Observations from Leaders Week 2017


That our WPP leader Sir Martin Sorrell’s interview to open the 2017 Leaders Sports Business Summit was dominated by a variety of tech giants – Amazon, Apple and Alibaba…and they’re just the ones beginning with ‘A’ – shows just how much transformation is taking place across the digital sports landscape before our very eyes.

Indeed, a recurring theme of the week was the challenges – and more importantly the opportunities – digital disruption gives sports organisations across areas such as broadcast, sponsorship and the stadium experience.

As a data-driven sports marketing agency working exclusively with rights-holders, we’re clear that using customer data and insight to understand audiences should inform strategies across all revenue streams. And we’re constantly taking inspiration from different industries – so we listened closely for examples across Leaders Week.

Here are some of our observations:


In the broadcast space, content creators and publishers have more options than ever to reach their target audience. So it’s those who understand what content works, and where and how audiences are consuming it, who can make the smartest decisions in this new landscape.

John Ridding, CEO of the Financial Times, explained how an established business uses insight from customer data to grow its loyal subscriber base, which the FT is doing at present by a double-digit percentage annually. A similar ethos underpins the growth of sports OTT platforms such as NFL Game Pass Europe and Tennis TV.

“Our focus is on making our readers become more loyal,” Ridding said. “It’s a virtuous circle. The more data we have on our subscribers, the more we understand trends around how they consume content, and the more able we are to push them through the [subscriber] funnel.”

Phil Lynch, Manchester United’s CEO of Media, also discussed how broadcast consumption data can help OTT platforms deliver a more personalised, local voice. And it doesn’t stop there, as intelligent use of live viewing data can ensure fans see more of the big moments. An example given that we’ve seen in action successfully ourselves was sending push notifications to a fan who isn’t watching live – and thereby taking them instantly into a key moment which the rights-holder knows (through customer data analysis) the fan won’t want to miss.


The ‘traditional’ sports sponsorship model is under pressure – it’s a recurring theme in conversations we have with clients and it was a message that came through repeatedly during Leaders Week. Brands need to be more accountable in proving ROI from their sports partnerships. The sports industry is still lagging behind, but the principle of our business is to change that and digital presents the big opportunity for data-driven rights-holders; they can leverage their unique relationships with fans to create and distribute content for brands – and demonstrate value for all parties.

On this point, Sir Martin was emphatic: “A rights-holder’s biggest challenge moving forward is in its ability to provide clarity on ROI through sponsorship.”

“[Sports] sponsorship today is where baseball was just before Moneyball was published,” added Kevin Brilliant, Business Strategy and Analytics Senior Manager at the Chicago Bulls. His argument, one that we advocate, was that rights-holders must change the measurement of sponsorship success, away from the old model of estimating broadcast exposure. Just as Moneyball transformed the way sports teams recruit players, data promises to revolutionise sponsorship, from rights-creation through to evaluation.


Chicago Bulls’ Brilliant (above) also discussed another area where data is rewiring the sports industry – gameday. This area of rights-holder business is a huge focus for us, so it was inspiring to hear how increased understanding of the passion that drives a fan’s relationship with a team or competition is informing a new sophisticated level of fan experience for Bulls fans.

He also challenged the industry to study behavioural data on fans’ gameday habits to create strategies that boost engagement between rights-holder and fan. Even the smallest data points can make the biggest difference – if a fan’s experience is hampered by the feeling that they’ve chosen the wrong queue when buying food and drink, for example, rights-holders need to know.

“Sports teams are great at unlocking fan passion,” added Rob Bloom of McLaren during the Social Fanalytics panel. “We need to combine that with the sophistication of the FMCG approach.”

Data around customer experience can identify the issues and inform the solutions; a rights-holder just needs to make sure they know how to use it.

So, Leaders, thank you for a great week. Thank you, too, for shining a light on what we’ve been observing and understanding for six years now, since our company was born into this digital landscape: the data-driven approach is now the new normal, and digital disruption presents a huge opportunity.

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