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    Beyond the arena

    Beyond the arena: Understanding the influence of sport

    As we begin to imagine a new world beyond the pandemic, the sports industry is at an inflection point that will determine its future.

    Jörg Polzer

    Faced with rapid technological innovation, a globalised sports market and the challenge of climate change and transformational shifts in society, sport has an unprecedented opportunity to empower and influence our world and to contribute to a better future for all.

    But, in order for rights holders and brands to understand and prepare for the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, it is vital to first explore the remarkable way that sport has evolved to answer so many needs in our lives today.

    The first role of sport in our society is to fulfil our need for competition and playfulness. Over time, sport has developed, and continues to develop, into countless forms of organised and casual competition. Today, this basic element is fundamental to the way athletes, fans and consumers interact with sport, and it must not be forgotten as we move forward.

    Hand in hand with this first element is the benefit that sport has on our health and wellbeing. Sport and physical activity have become integral to the solutions required to address the health crises that blight our societies today. At the same time, too excessive or obsessive an approach to physical activity can trigger its own challenges, including body image concerns and injuries.

    Sport also helps to galvanise and repair fragmented communities with a sense of identity and belonging. Humans are social animals and we need ways to come together to develop social skills and collective purpose. Sport meets this need in two ways – through shared physical activity and through the opportunity to spectate and support as fans.

    The rapid rise of sport as a form of entertainment and aesthetics has created huge opportunities for the sports industry, but also for our societies. The possibilities have leapt from in-person viewing, radio and television coverage to encompass everything that digital technology has to offer. Sport also answers our hunger for storytelling of human endeavour, triumph and tragedy. These stories help us make sense of our own lives, but also help us to escape from day-to-day realities.

    Sport is more than just a game. It is an industry that creates immense value and jobs in business and commerce, and a cycle of investment that spurs innovation, the adoption of technology and further growth in sport. For brands today, it offers a unique channel to connect with audiences that have become harder to reach. For rights holders, it presents ever-evolving opportunities to explore new revenue streams. At the same time, serious questions have been raised about the negative impact of a range of factors, for example, over-commercialisation, money laundering and illegal betting.

    As sport has developed, it has become a force to exercise politics and soft power. The popularity of sport has enabled causes such as the fight against inequality to gain momentum. It has also created safe spaces for countries at odds with each other to build bridges, or for nations to express and celebrate their identities together. The spirit of fair play and the rule of law, so fundamental in sport, has become a universal language. Increasingly, individual athletes are using their own platforms to speak out. There are risks, of course, which must be managed, such as the cost of competitions stirring up political tensions in host countries.

    The explosion of sports has sparked social and economic development that will continue to grow in importance into the future. From teaching values and leadership to improving representation and life chances in underserved communities, sport can have a powerful impact on the most vulnerable people. However, it is important to remember that sport is only part of the solution and that change is often incremental, requiring sustained effort.

    As sport further helps to address the complex challenges we face today, the issue of nature and the environment looms large. While sport can connects us to nature, it is also a contributor to climate change, environmental damage and waste. Today, the sports industry is grappling with how to reduce its carbon footprint, while preserving the magic and international nature of competition.

    How are these factors influencing your approach in the sports industry today? How will they shape your future strategies and choices? And, importantly, how will you interpret these trends to engage more fans and unlock opportunity?

    This is the first in a series of three articles designed to foster and encourage dialogue and debate on the topic of “Brave New Sport”, as we seek to explore how rights holders and brands can get ahead of the curve to unlock future opportunities in sport.

    Get involved, share your ideas and join the “Brave New Sport” discussion.

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    Jörg Polzer