Digital primer: Seven League’s 7 trends and impact points for 2020

December 13 – Digital sport consultancy Seven League has released its 2020 Digital Trends for Sport report, and for anyone on the business side of sport grappling with their own digital strategy it is a focussing read.

The report outlines the seven digital trends Seven League feels will have the biggest impact on the sport industry in 2020, examine why they are important and what they could mean for teams, leagues and federations.

The seven for 2020 digital impact points they list as:

Subscription models sounds great – predictable revenue, direct access to consumers – but everyone else thinks so too and the audience does not have unlimited time or cash. Instead of competing with internet giants like Disney, Amazon and Netflix, some sports will realise that others are best placed to syndicate their content.


Getting access to players can be tough, that’s why the smartest rights-holders are creating their own, fully IP controlled, always-on influencers. So, it’s possible that your next brand ambassador will be virtual. Animated or virtual characters, or even mascots, are much easier to imbue with values and messaging that t with those of a brand. They also offer the opportunity of an ‘always on’ entertainment vertical supporting the on-pitch/court action.  2020 will see more sports creating virtual IP – whether that’s through virtual influencers or animated series.

Why hire a celebrity, a supermodel or even a social media influencer to market your product when you can create the ideal brand ambassador from scratch? We will see more sports creating year-round entertainment properties in an effort to diversify their revenues, access new audiences and spread positive messages around things like anti-racism and participation.


Sports organisations want to harvest data from their fans but digital platforms are moving the other way, towards privacy, and this brings a challenge. Sport can still monetise customers but must tread carefully in terms of how it talks to its fans. The key question for the sport industry is: if consumers value privacy, want to interact in smaller groups and use ephemeral content formats, why are we dedicating so much effort to harvesting their data so we can sell them stuff?

The twin ambitions of valuing privacy and collecting consumer data don’t necessarily have to be at odds, but execution is key. Sport will have to tread carefully, even in the language it uses.

Fans don’t want to be ‘owned’ and the sports that succeed in 2020 will use data to provide better products and experiences, not just to sell stuff. Audiences will reward organisations that use their data to offer relevant, personalised and entertaining experiences. They will punish organisations that over-communicate or break their trust.


Major rightsholders like NBA and UEFA have invested in apps which help regular players not only track their progress, but also award scores for the number of baskets in a minute or scoring in the top corner. Rather than just watching the elite level, people want to measure themselves against the best (and themselves!). We will see the creation of fitness-focused networks built around the concept of the networked body. There will be rapid strides in geo-tracking, image-recognition technology and greater uptake of wearables, smart clothing and personal measurement applications.

Sports which offer ways for fans to track and gamify their participation will reap significant rewards. Measurement and gamification will take a variety of forms – sports will offer rewards for participation (both tangible and non-tangible) and provide new avenues for fans to compare themselves against professionals, each other or themselves.


Take care not to be sucked into a marketing strategy built around two numbers – we spent x and we made y – without great storytelling as a key part of the mix. You must sell your brand’s story, not just pay to reach people who might have bought your products anyway.

Captivating stories about teams and players are what makes us fall in love with sport. This type of brand building will enjoy a resurgence in 2020. The good news for rightsholders and clubs is that with a level of creativity, they have the ability to tell stories that get to the heart of why sport is so compelling.

This is not to say that sport should give up on efforts to have a more granular understanding of its audiences and how to target them but that both stories and performance should play a part in a powerful digital marketing mix.


Sports has rejoiced for many years in being the one place where TV viewers will still pay to consume your broadcast live, but that audience is getting older. The biggest sports now realise that to attract younger audiences, you have to create content they can interact with and even control the outcome.

Sport still remains one of the few entertainment formats that drives live audiences but the inconvenient truth is that these audiences now skew older. Younger audiences have a different relationship with content: they expect to participate in or alongside it. Interactivity heightens engagement which is important for all content makers in the attention economy, not least sponsor brands.

We expect to see more sports formats and content spin-offs that allow fans to take part, to play a role in the experience and sometimes even the outcome of the content. For example, we’ll see more activations like Porsche’s CYOA Formula E car reveal on Twitch. The great thing for sports brands trying to develop more intricate fan profiles is that each time your audience interact with you, they create a data point, which helps you understand them better.


People are getting excited about speeds five times faster than 4G. Movies downloaded in seconds! The saviour of VR! Well, perhaps not just yet. 5G will take time to reach the masses. What should be remembered is that although it will make streaming faster and websites load quicker, it won’t make a boring video entertaining or a poor site easy to navigate. Firstly, the transition from 4G to 5G won’t happen overnight. Carriers have to deploy roll-out across multiple countries and regions, consumers have to upgrade to 5G phone plans and tech companies have to create products that harness this new capability.

Wearable tech that tracks movement and performance is likely to be greatly enhanced. Streaming live sport should become easier and cheaper. Gaming should greatly benefit from faster mobile internet connection in 2020.

5G is not a solution to all problems. There will still be millions of sports videos to choose from online, millions of websites to browse and thousands of places to spend your disposable income. Videos will still need compelling storylines, you still have to provide useful services to your fans and your app still needs to be easy to navigate.

Getting that stuff right first should be the priority. Then we can worry about live streaming in virtual reality on a mountain top.

Click here for the full Seven Leagues report

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