The Future of Sport:
We spoke to three young South Africans on the business side of rugby to hear their thoughts on how to take the game forward, especially in these difficult times brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the first of a three-part series, Junaid Moerat, 36, shares his thoughts on how rugby can keep evolving in the modern era.
Times are changing. Sport is evolving. And we must adapt, innovate, and embrace technology to make sure that we keep up and keep growing in this age of disruption.
Those are the thoughts of Junaid Moerat, who is the youngest member to serve on the board of the professional arm of Western Province Rugby Union (Stormers) as well as the executive committee.
While the coronavirus outbreak has prompted those on the rugby landscape to do some things differently – like the Springbok and Blitzbok coaches sharing their expertise online in a webinar series with coaches across the country during the first few weeks of the national lockdown – Moerat believes the benefits of technology would always have been key and that the pandemic has just accelerated the need to move in that direction.
“Sport today and in the future is based on content, data, technology and analytics,” Moerat, who comes from a well-known rugby family and has worked in the digital-sports marketing industry for over a decade, said. “The younger generation has grown up in a fast paced, technology driven environment and with the target fan base being young, global, digital and diverse, I believe this is where younger generation can add value. The speed with which things are changing has never been faster, it was so before the Covid-19 pandemic, and even more so now.
“These changes have had a dramatic effect on sport, and coupled with economic, social and political boundaries continuously changing, adaptability is the advantage we have in this shifting landscape of the modern day business of sport, where process, technology and priorities are constantly changing.
“Covid-19 has just accelerated the changes that were already happening in the industry.
The biggest change will be the way in which we consume content. More fans will engage with OTT (over the top) platforms and streaming channels. This will lead to dramatic fall in ticket sales however create an opportunity for new revenue streams. Sports traveling will be impacted, and we might see some events staged exclusively for TV. With the fans being starved of sport, the demand will be great, however fans will be cautious going to stadiums even after the restrictions are lifted. Augmented reality will allow us to have a live gamely experience in the comfort of our homes.
“There should be an increased focus by sports organisations to understand what I call the revolution of content, and to develop an offering that appeals to the way fans are consuming sport.”
Moerat added that a complete and total buy-in from all stakeholders is needed when it comes to technology’s role and importance.
“It is critical for our sports organizations to challenge their own thinking, to be proactive, creative and adopt an innovative and commercially driven mindset. Technology in sport is no longer a nice-to-have, but a must-have. We should always be looking for the next innovative solution, from broadcasting technologies to improvement of player performance, to the way fans consume sports. I believe that for sports organisations to remain relevant, we need to realise that technology is the future of sport.
“We need to shift our focus, the change that is happening in the world of sport should not be adopted in isolation or independently - it encompasses the entire organisation, its staff and its culture, it is a complete disruption taking administrators, staff, coaches and players out of their comfort zones. For coaches and players, data and analytics around player safety, development, and performance has become key in modern day sports. The commercialisation of sport requires new skills. We need to look at creating new opportunities for fans, clubs, players, sponsors, and investors.
“Sponsorships are evolving into partnerships, stadiums should be more interactive, we should embrace blockchain technologies, fans will start demanding a bigger influence on decisions, we should enhance fan engagement through things like esports, digital currencies and fantasy sports.
“We need to be fully aware of the need to innovate and keep pace with the modern-day fan and technology as the very relevance of sports organisations depend on it, on and off the pitch.”
Moerat explained that there are also challenges that first need to be overcome if our sports organisations are to flourish operationally, with a change in mindset being the major steppingstone.
“We will only see meaningful and effective change where there is less resistance and where these changes are embraced fully.
“There exists, in some sports organisations, a reluctance to fully embrace technology and change. I believe that the organisations that will excel are the ones that realise the importance of adapting, embracing digital disruption, empowering people to experiment, and developing the ability to innovate effectively. This is arguably one of the toughest challenges an organisation can face.
“I do, however, feel there is a great opportunity in sporting organisations to find that balance and create synergy between the cultural and traditional, and the modern day needs of running the business of professional sport. In fact, the two should complement each other, and it provides us with a platform to create an organisation that sees to the needs of all from grassroots development right through to the professional and commercial aspects of the business. In my view it all forms part of one ecosystem that is dependent on each other for the sport to be sustainable and grow.”
On the role the private sector can play, Moerat said: “Sports organisations should open themselves up to investments, collaboration, and partnership with both private and public sectors. There needs to be a more entrepreneurial mindset, to maximise the commercial potential and optimize the benefits for all stakeholders. A protectionist approach will not provide a solution.
“When sport resumes, it will be different, it will come with its own unprecedented challenges, however it will also provide us with opportunities. Those who are able to participate fully by embracing new ideas, business models and innovations, will be the ones that come out stronger in this age of the fourth industrial revolution.”