Digital & Media, Future Trends, Governance, Sport Business | Jan 11, 2018
Lessons from Leaders Meet Innovation 2018.

Leaders Meet Innovation, the future-focused annual half-day event organised by the NBA and Leaders, took place this year at BAFTA in London on 11 January.

By David Cushnan

Owners, technologists and senior executives from across the worlds of sport, entertainment, media and technology gathered to discuss the rapid convergence of their respective fields, and the next wave of innovations that look set to transform sport and our experience of it in the future.


AS Roma’s much-anticipated new stadium, Stadio della Roma, has recently – finally – been given the greenlight by local authorities. It’s a significant milestone in club owner James Pallotta’s grand plan to have Roma competing at the top of European soccer and as one of sport’s standout global brands. Technology, inevitably, will be at the heart of the new venue – but only if it’s deemed beneficial. “We don’t want to build tech for tech’s sake,” Pallotta insisted, explaining that AS Roma is already learning from mistakes made by other teams during similar major building projects. He is also committed to attempting to futureproof what promises to be a state-of-the-art venue. “What we do doesn’t have to be bleeding edge, but using open architecture we can just plug in and play when it needs updating later.”

Pallotta, however, sounded a note of caution when it comes to one particular hot technology topic. “People get excited by the hype and it’s just not there,” he said, of virtual reality. “We have to make sure that we don’t do something that doesn’t have any basis in reality. VR is nice but not suited to what we want to do in the stadium today. It will come, but it’s versions one and two.”

Fresh technologies will be deployed in a bid to attract more families to the stadium and its surrounds – plans include three piazzas, a generous area available for experiential use, all in an area larger than Los Angeles’ LA Live while some 200 annual events are planned for inside the stadium itself. Facial recognition technology, for example, is planned, to help security around the site and ensure that those who have bought tickets are attending games. “We want to make sure when they leave their house everything they do is tied into our systems,” Pallotta said, adding that the area around the stadium, all managed by AEG Facilities, will ultimately be more profitable than the stadium itself. In terms of revenue-generation, Juventus’ Allianz Stadium provides a model in a market where most stadiums are muncipally owned, with some 7,000 suites drawn into the Stadio dello Roma design.


It’s the new oil, it’s a currency and there’s a tsunami of it, according to Greg McStravick, President of Database and Data Management, at SAP, who was on hand to discuss the role of data – how to capture it, make sense of it, use it effectively, and describe it in metaphor – in a modern sports organisation. McStravick even suggested that data may ultimately become an asset to be recorded on the books of publicly traded companies, while, offering a team perspective, Boston Celtics Co-Owner Steve Pagliuca provided a compelling case study of how data has permeated all areas of his NBA franchise. That process has been accelerated thanks to a wide-ranging partnership with GE, announced a year ago. As well as taking the Celtics’ new jersey sleeve position, the company has been in at the “ground floor” of construction of the team’s new world-class practice facility, the Auerbach Center. “We take a fact-based approach on new technologies,” Pagliuca explained, outlining the Celtics’ overall approach to data which involves building a file on every fan including their likes and dislikes. GE is now interwtined in the process of understanding individuals on a granular level, providing support to the team by helping to build the right systems and enabling the collection of richer information.

SAP’s McStravick, meanwhile, described a “wild west” of data technology options and cited an example from outside sport, dynamic car insurance updating in real time based on driving habits, frequency of speeding tickets and various other metrics, to underline how disruption – or chaos – is likely to bring about significant change in the coming years. “You can engineer packages for people based on their data,” he said, hinting at opportunities to further inform and refine ticketing and fan experience strategies.


Machine learning and automation will bring a 50% increase in productivity by the middle of the next decade, according to Cisco Senior Director Andy Payne. Voice will be central to that, which should come as no surprise. After all, as Payne pointed out, voice, at some 50,000 years old, is instinctual while writing, around for a mere 5,000 years, is a comparitively new form of communication. Voice activated devices will, in Cisco’s view, be most effective as one mode of communication among many and primarily as a way to convey one dimensional information. The implications for the workplace and a workforce are significant.

Outlining a five-point journey – command and control, basic natural language understanding, semantic understanding, intelligent team member, and team and strategic intelligence – Payne argued that voice is currently at stage two. While the understanding of basic language is becoming more commonplace, as the likes of Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri are successfully demonstrating, voice is still far from reaching its full – and likely groundbreaking – potential.

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