Startups and Sport: How the World of Sport is Evolving

Digital technology has fully entered the world of sport, revolutionising the existing system. Companies, federations, associations and sports centres are increasingly interested in the potential of the most innovative technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, Internet of Things, mobile App, artificial intelligence. While on the one hand it is mainly start-ups that are focusing on digital, creating more streamlined business models, on the other hand more and more cases of companies are starting to register that decide to get old by exploiting technology for fitness. The words start-up and sport, in short, are increasingly connected.

Start-up Sport: How Many are and What Changes Compared to the Past

There are 1,012 digital start-ups in sport surveyed internationally, born between 2011 and 2016, of which 686 have been financed for a total investment of 4 billion dollars. These companies exploit the potential of digital solutions to monitor athletic performance, manage events, take care of business processes and also to engage users, retain them and improve their experience. The most popular technologies are Apps, online platforms, Internet of Things.

The Italian case, however, has some peculiarities. In Italy there are only 50 innovative companies in the sports sector and, of these, only 24 have received funding, only 17 million euros in total, and an average investment of around 700 thousand euros. These data, the result of research by the Observatory for Digital Innovation in the Sport Industry of the School on Management of the Politecnico di Milano, therefore outline a picture in which it clearly emerges that Italian companies are still far from seizing the opportunities of the new technological challenge.

What Technology do Sports Start-Ups Focus on?

More than half of the start-ups financed, i.e. 395, are in North America (Canada and the USA), 200 are in Europe, 53 in Asia, followed by Africa, Oceania and South America. If we consider the financing obtained, however, Asia is at the top of the list, with as much as 2 billion dollars, of which 1.7 billion for start-ups in the sports sector; then there are North America with 1.7 billion, Europe with 300 million and finally the remaining areas in which, however, there are marginal investments.

49% of digital sports start-ups (almost half) have chosen solutions to monitor sports performance and training, prevent injuries and support rehabilitation activities. 33% opted for virtual systems and mobile devices to track and improve the user experience, including merchandising and online ticket sales. 16% of start-ups use digital solutions to plan events, manage stadiums or sports facilities, also focusing on cultural promotion. Finally, only 1% of sports clubs use technology to manage staff, teams, relationships with sponsors and suppliers, and safety in facilities.

There are also start-ups that are interested in more sports (48%) and others that focus on a single sport (52%). Among the start-ups of the second case the most followed sport is football and digital solutions are in 49% of cases used for fan experience, in 35% for performance, 14% for event management, 1% for club management.

After football, the most digital sport is basketball with 24 start-ups in which 42% use technology for the fan experience, 38% to monitor performance, 17% to manage events, 4% to manage clubs.

Digital Sport Start-ups in Italy

In Italy, 58% of sports start-ups use technology to offer performance-related solutions, one in five (20%) focuses on the fan experience, 28% on event management, and only 4% use new opportunities to manage clubs.

Here are the most used technologies:

  1. online platforms (used by 54% of sports start-ups);
  2. cameras (16%);
  3. virtual reality (2%). Unlike international start-ups, however, Italian start-ups prefer the Internet of Things (24%) over Apps (14%).

44% of the operators deal with more sports, 56% concentrate on just one and among these 22% work in football, 10% in fitness, 4% in basketball.

Digital solutions have great potential and for sports clubs are undoubtedly a good opportunity, they can be useful to prevent certain types of injury, they can help to retain users or fans, they can help to monitor performance.

In Italy it is still difficult to reap these advantages, probably because of the lack of digital skills within sports clubs and also because of the lack of a strategic vision. It is also true that in order to make the most of the potential of digital technology, it is necessary not only to have technology, but also to have adequate training. In addition to the technical and sporting figures, it is therefore necessary to have managers capable of outlining a strategy, including a digital one, in which the priorities for intervention and also for investment are well defined.

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