Sporting organisations in Australia are getting more serious about their digital future. Advances in technology such as cloud computing, Software as a Service and the next generation of CRMs are changing the environment for these companies. However the primary influence on the digital future is not strictly technology based. Social media, and the ways in which organisations and their stakeholders are using it, is redefining what it means to interact with a community. Naturally, sporting teams, clubs, organisations and bodies are jumping on board as well to reach out and interact with a more diverse audience. In this article we will develop an understanding of the changes that are occurring and look at what the future holds.

History

In order to get an understanding of how the digital landscape is changing for Australian sport, it is important to understand where we have come from. In the not-so-distant past, when a sporting organization wanted to develop systems for managing membership and websites, communicating with members and fans, or organizing sporting competitions, there were few options. The organisation's needs were 'unique', so the only solution was to find a capable technology partner, define the brief and get a bespoke system built.

This worked well for a while. However, this approach frequently required the sporting organisation to go back to the same technology partner to improve and update the 'technology platform'. And as these systems became more complicated, the technology vendor may end up working on several additions that end up being very far away from their core product offering. While this cycle of request and response is a common in the technology space, it can cause difficulties, including spreading development resources too thinly and tying the sporting organisation in a bilateral relationship.

Being Data Centric

In the last couple of years, the technology landscape has changed significantly. The emergence and growth of online applications and cloud-based infrastructure means that it has become much easier to find highly specialised companies and products that can work together. Specialised marketing, event planning, membership management, finance, mobile applications, results tracking and video distribution are just some of the examples of what is available. This development of new capabilities signifies that data is now centre of the organisation’s universe.

This is certainly great news for sporting organizations simply because the more data a company can generate and analyse, the greater the potential to turn it into value – value for players, value for teams, value for fans and, importantly, value for sponsors.

Segmentation

One of the most obvious benefits of developing a data-centric approach is that it makes segmentation far easier. The more accurately audience segments can be identified; the more personalised the communications can be. This in turn makes any communication effort far more effective.

Sponsorship value

The impact of a data centric approach is ultimately about providing value to the sponsors.  Sponsors are now looking for a high level of interaction. As the world of digital communication becomes increasingly sophisticated, sponsors of sporting organisations are now looking to communicate as effectively as possible with ever-increasing number of sub-groups. It is no longer good enough to simply be talking to all of the members en-mass. Sponsors are looking for response rates and market intelligence.

The value goes both ways though. If the sporting organisation can provide data which enables better targeting and success rates, then sponsors will very quickly see value. They in turn will be incentivised to increase the value and length of the sponsorship funding – allowing the sporting organisation to do more.

Social media's increased value

One of the key areas that will be driving this growth in the coming years will be an increased focus on social media. Not only does the social media platform deliver a way of communicating instantly and directly with a sporting organisation's market place, but it can easily provide the data to make those messages as effective as possible. Brand communication through social media is in its infancy but 2011 will see it mature at an astonishing rate. Organisations that take advantage of this shift will be positioning themselves for success in the future.
 
Teamwork is the future

Sporting organisations, particularly smaller ones, may have to find ways of working together. The size of the audiences they are working with require enterprise-level tools to be employed. Unfortunately for many smaller organisations, enterprise-level budgets do not always exist. By working together, and sharing data, sporting organisations have the opportunity to pool resources, employ new tools and quickly become sophisticated digital communicators.

The digital space is now more active than it has ever been. Sporting organisations have what most brands would kill for – a passionate and enthusiastic base of fans who are falling over themselves to share their opinions and information. There may be a learning curve to navigate but the future has never looked brighter.