What a difference a year makes!

When The Sports Technology Annual Review and Power List was published this time last year, end-of-year predictions for the global sports technology market value were at $8 billion… and the actual valuation proved to be $17.9bn. 

This has to point to tech-led innovation’s power within the whole sports market.

That aside, last year’s publication – which was downloaded by thousands of people worldwide – was prescient and this year we aim to repeat that with this latest edition, published today.

The Review aims to provide readers with a one-stop resource which details the key aspects shaping the landscape and reflecting subjects that shape current conversations.

2022 has seen the start or development of several trends that will undoubtedly have mid-term ramifications. In media and broadcast these include the consolidation of the sector as well as several major players from Big Tech expand their stake in live sport. 

Sustainability is being taken more seriously by more venues and manufacturers. Crypto’s crash is giving pause for thought in the NFT and token space but, despite this, blockchain and Web3 seem to have kept momentum as organisations prepare for widespread adoption of the metaverse. 

One of the biggest themes to have emerged is that sports organisations’ approaches to innovation and data have undergone a seismic shift. Whilst we can’t yet claim to inhabit a data-led or innovation-first ecosystem, the year-on-year progress has been clear. 

Yes, our world largely has a tracksuit versus suit divide – and great things are ahead once that gap has been bridged – but the major step-change is that more organisations are thinking the right way about how to resource technological advancement, both in terms of skills and finance. More executives now understand that becoming an insights-led, innovative brand involves a specific process, in which issues like overcoming silos, accepting failure and managing scale are all part of a very positive journey. 

Manchester United to gift ‘club history’ NFTs to fans

The perennial truth that fans are the lifeblood of sports still holds. The desires of sports consumers – whether as viewers or participants – continue to evolve and the sector is doing an excellent job of identifying needs and innovating technology to help meet the demands of the market. 

Whilst second and third screen engagement, content automation and digital training for performance remain important drivers in the sector, betting and concussion are both particular areas of focus that have enjoyed more attention over the past 12 months. 

Another development which is starting to see some real growth is VR. It has been hyped – overly so in our opinion – for the best part of a decade, but is now, along with other forms of reality, moving from being a neat concept to a technology that delivers genuine value.  

In the materials space, there are several new fabrics emerging that are likely to face a similar trajectory – i.e. great ideas but are yet to find their place in the sector. The good news is that they buck the traditional manufacturing process and some big names in apparel are starting to work with them. 

As in all aspects of sports, there is a balance being played out between innovating to meet the needs of key stakeholders – i.e. fans, media partners and athletes – versus an economy-enforced caution about investment. Private equity is being punchy about huge-scale investment but anything in the ‘mid millions’ is giving more pause for thought. Along with a looming energy crisis and ongoing supply chain issues, there are going to be some potholes in the road which need navigating. 

Within The Review is the 2022 Sports Technology Power List. This year sees the list expand to 100 places and the way it is determined has changed too. 500 industry leaders were invited to vote for their top brands and the result has been fascinating.  

Big tech brands have generally ranked lower in the list than perhaps expected, but often their sports market activities are reliant on partnerships rather than solo initiatives: the results of many are not yet fully realised.  

Less surprising is the top five. In fact, these brands would probably have been the pick of many sports fans as well as sports senior management, so prominent is their commitment to technology in achieving their success – both sporting and commercial.  A strong common denominator is that innovation is something that is embedded in their culture.

On top of emerging from the pandemic, 2022 has delivered a triple whammy in the form of economic challenges, energy restrictions and an unstable supply chain.

Whilst trading – and innovation – environments will be made tougher, taken as a whole it is exciting to realise just how far sports has come in the past 12 months. The post-pandemic era is throwing up more external challenges than could have been predicted but the sector remains as exciting and dynamic as ever.

Rebecca Hopkins is the CEO of The STA Group, which works with global visionaries to identify, inform and celebrate the world’s leading sports technologies and the brands which embrace them. It does this through The Sports Technology Awards, The STA Startups, The Sports Technology Annual Review, The Sports Technology Power List, The Sports Technology Global Directory and its newsletter, Access Innovation.

To download your copy of The Sports Technology Annual Review and Power List, please visit www.sportstechreview.org 

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