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  • Writer's picturemartinliptrot

Sport Has The Power to Transform

I’m home. After too many years away, I’m back in New York City.

The noise is the same, the youthful vibrancy remains, the prices have gone up, but New York still feels like the creative hub of the world. You could definitely make it here.

While I haven’t relocated physically, there is little doubt New York is once again at the centre of my universe and this week sees me here on a journey of exploration and discovery.

The event I am attending - 4SE - bills itself as the growth opportunity when sports, brands, media and entertainment collide, and Gotham is most certainly the ideal backdrop for this gathering.

Everyone is excited about the potential of this intersection of sports and brands and entertainment and there are some interesting and talented speakers and contributors scheduled. The event starts in earnest tomorrow, but already some interesting characters are turning up in the bars and lounges of the accommodation partner and the online forum, apps and social spaces are lively with chatter about what to expect.

For me, why this event is so special, and New York City such a magical place to host it, is how it cements the power of sport.

I have just returned from a 6-month assignment in the Middle East working with senior sporting, government, and commercial partners to kick-start the development of not just a sporting ecosystem to deliver success on the playing field, but to help develop and transform a nation and its people.

Transformation of a millennia-old land and its people is a staggering challenge, and while countless billions of petro-dollars are being committed to this endeavour, it is telling that sport was singled out as the most powerful mechanism to achieve this.

What sport seems capable of doing, which others can’t, is engage people.

Sport is unpredictable. The outcome is not known till the last ball is kicked or hit or thrown. Passions run high, tribalism is encouraged, and victories are celebrated on a scale unrivalled. Search YouTube for videos of Naples, Italy the night they won the league championship after 33 years!

These are universal truths too. From the slums of Mumbai to the skyscrapers of Manhattan, sport can move you in ways nothing else can, The IPL, NBA, Champions League all pull global TV audiences of vast scale.

And technology and media is on the move too. Apple, TikTok and others have made everyone a creator as well as consumer.

And our tastes and preferences are evolving. We now live in a world where the concepts of ‘real life’, ‘authenticity’, ‘entertainment’ and ‘unscripted content’ are merging and layering.

Gaming is now the largest entertainment industry handsomely surpassing music and movies and is expected to generate $170billion in revenue this year. No longer the domain of lonely teenagers in their basements, today’s gamers are connecting and playing with friends they are making virtual contact with from across the globe.

EA Sports reported in their earnings call earlier this month that FIFA 23 was the most successful launch in gaming franchise history and the EA Sports FIFA franchise grew 31% in Q4 of 2022.

So, I’m expecting this 48-hour festival of ideas here in the shiny glass and steel high rises of NYC to grapple with how all these things integrate.

I’m hoping to learn more about how storied sports franchises are developing their own virtual gaming teams, signing and poaching players from each other, and investing millions in streaming services and technical infrastructure to connect with the literally millions of fans who tune in to watch the best players battle it out on their X-Boxes and PlayStations.

Professional sports teams are creating their own record labels and building new tribes of urban fans who may never go to a game, and the fashion industry – a mainstay of New York’s creative heritage – is looking for new co-branding opportunities with sports players, teams and brands.

Signed shirts, autographs and framed pictures have been joined by digital memorabilia and NFTs which fans around the world can incorporate into their digital presence and share and show off to fellow fanatics. Imagine owning the digital version of Manchester City’s ‘Aguero Moment’?

And, of course, I want to hear how Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and Enhanced Reality will play a part in how we engage and consume sport in the future.

The golf ball tracker, the camera embedded in the cricketer’s helmet, access to the 30-something camera angles every English Premier League game utilises are surely just the tip of this iceberg.

Sport is going to experience some fundamental moments in the few short years ahead. I hope this event might be remembered as the moment some of these ideas started to take shape and, thinking back to that challenge in the Middle East, we may see some changes which don’t just impact our experience and enjoyment of sporting competition but also leverage sport’s power to bring us closer together.

I’ll tell you what I hear.

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