Can Technology Help Emerging Sports to Prosper?

Will tech-based sports fully break into the mainstream?

Making the leap to mass market

by Andy Roberts

No sport has gone untouched by technology, and some have been transformed beyond recognition. What’s less well known is that some niche sports owe their very existence to developments in digital. The question is whether they can prosper and break out into the mainstream. 

The growth of a new or niche sports driven by technology can take many forms. For example, it may be popularised by social media, the sport itself may include an element of technology or the way it is resulted may be based on digital analysis. More than likely, it will be a combination of all three.

 Drone racing goes global

Let’s take Drone Racing as an example. Still very much a niche sport, but a rapidly growing one, Drone Racing has grown from a backyard hobby to a global craze, with leagues, professional competitions and a growing fanbase. Like most emerging sports, it sits as the convergence of video gaming and traditional sports, but should not be confused with esports, which are entirely based in the digital realm.

 Known as Vsports, games like Drone Racing combine the physical with AI technology, giving a real-time VR viewpoint to the competitions and allowing the fans to see exactly what’s happening from the viewpoint of their chosen pilot. Other Vsports include fan-controlled football league and a drone-powered aerial ball game that’s been compared to a real-life quidditch. 

 Speedgate

Another live-action game that has been driven by technology is Speedgate, described as the first totally new team game in over 10 years. Created with the help of artificial intelligence, Speedgate was formulated from in-depth analysis of 400 sports, 7,300 rules and 10,000 actual games to create 10 potential new team sports, which were all tested by humans. The resultant game involves six players on a 54x18 metre pitch where players score points by kicking the balls through a gate. 

In some ways, technology is the easy part. To succeed, all new sports need to develop a sound business and strategy to attract a loyal fanbase. They also need a clear set of rules, a governing body, intellectual property, media distribution and, most importantly, revenue generation. With so many established sports out there already, this is always going to be a challenge. 

 Breaking the mainstream

The key to success in any new sports is to appeal to audiences who maybe lie outside the traditional sports fan base. Esports are a good example of this as they tend to appeal to Millennials who may have no interest in established big-league sports. Some people may choose to play or follow a sport simply because it’s new and different from the established games, but that on its own will never be enough to build long-term stability.

One model that can work is to build revenue generation into the sport. From a technological standpoint, this might involve charging people to take participate, spectate or influence, as is the case with fan-controlled football league. In this game, spectators will influence the tactics and style of their chosen team by voting in real time on how the game should be played. Think of it as the wisdom of the crowd.

As the emerging sports grow and enter the mainstream, more opportunities will present themselves in terms of digital rights, IP assets and additional revenue streams. The challenge is to get there. Despite a major global following, the total revenue for Esports is just over $1bln, which means it remains a minnow in the global sports marketplace.

Finally, sports need to ensure that in making the move from niche to mass market, they do not lose or abandon the culture and authenticity that made them successful in the first place. It’s a tightrope out there, but developments in technology have certainly made it more likely that we’ll see more emerging sports hit the big time.