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March Madness 2034: Where Sports Tech And Marketing Are Heading in the Next Decade

If the 2010’s were the decade of explosive growth in sports, the 2020’s are the years of transformation. The sports industry is still growing at a healthy clip by a variety of metrics, but that growth looks different than it did 5, 8, or 12 years ago.


In the world of sports tech where I’ve spent my career, we’ve moved from an era of entrepreneurs bringing fragmented point solutions to the market to one where integration wins the day. In fact, global industry experts SportsTechX named 2023 the “Year of Consolidation,” citing the decrease in startup funding and the dramatic increase in M&A activity across the industry in their 2023 Global SportsTech VC Report. This concept of consolidation is by no means limited to tech. In addition to centralizing and streamlining their tech stacks, teams, leagues, and athletic departments are also focusing on consolidating both costs and risk, finding more efficient ways to run their day-to-day operations and preparing to be agile in conditions of uncertainty. The threats, but, more importantly, the opportunities created by “risk” – from NIL and student-athlete compensation changes, to macroeconomic shifts, to the emergence of new player safety concerns – require athletic organizations to be built for agility and sustainability and to be purposefully engaging in constant transformation.   

Here are four transformations that are well underway that will define this decade in sports:


1. Digital Transformation: Sports, as an industry, is actively moving toward an Operating System model. We’ve moved through several stages of tech adoption and are squarely in a phase of integration. In this stage, the industry will mature beyond investing in point solutions without a long-term strategic tech vision in place and will begin expecting their tech products to be connected and data to be shared across products. Read more about sports’ digital transformation journey here.


2. Moving from data-for-data’s-sake to predictive data models: Over the last decade, we’ve collected more data on athletes than ever before. Athletes and their teams have purchased countless wearable devices, and organizations have amassed large data sets with the mindset that more data is undoubtedly a good thing. However, not all of that data has proven to be useful or predictive of our industries’ true north outcomes: performance, health, and graduation. Now, sports organizations are refining and often simplifying their athlete data models. They’re closing data gaps, integrating data that was previously sourced from siloed data sets, and removing “noisy data” in favor of data with clear correlations that inform how we’ll develop and care for our athletes. We’ll keep collecting more and more data – that’s a good thing – but we must continue getting smarter every day about what questions that data can answer and how to translate our data insights into actions that produce positive outcomes. 


3. Cost Control: Athletic organizations at all levels are looking for ways to shore up their bottom line. Unchecked spending is not an option, and, especially if revenue growth rates slow, costs can not be allowed to balloon. Sports organizations are cutting costs that aren’t producing value, eliminating wasted spend (and, more importantly, wasted time), and they’re finding ways for their staffs to work more efficiently by streamlining processes and leaning into tech. They’re focusing their time and investment on what they do best – developing their athletes – and are teaming up with best-in-class partners and relying on outside specialists across a variety of service areas (from marketing and branding to sponsorship sales to fundraising to fan experience) to strengthen their operation without placing the entire load on the shoulders of in-house staff.


4. Holistic Athlete Care: The athlete sits at the center of our industry, and we’ve made huge strides over the last couple decades at providing player care off the field or court. We’ll take two more big steps to better support our athletes this decade: 


1. We’ll close gaps in our care: Teams are increasing resources to provide more mental health support, more nutritional guidance, more financial education, and more post-sports career preparation. These are critical area of investment that are not only mission-aligned and simply the right thing for athletic organizations to do, but also areas that have clear and proven ROI.


2. We’ll see player care become more integrated. We’ll see athletic organizations start to connect the dots across all the specialists and functions that serve their players: Nutrition, Recovery, Mental & Emotional Health, Stress, Family Life, Academic Performance, Finances, and Physical Well-Being are all intertwined. Instead of a series of functional areas tackling one piece of the puzzle, we’re now looking at the athlete through a whole person lens, and teams are rethinking the structures of their operation and the services they provide to meet the holistic needs of their athletes.

One thing is true today and will remain so for years to come. A trusted expert in your corner will help you avoid pitfalls, and lock in potential wins. It’s what I aim to do as a leadership and executive coach, and I believe the best way to navigate the uncharted waters ahead in sports, tech and marketing. 

Written by Mitch Heath, Co-Founder of Teamworks.

The King Agency is an award-winning marketing agency offering a full suite of communications services including advertising, branding, digital, and strategic marketing, at any scale. Based in Richmond, Virginia, with offices in Atlanta and Virginia Beach, The King Agency has been helping turn businesses into brands for more than 25 years. To learn more visit thekingagency.com or email hello@thekingagency.com