Sports – Insights from the Global Sports Week Paris

Over 2,000 international sports leaders and actors were brought together for the first edition of the Global Sports Week.

The Global Sports Week claims to be at the crossroad of sport, business and society. It identified 5 global business and societal shifts representing key areas for change and opportunity in sports and business (lifestyle, climate, data, equality and power). The event aimed to be more about the future of sports as a disruptive tool within the actual socio-economic frame than a classic sports business event.

These are the main topics that were discussed at this event.

The rise of the “athlete-preneur”

The rise of “athlete-preneurs” (i.e. athletes becoming entrepreneurs) was a main topic during the Global Sports Week. Social media and athlete-to-fan channels enable the “athlete-preneurs” to take ever-increasing control of their image and the business generated around their performance. Several athletes, including Olympic swimming legend Matt Biondi, were advocating for the emancipation of athletes using new commercial models to elude the financial control and restrictions of their federations on their sources of income. This may be done either collectively, by joining a private league with other prominent athletes (such as the brand-new International Swimming League) or individually, with the help of sponsors interested in shared values (such as Red Bull for extreme sports). As proof of this evolution in their status, these athletes no longer referred to “sponsorship” or “endorsement” agreements but to “partnerships” when mentioning these sources of revenue.

In addition to their economic emancipation, the growing societal influence of athletes was also a key subject. Athletes invited to speak agreed that it was now part of their role to advocate for greater stakes than their own sport. In doing so, they enjoy the support of major companies and economic actors, like Colin Kaepernick did with Nike. 

This trend is now accelerating, with not only major professional athletes being taken into consideration but also amateurs. In 2016, Marcelia was a 16-years old teenager learning to play rugby in a remote village in south-west Madagascar. In 2019, she was one of Société Générale’s ambassadors during the Rugby World Cup (with the likes of Johnny Wilkinson) and ambassador of gender equality in her country. 

The future of sports infrastructure and events 

Two key takeaways emerged in relation to sports infrastructure and events.

First of all, sports actors and fans want sport infrastructure and events to be more sustainable and ecological than ever before. In order to achieve this goal, both the President and the CEO of the Paris 2024 Olympics pledged that all infrastructure built for the Olympic Games would be engineered and built with their post-games life and use in mind. Representatives of the cities of Dakar and Paris both argued that, in the face of growing urbanization, temporary and easy-to-relocate sports infrastructure should be the norm to match the cities’ ever-moving landscape of construction works.

The environmentally-friendly evolution of sports infrastructure and events seemed to be more limited, mainly because of economic constraints. Formula 1, as it stands, could hardly avoid shipping all the racing cars and teams worldwide but aims to organize plastic-free events, according to its CEO. The biggest breakthrough came from the signature by the French football federation of an environment charter with the French sports minister and the WWF. French football clubs have been under scrutiny recently due to potential harmful pesticides used on stadium lawns. Contrary to their rugby peers, the French professional football clubs did not sign a “lawn charter”. Discussions also revolved around pollution created by fans attending sports events. Clubs and organisations are mindful of this issue and willing to invest in additional infrastructures to tackle it, such as bicycle paths to the stadium and associated equipment on site.

Interestingly enough, no sports events organizer considered reducing the size of the events as a solution. To the contrary, major sports events such as the Olympic games and international football championships keep getting bigger, with always more types of sport and/or athletes involved.  
Secondly, infrastructure and events must provide for an optimized and interactive experience. There is an increased demand from the public attending live sports events to see more than what is going on before their eyes. To that end, solutions are being developed to provide spectators with augmented reality within the stadium, with the support of accurate sports data and analysis. The cost of such augmented reality would be charged on the sports clubs which will remain the owners of the data used by the service provider.

Sports infrastructure will continue to evolve to match spectators needs. A few years ago, Mark Cuban (the owner of the Dallas Mavericks) seriously considered shutting down the mobile phone network in its arena to enable the people in attendance to enjoy the live experience without distraction. Nowadays, such a measure would create major discontent with the fans.

Turning sports data into new products and services to fans and athletes

The Global Sports Week offered plenty of stage time to 28 carefully selected start-ups operating in or around the sports sector. Most of the selected start-ups were mainly driving on data analysis with two main different purposes: optimized experience and training and medical care.

First of all, data analysis is used by some companies to provide fans with an optimized sports-watching experience, either at home or in situ. Using a mobile phone or augmented reality glasses, these start-ups provide on-demand live data to enrich the viewer experience.

Training and medical care was also the core business of many start-ups attending the Global Sports Week. Once again through their ability to analyse data, these companies aim to provide support to athletes, whether they are professionals (with a single portable camera analyzing every aspect of their movements at training) or casual joggers (with a mobile app providing online diagnosis and a real care plan in case of pain after a run). In the age of Moneyball and sports statistics, several companies presented their solutions to cut down the time spent by analysts on statistics and compiling videos.

New ways of streaming and watching sports events were also addressed. Starting from the fact that only 2% of sports events are streamed, some start-ups aim to provide a streaming platform to anyone willing to film and livestream a sport event, even though this would mean no editing or filmed by mobile phone.