Top Sports Trends for 2021

By: Marilyn Cox
January 2, 2021
The sports world is changing - check out the trends we see impacting SIDs, Athletic Directors, and programs everywhere.

The other morning I was having breakfast with my 13-year-old daughter.  The Today Show was doing a segment on Sarah Fuller. “Oh yeah, I saw this on TikTok yesterday,” she said.“ They have all these one-minute sports segments where they cover highlights and the news”. This generational shift in news consumption is just one of many trends upending our industry this year. Some of these trends, like TikTok binging, are impacting communications, and some like the “Fair Pay to Play” Act and cancellation of NCAA tournaments will have multi-year negative impacts on the revenue at DII and DIII schools.

The social and political climate is very heated and students want their schools to stand with them against injustice. The role of ‘supporting athletes’ could become more than just sharing an athlete’s stats. What is classified as a sport is also changing. eSports are now growing on all campuses, across all divisions. All teams (chess and even quidditch) will be considered part of the athletic department. Offering technology to support more than just the 5-7 traditional sports will be a differentiator. As we look towards 2021, these are the trends in high school and college sports that we believe will have the biggest impact.


1. 5G and Cloud Computing Open New Possibilities in Sports

74% of mobile traffic will be through video in 2024, meaning full integration and understanding of 5G services are high-priority action items. What’s more, 70% of providers’ 5G launch plans revolve around sporting events. As 5G wireless technology is rolled out during 2021, its faster transmission speeds can reduce latency for fans—both at home and in stadiums. Sports fans can get lightning-fast, real-time data—precisely when and where they need it. This includes a near-instantaneous relay of cloud-computing data based on in-game adjustments made by managers and coaches. Additionally, monetization of 5G-enabled VR devices will allow fans to experience live games from virtually anywhere and with friends across the globe. Mobile devices will soon be able to match the latency and quality of consoles for esports. Hologram broadcasts are already being explored by some broadcast companies as a legitimate use case of 5G’s speed. Your program should begin to evaluate how to leverage streaming and mobile solutions to monetize higher-quality, immersive, and added-value broadcasts.

2. Esports Will Continue Its Rapid Evolution

The global esports market is expected to generate $1.5 billion in annual revenues, primarily from sponsorships and advertising to an estimated global audience of 600 million fans. 40% of gamers watch esports events at least once a week.  2021 could be the year in which traditional sports franchises fully establish effective business and broadcast models for their esports league counterparts, delivering fan experiences with mass appeal and determining the business model that will drive long-term growth and profitability.  Schools are creating more one-to-one relationships with fans, leveraging direct marketing and CRM approaches not only to drive advocacy and talk value, but also to take advantage of the viewing behaviors and data coming out of engagement with esports leagues to drive greater monetization, awareness, and advocacy.

Analytics is a key element of this—a better understanding of viewers can not only help create a deeper engagement loop, but also attract more brand sponsorship. In-game analytics can also drive further engagement, as sports statistics are a core part of the fan experience. With esports leagues now entering their “junior year,” Deloitte is seeing an acceleration of relationships among teams, leagues, and players. If your program doesn’t currently include esports in its sports portfolio, it soon will.

3. The Trickle-Down Effect of Technology on High School Sports

Balancing the value and distraction of technology in high school sports can be a challenge where the student-athletes are digital natives. Aside from text communications, one of the most transformed aspects of coaching at the high school level is the use of film and video in training. In addition to game footage, coaches can easily edit film for specific players, making coaching more individualized than ever. Coaches can send athletes clips with their edits so they can see a play from a coach’s perspective. Technology is allowing recruiters to scout more high school athletes across a wider pool, which means more athletes can be scouted to play at the college level. Enhanced streaming solutions also allow coaches to speed up the footage review process so that it’s closer to real time, like capturing, editing and reviewing gameplay video during halftime. Finally, the use of data collection for team selection through apps that track the performance and statistics of specific athletes is increasing. That information can help coaches put together winning lineups and even make adjustments to check an opposing teams’ particular strength. Tools that once seemed accessible to Power Five programs are now available for all performance levels.

4. Everyone Will Get Really Really Good at Streaming

We thought it was wonderful and amazing when cable television expanded coverage for all kinds of sports. The choices seemed unlimited. But it still took a team of professionals to achieve the quality and details of the broadcasts we expected, like instant replays, sideline interviews, or heck, even a game clock. To be blunt, a lot of times even they fell short, and “finding a stream” to watch was not as simple as clicking the TV remote. Then came a generation of cord-cutters where finding exactly what they want to watch outside of a traditional network isn’t an issue. And now the technology is here where shockingly small staffs at athletic programs everywhere will create productions that have all of that and more. With automated cameras providing multiple views, and easy to use systems that deliver instant replays, great graphics, and other capabilities, watching these programs doesn’t take a back seat to the big networks, especially for fans that have never been able to watch their team before.

5. Bet on It

Sports betting is rolling across the country and don’t count on it slowing down any time soon. With twenty states already with legalized sports betting, and more under consideration, it’s going to come out of the shadows and be ever present around competitions across the country. While sports betting has long traditions in other countries around the world, few if any of those cultures have anything resembling the college sports environment we have in the states. It will be interesting to see how the two coexist.

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