Synergy at CES Sports Forum: Tech for 2016
Last week, I joined 170,000 people descending on Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. The name is deceptive – this is a show about the new and next technology in all forms and sport (on and off the field) was playing its strongest game.

This was evidenced at the packed Sports Forum sponsored by Turner, attracting a stellar line-up of panelists including two commissioners (NBA and MLB), two NBA team owners (Mavericks and Kings), the CEO of Intel and even Shaquille O’Neal.

So what was getting the buzz? I’ve drawn out the main talking points below and in some instances set them in the context of our bespoke US Millennial & Sports engagement research (Synergy / IG / Cassandra Report – ‘Millennials, Sports & Sponsorship 2015′ – 3,145 sample in US).

1. Tech for tech sake is a waste of time

A general consensus across all speakers and attendees that whilst sport has been slightly behind the curve in relation to other forms of entertainment (film and music in particular), when it comes to harnessing tech to benefit fans it’s making a fast comeback.

Central to this is that with more Millennials coming to support teams and players via their friends and their social community than ever before, technology is becoming a new driver of tribalism that before came through family. Our research underlines this as 43% of Millennials state that the reason a sport is their favorite is because their friends are into it (compared to only 33% of Gen Xers).

Both the league Commissioners and team owners agreed the strength of social as not just a content driver to existing fans, but as a powerful data collection and educational tool for a whole new audience.

But tech for tech sake is a total waste of time and sponsors can burn money fast trying to jump on the latest innovation. As one brand CMO said – ‘we simply can’t try and answer all tech and platform needs of our consumers, because after we’ve spent months trying to find a solution the next big thing has already come along and our audience has shifted.’

So brands should choose their weapons carefully and invest in them properly.

2. Virtual Reality is the new TV

As weapons go, Virtual Reality is moving from stealth bomber to conventional warfare for brands and rightsholders in sport. One team owner described the potential impact of VR on sport over the next five years as ‘the same impact TV had over radio’.

The possibility to move it beyond simply an alternative at the event to commercial applications is already live. The Sacramento Kings, for example, have sold season tickets in their new arena by giving fans the chance to experience the view from their seat before walking courtside to interact with one of the star players.

With only 29% of Millennials relying on official team and league channels for information, brands should be looking at VR as deepening the story-telling potential of sports – beyond just a ‘be there’ experience which will be more the natural domain of the rightsholders and broadcasters. Also, any brands concerned that VR is potentially a solo experience should have seen the connected and simultaneous VR experience on the Samsung stand – a truly shared and shareable use of the technology.

3. E Sports is mainstream

The debate over whether or not it’s a sport is irrelevant – it’s the fastest growing pursuit amongst Millennials across the world and is truly borderless. As a brand, if you’re targeting a sub-35 age group and are not either in it or thinking about it you need to move fast. The E League was launched in a live match between two teams and it was standing room only in the arena – our research showed that 52% of Millennials are drawn to eSports because of the access the game allows them to both the players and 55% because it feels ‘innovative’ – this number is way higher than the ‘big four’.

It’s a passion that, due to its very nature, is perfectly ‘socially enabled’. And if you’re wondering if it’s a sport just ask the top competitors who are generally burnt out by 25 and practise up to 12 hours every day…

4. Social Enhancement of Live Sports

Mavericks owner and tech entrepreneur, Mark Cuban stated – ‘every one time someone looks down at their phone during a game in the arena we lose them’. This was focused on fans in the stadium and I believe that the opposite is true for fans watching in bars, at home on the move – brands that understand how to enhance the human dimension of sports – not replace it, can own a live moment when fans (especially Millennials) are connecting with each other more than ever.

Our research showed that a huge 53% of Millennials are second screening to show behind the scenes content of what THEY are doing, while they talk to their friends about the live game.

Beware the bright lights of innovation – the evidence is that on the whole a Millennial sports fan is after simple, quick ways to get & share a wide breadth of content not hugely immersive experiences and interaction / UGC.

In other words – always know your consumer.

But for those that have experienced the endless queues and traffic of Las Vegas during CES, last word goes to one of my taxi drivers…’these guys can invent the future but they can’t solve a traffic jam?’