Be it football, cricket, Formula 1, badminton, boxing, or golf; technology has given a new lease of life to virtually every sport. Even a sport like kabaddi now has an international following, is attracting eyeballs, footfall and a range of sponsors.
Technology has been integrated so smoothly into sports that not many realise the depth of its impact. For viewers or fans, it’s the end result that matters. Hence while they see the newer formats and viewing experiences which allow engagement and enjoyment at a whole new level, they may not understand that it is in fact new technologies that are enabling this new immersive viewing experience and engagement. And rightfully so, as the point is to make it entirely seamless.
A second wind
Cricket has been an all-time favourite sport in India. But over time and with other international sports taking centre stage, the way people consumed sports changed and with it, changed the broad traditional viewership and audience. This may sound bizarre but a dozen-odd years ago, sports analysts were writing obituaries for cricket as the nation’s top sport. This was the period when the traditional five-day test matches kept meandering into dreary draws year after year.
Then the IPL (Indian Premier League) happened in 2008. Backed by the latest technology plus dollops of hype and hoopla, cricket gained a new lease of life along with an unprecedented fan following in India as well as other nations. Where sports heroes were once difficult to approach, social media and other digital technologies allowed fans to connect instantly with their heroes. In turn, this boosted viewership and sponsorships as well. A captive audience was now within easy reach and it offered advertises greater traction for their products and services.
From cricket commentaries being typically in Hindi and English, the 2018 IPL matches included eight regional languages and this count further increased in 2019. IPL has now deployed remote production technology while centralising most of the core operations which are managed remotely via a solitary production hub. Not surprisingly, 18.6 million concurrent viewers watched the final IPL match via a video-streaming platform–creating a new world record. The entire season’s numbers also soared from 202 million viewers in 2018 to 300 million in 2019.
Not only cricket but other sports such as motor racing, boxing, tennis, even chess, have benefitted from tech innovations. Viewers from across the globe can live video stream any sporting event. Smooth signal transmissions as well as multiple high-definition feeds are sent directly from sports venue cameras to the hub and, thereon, to viewers.
Besides viewers, the biggest beneficiaries are broadcasters because remote production facilitates immense cost savings, resource management and the handling of complex logistics. The kind of technology we’re talking about here is network connectivity, content delivery, cloud infrastructure and security, providing fans a seamless experience via tie-ups with tech companies.
Technology should be leveraged in a fast-paced sport such as motor racing where live action is imperative. Here, cloud, networking, mobility and security systems help in lowering the hurdles for broadcasters and rights-holders in expanding their footprints into newer markets while enabling fans to experience unparalleled live coverage. Best-in-class action technologies offer live 360-degree and ultra-high-definition videos. Additionally, the Internet of Things, as well as augmented and virtual reality, allow extremely powerful and immersive experiences for viewers.
With these new technologies, the full potential of digital transformation is being unleashed in global sports. Marketers and broadcasters are able to attract the attention and fandom of people outside its traditional audience demographic to increase revenues. They can further cater to an increasingly split audience across different—sometimes competing, sometimes complementary—platforms, including traditional TV and video streaming services, as well as social media and mobile apps. The key target audience for most sports being millennials, all sports are increasingly using digital tools to find new ways to connect with them. They are also the ones who are most tech-savvy and don’t have the patience to sit through an entire F1 race or a sports event.
Having said that, while attracting younger audiences is understandably a priority for many sports, it’s not all about age. Sports brands can place too much emphasis on attracting younger fans, and not enough on catering for the needs of their entire fan base. Hence, customisation is crucial. Thanks to technological marvels though, every sport including kabaddi and others that had been languishing in obscurity for ages, have finally come of age by turning casual viewers into enthusiastic fans and keeping customisation at the core.
The author is global head of marketing at Tata Communications.