot follow all athletes simultaneously, like in football or tennis. Similarly, audiences might want to rather explore 9:16 feeds in these sports, despite the exciting idea of watching a Bundesliga match through the eyes of Jude Bellingham, Jamal Musiala, or Christopher Nkunku while listening to conversations with the referee, their coach, and fellow teammates.

Tips for Practitioners

  • Put your audience at the center of product design: Respond to consumers' desire for immersive and personalized top-level sports content by offering customizable products that include new, immersive options such as different camera perspectives and commentary.
  • Use AI to your advantage: By using AI, content should be able to be produced more autonomously, efficiently, and environmentally friendly, while providing consumers with the increasingly personalized experience they want. Therefore, start looking today at what skills and talents will be needed in your organization in the future to effectively manage AI and its application.
  • Continuously experiment with new technologies: It is increasingly important to test new technologies (such as virtual reality) and gradually integrate them into your core product, even if they are still waiting for their breakthrough in the mass market. In this way, customer needs can be anticipated and met as soon as they become noticeable in the market.

Download the full report here.