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What Does the Future of the Sports Industry Look Like?

by James Musoba
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Professional sports are almost unrecognizable compared to several decades ago. The way the industry has evolved means that money has flowed into every area of the business, from the players to the way that the grass is cared for. 

This revolution in sport has turned the professional level from a space for talented people to get by while they do what they love, into a place where some of the biggest fortunes in the world are made. 

We can see this in the United Kingdom. In the early days of association football, teams were banned from paying their players. By the late 19th century this had changed, but wages were incredibly modest. 

For example, in 1888, Nick Ross, a player for Everton, was remunerated with a total of £10 per month (£907.50 today). Compare that to the team’s best-paid player today, Yerry Mina, who earns the equivalent of £520,000 per month, and you can get a sense of just how dramatic the change has been. 

Professional sports are continually evolving, so, in another century, it’s likely the industry will be completely unrecognizable again. Exactly how it will look in the 2100s is hard to predict, but it is possible to examine the direction of travel over the coming years by considering the factors that are likely to have the biggest impact on professional sports in that time. 

Sports Betting

People have always bet on sports. It’s in our nature to challenge our friends (or bookies) to see who can predict the outcome because we are competitive creatures. In recent years, the way we’ve bet on sports has been changing. 

More and more of us have gone online to wager on sports rather than in person at a sportsbook or casino. Convenience and greater choice are the main reasons behind this, but free bet promotions from bookies like FanDuel have also contributed to this shift. 

In the US, sports betting is growing at an impressive rate following rule changes that allow it in more states. However, the industry in the US is still in its infancy, at least compared to Europe. Therefore, the coming years are likely to see the size and prominence of the sports betting market expand even further. 

Less TV, More Streaming

The eye-watering sums of money that have made professional sports what it is today is the result of television. In the US, the NFL rakes in about $10 billion a year for its broadcast rights, with the money trickling down to the teams and players. 

And that’s only the money coming directly from TV. The sponsorship deals that all teams sign are only possible because of the huge audiences that television brings. Without millions of fans watching on the screens in their living rooms, brands wouldn’t be interested in paying massive sums to have their logos plastered around stadiums and on shirts. 

So you’d imagine that sports leagues and teams wouldn’t be interested in upsetting this incredibly profitable apple cart. But that’s far from the case. 

In fact, leagues are exploring ways that they can cut out the middlemen entirely and broadcast their content directly to fans. Most already do this with streaming services, currently mixed with traditional TV. It won’t be long before this changes though. The transition will be gradual and the TV broadcasters are likely to put up a fight, but streaming will almost certainly take over. 

A More Human Side

In the past, athletes and fans have had few opportunities to interact with each other. This has meant that sports stars have not always been able to show their personalities, instead appearing as talented robots. 

In more recent years, technology and clever media strategies have helped to let the human side of sports stars shine through. Part of this has been achieved through social media, which has allowed athletes to be able to speak directly to fans, away from the pitch, field, or court.

But a newer development has been the use of documentary series to tell different stories, including a more personal side that wouldn’t normally be shown on a TV sports broadcast. Shows like Netflix’s Drive to Survive have, generally, been praised for this and have even been credited with attracting new fans to their respective sports. 

We are likely to see a lot more personal stories as leagues, teams, and athletes seek to replicate this success and grow their brands even more. 

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