Future of Sport Symposium: Part 2

Wednesday, 5th February 2020

Blog by pro-manchester Membership & Events Manager, Katherine Barr

In the second instalment of the key takeaways from our Future of Sport Symposium, we begin with Jim Salveson, Head of Sport at Voiceworks.ai. Jim tells us that there are two major benefits to audio: it’s easy and it’s cheap. We are on the cusp of the audio revolution and it’s a fantastic way to convey a message and garner an emotional response. Consumers are used to consuming media on demand and audio is slowly catching up to video with the relatively recent introduction of smart speakers. These products are currently relatively basic, but Jim noted that for the first time ever since the launch of smart phones people are using screens less and there is definitely a correlation with the release of smart speakers. Jim asked delegates to consider whether their customers are already trying to reach them by voice and have they even thought about what information may be coming back? What about voice SEO? It’s a major strategy as digital assistants don’t give you thousands of results like a search engine, they only give you one which means that you need to know exactly what your brand or sports club sounds like.

In terms of football clubs, fans want interaction around the clock. Jim is a West Ham fan which he admitted is a very depressing existence! Jim habitually checks twitter and listens to podcasts every day, bust most of these touch points aren’t provided by West Ham themselves as very few football clubs have explored the world of podcasts. So how can clubs use audio assets to their fullest potential? Jim believes that clubs could be repurposing other media – pre match press conferences, video, social content etc as well as recording bespoke content, or even a combination of the two. Voiceworks.ai is currently working with a football club who are using archive footage to continue their audio strategy and appeal to new fans.

Jim went on to explain that voice apps are like audio websites; the limits are your imagination. 57% of retailers in the UK are currently looking to invest in audio technology. Essentially, Jim believes that giving people the option of listening to audio as and when they want to can only be a good thing for the future of sport.

Professor Andy Miah and Dr Maria Stukoff of the University of Salford were up next to talk about Esports. They began with a few details about the Esports industry: there is a global audience of just under 500 million views, the video game Fortnite posted a solo winning prize of $3 million (Wimbledon’s prize is $2.7million!). Traditional sports investors are moving heavily into the Esorts space and the International Olympic Committee are even discussing how to incorporate Esports in the future. Andy noted that we are beginning to see progress in this sphere, but the discussion is still very divided about what people want. Maria stated that playable spectator experiences are part and parcel of the Esports world. There is a debate around what constitutes a sport, physical activity vs virtual activity. Can we call Esports players athletes? Maria argues that players train many hours and it takes a massive amount of concentration and skill to make it to the top.

Both Andy and Maria are concerned about the mental welfare of young people nowadays, particularly the gap between young people and their parents. They believe that gaming is becoming much more communal and that we spend so much time in these virtual worlds that the social element is crucial. It is impossible to ignore the impact that the online gaming has on sports.

Next we heard from Nick Chamberlin, Policy Manager at British Cycling. Nick talked about the importance of changing the way that we move by creating a relationship between people and activity. While looking at how the Dutch run their public health and sports policies, Nick realised that the rest of the world took to the car and designed their entire world around it while the Dutch never lost their love for the bike. The impact of this goes far beyond vehicle choices as the popularity of the car has made a massive impact on our physical activity. Nick reminded us that our future depends on how the ‘concrete jungle’ we live in develops over time; we need to open the eyes of our leaders to the humble power of basic tech such as the bicycle.

So how do we do this? Nick asked the delegates to cast their minds back to 2010, when London announced itself on the world stage as having the ambition to become a cycling city and launched a controversial bike scheme – “Boris Bikes”. London was known as a dangerous place to ride a bike, but since 2007 the city has set about transforming itself to ensure that cycling is quicker, easier and safer. It’s undeniable that the £2 billion reshaping of the city since then has had a real impact with the number of bikes increasing every year as well as more ambitious plans in the future.

Nick also pointed to the fact that large scale sports events are often catalysts for change in the sporting world and really encourage the public to get outside and start moving again. For example, Glasgow is planning a “Mini Cycling Olympics” event in 2023. The aspiration is that by 2023, Glasgow will have really changed the relationship that society has with the bicycle and they plan to achieve this through large scale projects already in place across the city. The sense of urgency for change is palpable and Nick believes that the event needs to deliver a legacy of transformational change. British Cycling are trying to be in the business of enabling change, not just supporting it. Large scale events are still the best way to do this and Nick is more confident than event that radical change is coming to our cities. He ended on the note that sports are the powerful glue that pulls us together and provides the inspirational spark that allows people to think big.

This statement led nicely into the Legacy Impact of Sporting Events panel, chaired by Chris Peacock of Grayling PR with speakers Nick Chamberlin of British Cycling, Joel Jackson of Bolton Council and Tracy Power of the Rugby League Women’s Cup 2021 (RLWC). Chris asked about the legacy of sporting events and what they might lead to, he directed the question to Tracy nothing that the RLWC is an event first. Tracy confirmed that this is the first time they will be running the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments at the same time displaying a platform of full inclusivity with participation fees and equal prize money across all three tournaments. Tracy mentioned that they wanted to do things differently and take the opportunity to use the tournament to make a positive impact in people’s lives.

Chris then pointed out that in terms of cycling events, most people probably associate Manchester with the velodrome and the legacy of the Commonwealth Games. Nick noted that the velodrome was actually built as part of the failed Olympic bid. Even though the Olympic bid was a failure, it shows that you can make use of every opportunity. It’s a tangible fact that the building has a physical legacy and was something that was quite unique to Britain at the time, adding an additional sporting link outside of football. Chris asked what other sports can learn in terms of creating a legacy and Nick commented that we’ve been hearing all day about the power of football. He reiterated that elite sport has a responsibility to think about the fans and how they can give back.

Chris moved on to talk about Bolton’s important part in the whole Iron Man Global programme, noting that Iron Kids was first included there. Joel reminded the audience that it’s England’s only full iron man and that they’ve turn it into a whole weekend event which has turned Bolton into a destination for the weekend. The legacy and impact of the kids finishing on the same finish line as the full Iron Man is immeasurable, we’re starting to see the first generation of Iron Kids from a few years ago completing the full Iron Man, but it’s important to mention that it’s not just about getting young people involved. The Friday Night Run is an entry level way of getting everyone involved regardless of fitness levels.

Chris noted the obvious health benefits of sport, much mentioned that he would like to talk more about mental health. Tracy stated that the RLWC has made a commitment to promotion mental fitness and is the first major sporting event to launch a mental fitness charter. Chris then asked Nick about mental health improvements through cycling. Nick thinks it’s an extremely positive thing that we are moving away from an image of ideal body shape and are beginning to focus on being physically active. He believes that mental wellbeing is the most important aspect of physical activity, ahead of physical health.

Chris then asked the panellists to comment on what they see as a long-term legacy today, asking what would they like to see as their legacy in ten years’ time? Joel believes that Iron Man Bolton’s legacy will enable them to build Bolton’s profile nationally and internationally, as well as attacting other events such as next year’s Rugby World Cup. Nick hopes that British Cycling will still be around in ten years! They would like to play some small part in changing the places around us, making cycling a quick, safe and easy choice for everyone. In terms of sport. Nick noted that cycling is a very white sport and hope that in ten years’ time British Cycling can better reflect the nation in which they exist. Tracy claimed that the RLWC look at legacy in different elements as they won’t technically exist in 2022. She hopes that they will have raised the bar in inclusivity and have created more engaged local communities like Bolton.

Our fabulous host, Sector Group Manager Ilona Alcock, the brought the event to a close thanking speakers and delegates for joining us at the first ever pro-manchester Future of Sport Symposium.