How is technology revolutionizing sport?
The sport sector is currently receiving significant attention. This is largely thanks to increase in people taking it up as a hobby, its growing popularity as a source of entertainment and, most importantly, the impact of digital transformation on the industry. As a result, we are seeing vast swathes of capital being pumped into the sector. But how, and where, does technology come into this? Patrick Rouvillois, head of Natixis CIB’s Tech Hub and Ramzi Amairi, Tech banker at Natixis CIB, organized a round table with senior industry representatives to discuss the topic. The webinar event was attended by five special guests: Micaella Feldstein, Tech & Data specialist from Natixis CIB’s Research, Pierre Miralles, co-founder of FootoVision, Stuart Ramsey, head of Brand Partnerships at Socios.com, Bruno Rivet, managing partner at Seventure Partners, and Hisham Shehabi, co-founder and COO at N3XT Sports.
What are the megatrends in the sporting industry?
In 2026, the global sports industry is expected to bring more than $700 billion (1) in revenue. In 2025, for global e-sports alone, the figure stands at $2 billion (2). The figures speak for themselves. Sports enthusiasm is growing every year, and digitalization is becoming increasingly prominent not only in live sports and facilities, but also the broadcast of sporting events and related content. Internet of things (IoT), connected devices, virtual reality and artificial intelligence – particularly computer vision – for instance, are having a considerable effect on live sport, with the emergence of new concepts such as connected stadiums. Meanwhile, streaming services and social networks accessed via smartphones and tablets, including Twitch, TikTok and Instagram, are increasingly competing with TV and radio – especially among younger audiences.
With more than 3 billion players in 2022, sports gaming has also become hugely popular, with e-sports and fantasy sports in particular enjoying strong revenues and growing audiences. Athletes, too, are driving more and more interest among fans, creating value for clubs and partners – the most successful of which have become household names. As a result, there is a growing awareness of the importance of leveraging popular names in advertising, sponsorships, licensing and broadcasting rights to boost merchandising and derivative sales – even if the up-front costs of working with these names are substantial.
As the industry continues to grow and evolve at a rapid pace, the sports sector must work quickly to adapt to new trends and challenges. Artificial intelligence, big data, web3, NFTs and other digital assets offer interesting and innovative solutions to help the sector keep pace.
Emerging trends shaping the future of the industry.
Over the past five years, the sporting industry has become far more sophisticated due to a range of new trends – often originating US leagues such as the NBA, MLB, or NFL – gaining momentum around the world. One such trend is athletes becoming investors. It is now increasingly commonplace to see athletes involved in ventures that will prolong their careers – for instance, by joining the advisory boards of sports companies or monetizing their personal brands to promote wellness, health, and connective fitness via online platforms.
Another trend that we are seeing is increasing investment from private equity firms – specifically, smart money – in order to optimize processes, provide businesses in the space with a competitive advantage and render them more efficient. As a result, many clubs are now anchored to real estate projects, such as arenas that can host multiple different sports and events.
The third and final trend is upstart leagues. Given they are built from the ground up, these leagues can establish a sponsorship and media rights model from the outset. And while they do not currently attract the same level of attention as larger establishments, these smaller leagues are growing at an impressive rate given they often appear in niches. Therefore, they are able to generate a far higher revenue per fan than some of their more established counterparts.
How has technology already changed football? The “Moneyball” evolution.
The use of athlete data and artificial intelligence, which started with Moneyball in baseball, has progressively diffused into the wider industry – and is now being fully implemented within football.
Computer vision, artificial intelligence, data science and business intelligence are the four core technologies involved in football analysis today. They provide clubs with an objective analysis of the evolution of their team, as well as information on competitors – including team composition, player positioning and even recruitment – to help them better prepare for upcoming games. And the need for access to data is growing – particularly real time data, which is used in match analysis to make better decisions and improve team performance.
As technology continues to rapidly evolve, fixed camera systems installed in stadiums and GPS tracking on players are being replaced by data collected from TV or videos. Indeed, 2D and 3D tracking of any match, anywhere in the world, is now possible. What’s more, artificial intelligence and athlete data are now being used to make predictions. Using real-time data to track and adjust predictions could fundamentally change the sports betting industry and the way in which bets are made. The potential to increase revenues here is considerable – particularly given sports betting currently only represents small fraction of sporting league and athlete revenues.
How attractive is the sport tech ecosystem in Europe?
In Europe, sport tech is currently in a similar position to that of digital venture capital (DVC) a decade ago. In other words, most companies being launched are initial projects and therefore founders are concentrated solely on their domestic territory, while other, similar projects are being developed elsewhere on the continent. When it comes to supporting these businesses, there are currently a lot of incubators on market – such as Le Tremplin and OSV – and the financing ecosystem is saturated with venture capital (VC) firms, business angels, family offices and corporates such as Decathlon, and media companies such as ASO. Of course, the ecosystem is still under construction. But the foundations are strong, and the industry is attracting talent. As such, some estimate that the global sport tech market will exceed $30 billion by 2024. Growing investor appetite will ensure a continued influx of capital to accelerate this transition.
How can web3 benefit sports? The fan token ecosystems.
Web3 – a blockchain-based technology driven by peer-to-peer networks and communities – gives power to people rather than institutions through decentralization, personalization and the creation of a more immersive ecosystem. Providing security and transparency, web3 allows the tokenization of capital projects, enabling stadiums to streamline payment gateways for a global audience. It empowers athletes to monetize their personal brands and strengthen their connection to their fanbase through the issuance of fan tokens. Thanks to proof of authenticity, this encourages the merchandising of collectibles around digital trading cards, OTT platforms, while blockchain can be harnessed to authenticate tickets and limit fraud.
Looking ahead, the technological transition in sport will likely be much quicker than in other sectors. Web3 already provides the infrastructure for different types of businesses to build products and services to bring fans closer to their passion. This, in turn, will allow sports organizations and the entertainment industry to harness the power of the blockchain. As such, we can expect to see continued growth in the e-sports space, with revolutionary developments, such as artificial intelligence in coaching, likely to materialize as quickly as next year.
To know more on blockchain and sport:
(1) Statista Natixis CIB
(2) Newzoo Natixis CIB
AI: Artificial intelligence
ASO: Amaury Sport Organisation
DVC: Digital venture capital
GPS: Global positioning system
IoT: Internet of Things, a system of interrelated computing devices
MLB: Major League Baseball
NBA: National Basketball Association
NFL: National Football League
NFT: Non-fungible token, a unique digital identifier that cannot be copied, substituted, or subdivided, recorded in a blockchain, and that is used to certify ownership and authenticity.
OSV: Outdoor Sports Valley
OTT: Over-the-Top, a direct-to-consumer content over the internet at the request and to suit the requirements of the individual consumer
VC: venture capital