Sporting lessons for IT leaders looking to improve customer engagement

Ask business leaders to state which industry they feel is being most disrupted by the digital revolution, and they are likely to list sectors such as retail, media, music, movies, entertainment, maybe banking too.

But one area going through the most rapid change at the moment is sport. In recent months Computer Weekly has written about examples of significant digital change in football, tennis, rugby, cricket, Formula One and cycling, to name just a few.

Consider Premier League football club Tottenham Hotspur (unless you’re an Arsenal fan, in which case that’s the last thing you want). Spurs are building London’s biggest capacity club stadium, at a cost of about £800m. Right from the start, the club is designing in the latest technologies to help engage with fans and improve the matchday experience for a tech-savvy generation.

Chelsea aren’t far behind (in tech terms, at least), recently announcing plans to create a high-capacity small-cell network at their Stamford Bridge ground.

At Wimbledon this year, IBM showcased its Watson artificial intelligence system to help tennis fans experience more of the action and get better insights into the matches.

The International Cricket Council set out to digitise the world of cricket after selecting Intel to roll out drone technology, connected cricket bats and virtual reality at the 2017 Champions Trophy one-day international series.

The Tour de France is using data capture from cyclists in harsh mountain terrains and remote French countryside to give unprecedented new insights into the highly tactical nature of elite road racing – in effect, pioneering an internet of things network delivering real-time data from complex off-network environments.

And under new owners Liberty Media, Formula One motor racing is talking about digital innovation such as real-time virtual racing against the actual drivers during a Grand Prix. Imagine watching Lewis Hamilton on a split-screen, as he races around Monte Carlo, with you on a simulator virtually competing against him on the adjacent screen. It’s likely this will happen.

Sports fans have become used to the reams of data used by broadcasters to bring greater depth and interest to their coverage, but now that data is increasingly being used to directly engage and involve supporters with their favourite events, as they happen.

If you’re not a sports fan, though – so what? Well, there are plenty of lessons here for IT leaders in any industry. The smart thinking in sport about how to use data, mobile and internet of things to engage with and grow their audience has parallels in any consumer-facing business – and in the public sector too.

Customers and citizens may not always be your biggest fans – but technology in sport might just hold some clues about how to change that for the better.