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Viewpoint: Innovation crucial in time of change

The creative use of technology will be crucial to maximise the impact of sports events returning to stadia and arenas, according to a sports business expert.

Javier Martínez, currently a fan innovation and senior strategic advisor to English Premier League football club Manchester City; senior strategic advisor to IT and software development company Globant; and ambassador/mentor at the Global Sports Innovation Center by Microsoft; has outlined his thoughts as to how sport can resume amid COVID-19.

He told Spanish news agency EFE: “All those technologies that were previously an addition to broadcasting, such as three-dimensional replays or 360-degree vision, are now going to be important. This will lead to the adaptation of the stadiums.”

Martínez previously served as business and experience managing director at Spanish LaLiga club Atletico de Madrid from 2014 to 2017; along with being a vice-president and executive committee member at the Walt Disney Company from 2001 to 2014.

The reopening of stadia and arenas, either at full, partial or zero capacity, will necessitate advances in technology such as contactless or mobile payment, turnstile-free access, and security, Martínez claims. “The good thing is that when resources are lacking, talent and creativity tend to bloom,” he added.

Meanwhile, in a webinar, Martínez spelled out how the COVID-19 world necessitates rethinking how the modern-day fan engagement or experience is presented. He said: “There is a premise that we must prioritise – we are human.

“We will live a ‘scorched earth’ scenario, with moments of uncertainty and opportunities. An endless number of possibilities are opening up to us to facilitate reunions, generate unique physical and digital experiences, relying on technological innovation to surprise and amaze, and encourage the longed-for reunion.”

Outlining how the rules of the game have changed, Martínez said brands must have a clear sense and purpose of relationship with fans, based on the value proposal and everything relevant to develop the strategy of engagement.

He stated: “Thanks to access to data based on developments of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technology, we have algorithms that can process in seconds all the necessary information, to build segments and adequate profiles on which the relationships with the fans will be established.

“Technology should not be a goal itself. Consumers have migrated to digital ecosystems, where current interaction trends will be enhanced and new solutions will be created, based on their personalised, omnichannel and social characteristics.”

Martínez also highlighted the potential for ‘phygital’ (physical-digital) ecosystems. He said: “Fans will be able to increase their emotional connection, through physical and virtual experiences, which encourage interaction between members, communities and organisations, and being able to enjoy the event or competition in real time, anywhere on the planet.

“A very illustrative example is the creation of virtual stadiums, of infinite capacity of spectators, where not only can they watch the game from their virtual seat (VR), but they can enjoy socialising with their peers, opening unlimited commercial capacities.”

Reinforcing the need for innovation in this time of change, Martínez added: “There will be a migration of activity towards the digital environment, much more profound than that seen so far.

“The consolidation of new technological developments such as 5G, artificial intelligence and machine learning will facilitate a superior immediacy, reduction of production costs, and will improve user satisfaction.

“The universe of entrepreneurs and startups will offer us the two sides of the coin, where investment will be restricted, but at the same time new opportunities will open up. It will be the moment where the ecosystems of innovation (hubs, labs, accelerators, incubators) will help to take a giant step towards the creation of new solutions, in a disruptive and collaborative way.”