Future of Sport Symposium: Part One

Friday, 31st January 2020

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

On Thursday 30th January, we welcomed Manchester’s leading sports industry professionals to our sold-out Future of Sport Symposium.

Ilona Alcock, Sector Group Manager at pro-manchester, opened the conference and thanked Deloitte for hosting and sponsoring the event, and for their support from the early planning stages. Ilona also thanked pro-manchester’s Sports Industry committee for their enthusiasm and dedication. She then handed over to the chair of the committee – David Stevenson, New Business Manager (Sports) – Apadmi.

David acknowledged that Manchester is becoming known as the place to do business in sports. He wanted to focus particularly on Apadmi’s Sail GP app and the success they enjoyed with it in the 2019 season. Sail GP is an international sailing competition that David described as the Formula 1 of sailing. Apadmi collected 1200 data points from each boat to create a never before seen second screen app experience for a global audience. This means that everyone from the audience on the land, to spectators watching at home, to people on the boats themselves could keep up to date with the race. This data included everything from the speed of the boat to how much each of the sailors sweated in one race! They used eight cameras on each boat, a helicopter with two cameras and even drones to make sure that the action was captured from every angle. Apadmi also managed to ensure that latency was sub 5 seconds so none of the action was missed.

Additional information to this extent is a complete gamechanger when it comes to any kind of sport. It completely transforms the experience and fans loved it, so much so that some of the biggest motorsports in the world are looking to implement something similar. It’s easy to see how technology on this level can change the world of sport and David promises that there is much more to come from Apadmi in 2020!

Next, Andrew Morrow, Solutions Architect at Amazon Web Services (AWS), shared how they are working with fantastic clubs around the world, primarily by using machine learning to improve data collection and real time predictions. When talking about machine learning, Andrew noted that there are four key areas:

• Reactive to predictive – the sports world is obsessed with predictions.
• Delayed to real time – how quickly can we get data out there? We used to have to stop at half time to watch all the replays, but now we can re-watch what happened as the situation develops which is fantastic for the fans.
• Manual to automatic – we no longer have to rely on manual processes for data which makes everything much faster.
• Flat to visually rich – all about the visual experience and how it can be enhanced.

Andrew stated that one of their biggest success with machine learning is the NFL’s “Next Gen Stats” which was created to engage more with the fans. To do so, AWS has put tech inside almost everything on the field – from the shoulder pads to the ball – tracking how fast they’re moving, where they are, etc. The latest ‘big hit’ to come out of the project are the pass completion probability and catch probability stats which really allow the fans to see differences between players and really note the talent and performance involved in the sport.

AWS have undertaken a similar project for Formula 1, using data from 120 sensors on the cars to generate an impressive 1.1 million telemetry data points per second. Conditions of the car and track all make a difference to race strategy and the chances of success. Data collected allows the technology to make predictions off the back of it, which in turn allows drivers to make better decisions. Echoing David’s points in the previous session, Andrew notes that this sort of technology will benefit a wide range of sports in the future.

Yvonne Harrison, Managing Director of Project 92, shared updates on the various projects she is involved in across the Class of 92 portfolio. Yvonne’s main remit is the sport and education aspect, but she noted that every aspect of the business is very much focused on character and traits that you need to be a great person in real life, not just football. They want to ensure that their businesses have an impact in the community and create pathways into football, education, volunteering opportunities and more.

UA92, a new university, opened in September and the focus is once again on character development, to the point where students will actually be assessed on it. The entire university will be on the same character development module week, e.g. ‘resilience week’, which means that for the first time, students on completely different courses will be able to work together and really talk to each other. They want to disrupt how the current higher education system works and challenge traditional university structures.

Yvonne also talked about Academy 92, which aims to use the power of football to inspire people to go down an education pathway. They are developing opportunities for young people to come and study in the UK while also enjoying a ‘football experience’. It is possible to reach people through football in a way that other charity organisations in the area can not.

The fan engagement piece is hugely important in football and Yvonne notes that the role tech can play in that is fascinating. The usage of data and statistics is something that we’re seeing more and more of because it is what fans want.

The first session concluded with the Women in Sport panel, hosted by Rachael Somerset – Mills & Reeve with speakers Izzy Wray – Deloitte, Kirsty Hulland – Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club, Maggie Murphy – Lewes Football Club, Pete Davies – Sugar PR and Sarah Whyman – Mills & Reeve. Rachael began the session by asking the panellists what issues, challenges and opportunities they see for women in sport.

Sarah noted that male sports people tend to have more access to legal advice and mentoring which is something that they are hoping to combat at Mills & Reeve with their newly launched Equaliser package. Izzy mentioned that there are more commercial opportunities for women in sport now with increasing interest from fans and media: the challenge is in creating sustained interest. Izzy believes that athletes can be their own content creators, enhancing their personal brands digitally. Pete agreed that female athletes should develop their own brand assets through their own media.

Kirsty added that women’s football has changed drastically over the last five years and there are more opportunities for female footballers with many PR companies and lawyers getting involved to help. Women’s football is receiving a lot more investment which in turn leads to opportunities at both a grassroots and elite level. Maggie touched on the fact that there are many more obstacles for women who want to play football. She also mentioned the potential for change and improvement in lower tier football is huge as a small amount of money can make a massive difference. This has been proven at Lewes FC – the only club to distribute revenue equally between the men’s and women’s teams.

Rachael then asked whether we should pay women the same amount as men when women’s sport doesn’t pull in as much money? Maggie reminded delegates that investment into women’s sport has been stifled for decades and if anything, we need overinvestment to catch up! Kirsty doesn’t believe that equal pay for women is always a viable option at this stage and we need to focus more on generating revenue from women’s sport. Pete agreed that more money needs to be pumped into women’s sports for authorities such as the FA. His view is that pay disparity means that there is a responsibility from athletes to maximise their revenue potential and a lot of their money will come through commercial arrangements such as sponsorship deals.

Rachael moved on to ask about how Brexit might influence women’s sport. Kirsty mentioned that the talent pool just isn’t there yet in England so we naturally look overseas. Brexit will most likely mean that the transfer criteria will change, creating new challenges.

Ilona wrapped up the first session, thanking all speakers, and encouraging delegates to continue the conversations over the break.