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  • Athina Mallis

Unpacking the sports tech revolution

Sports technology is now one of the biggest growth opportunities in the world. Research shows amid the COVID-19 crisis, the global market for Sports Technology was estimated at US$12.6 Billion in the year 2020 and is projected to reach a revised size of US$45.8 Billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 20.2% over the analysis period 2020-2027.

And with clubs and sporting bodies slowly bouncing back, the industry is undergoing an exciting technology renaissance, as we start to rethink new and exciting ways to attract, retain and engage fans, while optimising player performance.

Cam O'Riordan, director of sales and marketing at Stack Sports, one of the fastest-growing sports data tech innovators in the world reveals some of the key trends, challenges and opportunities within the sports industry when it comes to data and technology.

In a recent episode of Target Market, he speaks with podcast host Athina Mallis on the benefits technology brings to sports at both professional and grassroots level and unveils Stack Sports' exciting new partnership with buy now, pay later platform OpenPay.

The past few years has been an 'interesting' time for sports, to say the least. How do you think technology can help the sports industry bounce back better than ever?

The pandemic has been challenging for everyone. In our community, we obviously service sports and event organisations around the world and they haven't been able to play their community sport, they haven't been able to take to the courts, take to the pitches or the field.

Our solutions and offerings haven't been able to be used by sports in the way they were leveraged pre-pandemic. Now, it's an opportunity for organisers and sports administrators around the world to re-think their current processes.

At the beginning of COVID, one CEO of a sporting organisation made a really good point. He said, 'it's a chance for me to work on my sport rather than in my sport'.

Because we get so caught up in our day-to-day activities we don't have that time set aside on planning how we can move forward. Simple things like digital solutions, being able to minimise cash handling for instance, will be a really important step moving forward.

It's an opportunity for sports organisers to make informed decisions about their sport, look at the data they have available, look at the information they have available to them and ask themselves the question: 'are we doing the right things for their sport?' Or 'what are the new opportunities out there?'

What COVID has taught me is people have become more time-poor during the pandemic, even though they are not travelling to the office every day, which is quite unusual because they are on these Zoom calls every minute and it's easy to jump in and out of them.

It might be that sport reinvent a new form of the game, they may walk away from the traditional, two nights of training and a matchday to say, 'let's just play our competition on the training nights and give people a quick fix on how we can participate in our sport and how we can get them excited about our sport again'.

Can you share any good news stories about sports clubs recently using technology and data to strengthen and grow?

We've got a really exciting partnership here in Australia with Sisense and across all our offices around the world. We've been able to leverage the technology, the business intelligence tool that Sisense offers, the interactive dashboards that are available to help sports make informed and good decisions.

A perfect example of that is we are now able to help sports understand their participants better, like Hong Kong Rugby Union, one of our newer customers on board. There was a perception that the majority of the individuals playing the sport at the youth and junior level were ex-pats, so they weren't necessarily local Hong Kong, Chinese children playing the sport. Through our business intelligence tool and data capture during the registration process, they are now actually able to see more than 45% of participants are of Chinese ethnicity.

Another example is the Richmond Football Club, they've used our technology stack in terms of ecommerce, online sales and merchandise. They've also used our online auction fundraising tool, they've been able to raise additional funds for their organisation through having good digital assets available to them.

The other one that comes to mind is our auction tool, which isn't just used by teams and clubs but also used by charities and foundations. Over the other side of the world is the UEFA Foundation which is affiliated with UEFA themselves. They put up signed match-worn jerseys and signed footballs from players or teams that have competed in champions league and Europa League matches. All the funds raised from the auction go back to their charity and foundation so they can put it into a new camp or program.

We've also, through the power of data and technology, removed the need for cash payments. There's no need for spreadsheets anymore. We can help manage that pain point for sporting administrators and organisers across the globe. Our Gameday membership and events platform is really allowing us to achieve those outcomes for sporting organisations.

Stack Sports have recently partnered with buy now, pay later platform OpenPay, can you tell me a bit about the partnership and what you hope to get out of it?

This is a super exciting one for our business and the industry as a whole. It's the first time, it's actually been done. We are really proud as an organisation that we can say we are leaders in this space. We looked at buy now, pay later (BNPL) providers in the market, there are a number of them and a number of established ones.

OpenPay is an emerging BNPL provider like ourselves. They were born out of Melbourne but they are growing internationally at a rapid rate. What this is going to enable is for an individual or a parent who is signing up a child or themselves to play a sport or to take part in an event and paying their membership fees off over a period of time.

A parent might have two or three kids playing sports and those registration fees may vary to $100 per child up to $300 per child. If a parent has to pay $900 at the beginning of the year every January or February, it's a big ask to pay all of that upfront. What our relationship and partnership with OpenPay allows an individual parent to do is to choose to pay that amount off over a period of time, 2 month, 3 month or 4-month period, interest-free instalments.

The parent can spread their payments so they are not $900 out of pocket in January or February, but they defer those payments over a period of time. The club or the event organiser still gets their money straight away which is key because the grassroots clubs and organisers need that cashflow to help run their organisation.

As I said, this is a first for the industry, no other sports technology or management provider in this space is allowing this to take place. Initially, it's going to be rolled out across our Australia and UK-based customers and through Q2 next year, it is going to be launched across our New Zealand market. It's obviously a big advantage for all sports and a change in mindset on how a participant can actually pay to take part in sport.

Why are technology deals like this important to the sports industry?

It's absolutely expected, an individual can go out to a local shop and enter into an agreement with a BNPL provider and pay their clothing items off for a period of time. Back 20 years ago our parents collectively used what was the traditional layby service in paying their items off over a period of time. They weren't allowed to get their item until it was paid off in full, this is effectively the same thing but you get to benefit from the product right away.

We are really mindful as an organisation, we can't be everything to everyone and OpenPay is one example of a number of these partnerships we have across the industry and across the market. We have a niche offering, it's a fantastic offering, sometimes organisers are asking for other things and we look to our partners to help achieve the outcomes.

This is an extension of us, hearing what's in the market, hearing what the consumer - the people who are playing the sport and paying to play the sport want. That's why we are here and it's a really exciting one for the industry as a whole.

Looking towards 2021, what excites you most about the convergence of sports and technology?

From a grassroots level, it's going to be really important because sports is coming back. In particular, in the rest of Australia, we have dabbled in sport throughout 2020, in Melbourne, it hasn't taken place due to the recent COVID outbreak. There is a chance of consolidation in the industry, there might be mergers of different companies coming together to support each other and offer complementary services. There might just be a merging of companies to consolidate the industry as a whole. The uptake of technology people will look to take up technology sooner now that they have the opportunity to think and plan for their sport for 2021 and beyond.

Final thoughts - what’s a commonly held belief in the tech side of the sports industry that you passionately disagree with?

I disagree with the notion that adopting new technology and rolling it out is too difficult. We come across this one all the time. Technology is really easy to use. Look at the likes of Instagram, people don't need to use a guide on how to use it, they work it out for themselves. People expect the new whiz-bang technology, they expect the best. They expect to be able to make a payment in a matter of minutes. That's the one thing we really need to change the mindset of "this is going to be too hard to be adopted in our sport" because it is really seamless and really easy.

When it comes to leveraging data analytics and technology, what should sports clubs STOP doing? On the flip side, when it comes to leveraging data analytics and technology, what should sports clubs STOP doing?

They need to stop and think about their decisions they are going to make, rather than make a rash decision on what they think is in the best interest of their sport. Talk to the people at the grassroots level, a lot of time we deal with national governing bodies, state sporting organisations who assume that this decision or this piece of technology is not right for their sport without actually talking to their members.

A perfect example of that is our recent relationship with OpenPay, a number of our customers say 'but what if we don't want that', we challenge their way of thinking to prod and understand why they don't want that. What we've actually done is roll out surveys to those who are actually using the registration platform to discover they actually do want it.

My advice would be to make informed decisions based on the real-life data that we have available and the information we have available to prosper and move forward with their sport in 2021 and beyond.

Tune into the full episode here.

Target Market is a podcast series by AZK Media, where the world’s most premium thought leaders across technology, marketing and data come together to share their insights. Hosted by Athina Mallis.


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