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The quest to differentiate, to come up with something new, seek out a gap in the market, carve out a niche or put a fresh twist on an established idea is constant for sports teams, leagues and brands. But coming up with something genuinely innovative and impactful in a crowded, competitive marketplace is not the work of a moment, as is neatly demonstrated by the final six contenders in the Leaders Sports Awards Innovation category. The following have been whittled down by our gang of judges; the winner will be revealed on Tuesday 9th October in London.
In January, FC Bayern invited 228 people from 43 countries to participate in its inaugural HackDays, working together on a future fan experience over four days at the Allianz Arena. The club and its partners – Telekom, Adidas, Audi, SAP, Siemens and DHL created seven specific challenges around themes including virtual and augmented reality and innovative fan activations. As part of the event and within the challenges, FC Bayern assisted mentors with lightning talks, ideas, team building, presentation, prototyping and access to a tech library via the help of UnternehmerTUM, a Munich-based innovation centre, and DLD. The club also paid for the travel costs of the participants.
Fanatics has transformed the licensed sports industry by identifying gaps in the market and establishing its innovative concept of vertical commerce or ‘v-commerce’, completely changing the way apparel and fan merchandise is designed and distributed. The model has transformed an industry previously known for long lead-times by combining a new technology platform and rapid supply chain with on-demand manufacturing and distribution capabilities, in an effort to better service the real-time demands of the modern sports fan. The company is now turning its focus to providing global partners with the same capabilities that it has established across the North American sports market.
In early 2018, WWE teamed up with Facebook to deliver WWE Mixed Match Challenge, a first-of-its-kind live original programme on the new Facebook Watch platform. The strategic partnership resulted in the first live professional sports show to be streamed on Facebook Watch and gave WWE a new method for video distribution. In the 12-episode weekly series, WWE reimagined its brand of in-ring action, positioning teams of WWE Superstars in a unique tournament inside the ‘squared circle’ while fostering interactivity via Facebook’s native features and WWE’s digital and social platforms for viewers.
The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) created a new season-ending event for the world’s best 21-and-under players, the 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, in partnership with the Italian Tennis Federation and the Italian National Olympic Committee. The event was designed as a platform to promote the future stars of men’s tennis at a time when many of the sport’s iconic stars are approaching the end of their careers. It also targeted a younger demographic and provided a stage to trial rule changes and innovation – first-to-four-game sets, no lets, a shot clock, free movement in the crowd and player coaching among them – in an otherwise tradition-rich sport that has historically proven to be resistant to change.
When Nike became the NBA’s official apparel sponsor, one of the company’s aims way to bring fans closer to the game. Its Connected Jersey does so by giving the wearer a direction connection to the name on their back. By tapping a smartphone to NikeConnect technology in the jersey’s label, fans are able to unlock exclusive content, offers and experiences such as courtside tickets. The experience is customised for every player in the league and evolves from fan engagement throughout the season, giving fans an enhanced window on the game and players a direct connection back to their fans.
In January 2018, Manchester City launched Same City, Same Passion, a club-wide campaign focused on promoting women’s football by demonstrating that the same skills, same excitement and same passion exist wherever a ball is kicked. Fuelled by research showing that only 13% of FIFA’s member associations believed women’s football was perceived as a quality sport, the club decided to merge its social media channels to put the best moments of the women’s game in front of a greater audience to show that the quality of the sport does not change based on who is playing it. City created a social media campaign highlighting the similarities between men’s and women’s football, which has generated over 3.4 million views and 34,000 interactions across the club’s social channels.