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Sport’s digital future: cloud technology, social media, and other breakthroughs on the horizon


Sporting organisations in Australia are getting serious about their digital future.

Having worked with my company on a digital strategy for Netball Australia, which involved significant contact with the Australia Sports Commission, we have found that advances in technology – including cloud computing, Software as a Service and the next generation of CRMs – are all changing the landscape for these organisations.

However, the primary influence on sport’s digital future is not – strictly speaking – technology-based. Social media, and the ways organisations and their stakeholders are using it, are redefining what it means to interact with a community. And what does a sporting team, club, organisation or national body do but interact with a diverse community?

So, how is the digital landscape changing and what future does it hold for Australian sport?

Then: the limits of the platform

Not so long ago, when a sporting organisation wanted to develop systems for managing memberships, communicating with members and fans, managing websites and organising sporting competitions, there was not a lot of choice available to them. The organisation’s needs were ‘unique’, so the only option was to find a technology partner and build a bespoke platform.

This worked well, for a time. However, this approach frequently meant the sporting organisation had to go back to the same technology partner to improve and update the ‘technology platform’. As these systems became more complicated, the technology vendor would often end up working on functionality that was far removed from their area of developmental expertise.

This cycle of request and response is common in the technology space, but it can cause difficulties. Spreading development resources too thinly and tying the sporting organisation in a bilateral relationship are both almost inevitable outcomes from this type of arrangement.

Now: it’s about being ‘data-centric’

In recent years, the technical landscape for such organisations has undergone a significant and fundamental shift.

The emergence and growth of online applications (‘Software as a Service’) and cloud-based infrastructure means that it has become much easier to find highly specialised, independent providers and products that can talk to each other via APIs (Application Programming Interfaces).  Specialised marketing, event planning, membership management, finance, mobile applications, results tracking and video distribution are now all available using this approach.

This development is having such a profound effect on what is possible, that the platforms themselves are becoming less important, allowing the data to become the centre of the organisation’s universe.

Exactly how it should be.

This is good news. The data that a sporting organisation can generate about its members and marketplace is now its most valuable asset. As quality data is collected, there is a greater opportunity to generate value for the sporting community – players, teams, fans and sponsors.

Segmentation and sponsorship

One of the most obvious benefits of developing this ‘data-centric’ approach – an approach that acknowledges the value of data in all its forms, even when the methods of understanding it have not yet been developed – is that it makes segmentation far easier.

The more accurately audience segments can be identified, the more personalised the communication can be. This in turn makes any communication effort far more effective.

Ultimately, the impact of a data-centric approach is about providing sponsorship value. Sponsors are now looking for a high level of interaction with their market. As the world of digital communication becomes increasingly sophisticated, sponsors of sporting organisations are wanting to communicate as effectively as possible, with increasingly smaller sub-groups.

It is no longer enough to be simply talking to all of the members en masse. Sponsors are looking for intelligence-driven marketing, with high engagement and response rates from their market.

It’s important to also realise that there is value in this more finely tuned marketing for the entire sporting community. If the sporting organisation is providing data that enables superior targeting and higher success rates, sponsors will very quickly experience better returns on their investment. In turn, they will be incentivised to increase the value and length of their sponsorship funding – allowing the sporting organisation to do more for the community.

Social media’s increased value

One of the key areas that will be driving this growth in coming years will be social media. Not only does the social web deliver a way of communicating instantly and directly with a sporting organisation’s market place, it can also provide the data to make those messages as effective as possible.

Brand communication through social media is in its infancy, but 2011 will see it mature at an astonishing rate. The organisations that take advantage of this shift will be positioning themselves for success in the future.

Capitalising on this shift will require sporting bodies to become just as ‘social’ focused as they have been ‘communication’ focused. They will need to break down traditional marketing models based on speaking to their audience, and embrace a more conversational approach to how they engage with their community.

Teamwork is the future

In order to realise this bright new future, sporting organisations  may need to discover ways to collaborate with each other. Most sporting organisations are facing enterprise-scale audiences, armed with entry-level budgets. Through collaboration and data sharing, the smaller organisations will be able to pool their resources and gain access to the tools necessary to take this leap forward, and become sophisticated digital communicators.

The strategy we developed for Netball Australia was the first phase in a new and exciting phase for the sport. It showed that the digital space is currently more active than it has ever been. Sporting organisations have what most brands would kill for: a passionate and enthusiastic base of fans who are falling over themselves to share their opinions and information.

There may be a steep learning curve to navigate this new landscape, but the future has never looked brighter.

Mark Cameron is CEO of Working Three, a strategic digital agency specialising in developing strategic vision and implementing in the digital space. His company recently developed the digital strategy for Netball Australia, and advises many other companies on social media usage and digital communications.

Image by vramak [Rama V]