Sometimes, when watching football coverage on TV, you could almost believe it hasn’t changed over the years. And with so much fast-paced innovation going on within consumers’ lives and across the technological landscape over recent years, it definitely feels as if the whole experience of watching the game is ripe for a major shot in the arm.
The future of football on television was the subject of a panel discussion I took part in last weekend at the Adidas Lab, alongside experts from from BT Sport, YouTube, YouTube football channel Copa 90 and Adidas Global.
We kicked off by exploring the future of football broadcasting. The key consumer trends impacting how football will be shown by mainstream broadcasters are Demanding Consumers, Everyday Exceptional and Authenti-Seeking. It is very likely that the football fan of the future will expect the broadcasting experience to be closer to the in-stadium experience, to be more tailored to them as an individual and more immersive. Broadcasters might, for example, be better able to segment their offering, recognising that not all fans have the same relationship with the teams playing in a particular match, and therefore require different things from the broadcast, depending their interest in the teams playing and the importance of the game. For example, on some occasions viewers might prefer partisan rather than impartial commentary. They might like to suppress the commentary entirely and replace it with crowd noise (including banter, chanting and swearing) from a specific section of the ground.
Then we moved on to the future of online football, which clearly offers up new horizons to fans, in terms of content and access. Consumer trends such as Mobile Living, Native Marketing and Free! are highly relevant here, highlighting fans’ desire to access the sport they love via smartphones and tablets, wherever and whenever they want, to find the content they want without paying for it, and to immerse themselves ever deeper in the stories and characters that inhabit the beautiful game. Many clubs are already active in this sphere – Manchester City were cited as a good example, offering a “Tunnel Cam” that gives subscribers a new access point to see the players before the come onto the pitch.
From there we moved on to second screens. Second screening refers to viewers simultaneously doing something else like texting, web-surfing or status updating at the same time as viewing, driven by consumer trends like Smart Boredom and Smart Networking. In the context of football the second screen can be used for all kinds of things:
- Exchanging the banter that is so much a part of the football community using either dedicated apps such as Vubooo and Squawka Zeebox or traditional social media sources (Facebook, Twitter, and so on)
- Betting on the changing match situation via in-game gambling options
- Keeping tabs on the progress of one’s Fantasy Football team
- Ordering pizzas and other in-match provisions
We finished by considering the future of data in football (on TV), where consumer trends like Total Recall, Quantified Self and Consumer Capital become highly relevant. Data, in particular statistics from Opta, now characterise in- and post-game analysis like never before. Some of the high-tech gadgetry on show at the Adidas Lab will make data even richer and more accessible. But there is clearly a question about how much of this is desired by the viewing fan, as opposed to the football community itself.
From the 2013 season onwards, shirts worn by players from all participating teams in the US’s Major League Soccer will carry small chips powered by the Adidas miCoach Elite System that track a number of performance measures – including heartbeat, acceleration and speed. Spectators can access the data via a dedicated iPad app.
As the amount of data that in-ball, on-pitch, in-goal and on-player devices offer skyrockets, so do the dangers of data overload. I think the emphasis will continue to be on the usage of statistics to tell compelling stories through the usage of increasingly cool visualisation tools, rather than the stats being an end in themselves.
Overall, what seems clear is that the future of the beautiful game on TV is exciting. Football arouses passions that are often difficult for those not swept along by them to understand and which are diverse – from anger to frustration, sometimes joy, often humour. And all of these need to be retained in whatever form the high-tech future brings to us. Provided they can be kept the future of football can be both real and high-tech.