The world is changing at hyper speed. What can sports businesses do to drive digital success?

The sports landscape is rapidly changing, and its being driven by digital services and technologies. The competitive bar is higher then ever. How do sports businesses develop an operating model that embraces and leverages this opportunity?

The world is changing at hyper speed. What can sports businesses do to drive digital success?

I recently attended the Business of Sport Summit (BOSS) – it was great to hear from sports businesses from around the world, discussing their off-field successes. There has been some fantastic progress in the last few years.

Following the summit, I reflected on the themes that emerged – one major one that came up time and time again can be summed up as follows:

The sports landscape is rapidly changing, and its being driven by digital services and technologies. The competitive bar is higher then ever. How do sports businesses develop an operating model that embraces and leverages this opportunity?

There is no doubt this is a real challenge. So here’s our take on it.

Focus on the fan and the sponsor

The answer is, focus on the digital fan experience. Focus on delivering great digital services and operations. This is critical in developing an operational model that is durable, targeted, agile, and one that delivers commercial outcomes. We are working with sports business across Australia to do this right now, and the benefits are significant. Happy fans engage more, spend more, and express deeper loyalty. And as execution improves, operational costs lower and employees become more engaged.

It is also clear that, in the long-run, there won’t be much choice around this. As the summit showed, fan expectations are being set by the leaders out front, and those expectations will only rise. As digital increasingly becomes the new playing-field for sponsorship, sponsors are looking for quantifiable and tangible outcomes.

Requires a more fundamental shift in how you work

The will to succeed is critical, but it’s not enough on its own. One of the big changes that often help businesses manage this is the shift of focus from internal capabilities to external – making the fan (and sponsor) needs the orientation point. Organisational silos can be another barrier. Also big IT projects that are costly, slow and feature long development processes, with big PR stunts at the end are also no longer effective. Effective digital outcomes require iterative releases, testing and change that adapts to market changes. The final big hurdle is about top-management. Sports executives are pulled in different directions, but outcomes require their deep commitment.

A simple framework to succeed

From our experience and service-design work with leading businesses across sectors, we have developed a framework that helps businesses move from reactive, uncoordinated efforts to an integrated operating approach, organised around the customer journey. In our experience it is possible for companies to successfully pursue these transformations, first by focusing on the operating model, and then creating the most important customer journeys. To us, there are four key ‘get rights’ to drive transformational success:

1. Develop and digitise fan journeys – we have found that running a design-thinking master-class with a cross-functional team works really well. The key aim is to reimagine the customer journey, not what’s broken. We also like to rapidly build an illustrated ‘story’ and clickable prototype, which brings the customer experience to life, and can be tested with customers. To keep it simple, we also fid it helpful to begin by focusing on the MVE – the minimum viable experience. That is – as a starting point, what is the least we can do to build a great customer journey?

2. Build speed and agility into insight creation – digital has led to a fast changing market, and good decision making requires up-to-date information and insights. The leaders we work with identify ways to be more agile in developing insights. There are analytics that can be built directly into customer-experience design. The key focus here is focusing on capturing fans needs and wants, and using this to design clear value propositions and services which generate trust and engagement.

3. Focus on the fan uptake of digital customer journeys – More executives understand the importance of building digital channels in recent years, but we find there is still too little focus on actually driving the customer take-up. We are working with a major AFL club to address this challenge right now, and there is no ‘right’ way to do this – it’s about finding the right combination of levers for the particular challenge. This will likely include digital marketing techniques both online and offline, iterating the digital journey based on insights to make it increasing relevant to fans, and incentivising the fan to adopt the new channel and new behaviours.

4. Build agility into delivery – this is can be a major operational shift for sports organisations that are used to long, big developments with a big PR splash at the end. We help businesses adopt agile processes into their operations, where cross-functional teams work towards a common goal. This approach also helps to reduce complexity, maintain momentum, improve speed to market and reduce cost in customer journey creation.

Digital leaders, increased customer demand for digital services, and sponsorship expectations will continue to shift the sports business landscape. Those businesses that focus on developing new operating models designed to understand and meet fan needs will be ready for whatever that change brings.

Not sure where to begin?

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