August 17, 2020

Sports and gaming – playing by a new set of rules

Sport has been forever changed. History might paint the transformation as a cause of the COVID-19 pandemic but, in reality, the evolution had already started. Coronavirus has been a catalyst for accelerated change. The playing field has not been levelled; the boundaries have been completely redefined.

The pandemic has brought the sports industry to its knees but against the backdrop of global crisis, opportunities have arisen for others. While the sports business is set to lose as much as US$61.6 billion in missed revenues by the end of the year, the gaming sector, on the other hand, will generate revenues of $159.3 billion, a +9.3% year-on-year increase. 

Although largely driven by unforeseen circumstances, the pandemic has highlighted the large gulf in the prioritisation of fan experience between the two. As OZ Sports CEO Gudjon Gudjonsson explains, the sports industry has much to learn from gaming if it is to maintain and grow its global fanbase.

The impact the pandemic has had on live sport is clear for us all to see. In some way, however large or small, we have all felt the effects of it. Whether it has stopped us from going to watch our favourite team, impacted on our day to day professional lives, or just given us less to talk about with friends, the loss of live sport has been clear to witness.  

However, if there is one positive element to come out of this all for the sports industry, it is that leagues, federations and teams have had to rethink their way of doing business. The pandemic has accelerated innovation on various fronts. This is especially the case with the return of sport behind closed doors, with the need to remotely manage the production of leagues and make fans feel part of the live experience from the comfort of their homes.

The temporary state of the live sports sector, with limited or no fans in stadiums, has only amplified a bigger and more recognisable challenge. Pandemic or no pandemic, studies show that 90% of fans are unable to watch their favourite team in their home stadium due to factors such as location or finance. Therefore, although the current global state has highlighted the lost sense of community between fans and their favourite sports, that problem has always existed for the 90% who can only watch from home.

This clearly demonstrates that sport has an issue with providing authentic fan experiences outside of the stadium. The future of sport needs a more engaged audience. At OZ Sports, what COVID-19 has taught us is that we need to accelerate our vision in making the fan experience more interactive and engaging. The new generation of fans expects to be able to share their experiences without geographical boundaries. OZ is keeping sports more relevant, broadening the fanbase by opening up the physical stadium. 

This is where we have looked to gaming. This isn’t something that has just been brought about over the past few months; the growth of the industry and the powerful success the sector has had in engaging with its fans over recent years has been phenomenal. The prioritisation of user engagement has seen games companies constantly exploring new ways to deliver content to consumers. 

As a result, gaming platforms are becoming social networks in their own right and established social platforms are seizing this opportunity to invest further in games to maintain and grow their user database. Gaming is driving forward the reality of the metaverse - virtual social spaces that are always open, always-on, and always expanding. 

So, what does that mean for the sports industry? At OZ Sports we position ourselves as innovators at the intersection of sports and gaming. That means we look at the intersection in terms of the production and the digital visualisation of sport. Whether it is football, basketball, hockey, cricket, tennis or any other sport, we have so many wonderfully diverse games available for us to enjoy. However, there is a need for innovation in bringing these games to the fans.

We need to give fans a more interactive way of participating in sport. We are still in the early days of sports broadcasting, and there is a lot we can learn from gaming. We also have an increased need for true fans to foster their esteem around their favourite sports and club.

Our thinking around the intersection of sports and gaming can be seen everywhere in the OZ Sports strategy. It’s in how we think, how we work, and how we innovate as a company. As a tech business with influential investors from the gaming industry, we foster a different culture than traditional sports broadcasting companies. 

Our tech stack is ours, from end-to-end. We mostly leverage technologies on how we do sports production that has until now mostly belonged to gaming companies, which opens up a totally new world for us. At the core, we have our gaming engine, built on a robust machine learning software stack that analyses what is going on in the game, in real-time. From there we further develop our broadcasting technologies, with a layer for services like augmented graphics and avatars, to applications like tracking or a more intuitive replay system, to name but a few. This allows us to work differently as a team of innovators and compete more creatively as a company.

By embracing everything that the gaming industry is positively doing to engage with its fans, we see the world of sports broadcasting becoming far more interesting than it is today. Out of the pandemic, we will see new companies that have succeeded, and these new leaders will foster far more vibrant communities around live events. Gen Z will have emerged with different needs and the more popular short format of sports storytelling will continue to rise.

New exciting technologies will continue to surface in the market that better serve fans' sports esteem. Use of avatars will be the everyday normal, by representing the digital you in the new metaverse. Fans will be able to instantly express their emotions in the moment of the game, wherever they may be in the world, empowering fans to communicate in ways that are difficult to accomplish in today's world.

The future of live sport is an exciting one; by embracing gaming technologies OZ Sports will continue to innovate at this intersection. Sports broadcasting as we currently know it is about to change forever, and we’re excited to be at the forefront of that transformation!