Features

July 16, 2014

The Role of Innovation in Sport

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Innovation, Big Data and Digital are the current ‘sweet spot’ for enterprise. But, these three focal points are also the ‘sweet spot’ for global sport.

All three are directly linked to each other and in the context of sport, whether elite, community or somewhere in between, a well balanced combination of these three focal points is critical to both strategy design and execution.

In a previous article I wrote about Big Data and the opportunity to derive insight from data.

This is highly relevant because in an ideal scenario, insight rather than intuition drives our decision-making.

Insight also drives innovation and helps us find the ‘unknown-unknowns,’ or high value problems worth solving.

And, the combination of Big Data, Digital and Innovation strategy, execution and iteration gets us closer to customers, closer to the community and closer to winning the big games and gold medals we desire.

Governing organisations like the Australian Sports Commission, and their equivalents around the world are typically tasked with two primary objectives: increasing participation and increasing performance (or more simply, winning gold medals).

And because of these key objectives, Big Data, Digital and Innovation are necessities, both now and in the years to come.

We’ve begun to see some fantastic examples of ‘the sweet spot’ for sport with the work IBM’s been doing with tennis, the wearable devices like Electrozyme and Catapult we’re seeing in both the consumer and elite sector, and when it comes to connecting with fans, the work Melbourne based startup eCal is doing with professional sporting teams is brilliant.

IBM's Australian Open Slamtracker Image: www-07.ibm.com/innovation/au/ausopen/analytics.html

An example of the ‘sweet spot’ for sport: IBM’s Australian Open Slamtracker

These and numerous other examples are great to see as they strengthen the sporting ecosystem at large.

But, for existing teams, companies and organisations executing and optimising their current business model, the shift to the incubation and exploration of new ideas, new methods and new business or revenue models in search of ‘innovation’ can be a daunting task.

This potentially daunting task also presents a massive opportunity.

The opportunity to diversify revenue models, deliver greater value to customers or even predict the performance and injury outcomes of our top Olympic athletes.

And with that said, I believe it’s a task worth pursuing.

Before going into innovation’s role within global sport, let’s take a moment to understand what innovation actually is.

‘Innovation’ as a concept is often misunderstood but I tend to think of innovation as something that is new, uniquely useful and is commercially (or its equivalent) successful.

My favourite description of innovation can be seen here.

What this means is that innovation delivers unique value.

And there is always going to be a role for the delivery of unique value in sport, or any other industry for that matter.

So the role of innovation in sport, is really about strengthening and growing the entire ecosystem, as well as continually increasing the value that participants (athletes, teams, organisations, sponsors, fans, media etc.) within the global sporting ecosystem receive.

For this to occur, within new or existing organisations, the combination of solid strategy, with the skills and resources to execute on Big Data, Digital and ultimately the delivery of Innovation are needed.

This does not occur by accident and only through deliberate effort is this achievable.

We’ve seen many examples recently, and we are likely to see a multitude of examples in the years to come. The only question left to ask is whether or not you’ll be one of them.


One Comment


  1. Interesting article Nathan – thanks for this. Sport is certainly at a very interesting sport and especially excited that the technology you talk about is becoming more accessible and affordable to the “common” athlete. Just wondering if you think social media should have its own place in the ‘sweet spot’ or do you keep this under technology?



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