Who owns sport? Is it a private or public good? – anon, at the first in a series of Technology in Sport Venture Capital events

For the first time in a while, I’ve begun to appreciate sport like I do the arts. I think it’s heartening what the ‘greatest show on earth’ has done to us this time round. Previously its impact has been limited to attendees, residents of the host country and what broadcasters choose to share with everyone else. From my base in London, I’ve been marvelling at the role technology has played in this summer’s spectacle. I was most proud to see Tim Berners-Lee, British inventor of the Web in a starring role at the opening ceremony – the same is now true for the Olympics of what he said for the Web: ‘This is for everyone’.

It has been widely remarked that London 2012 was the first ‘Social’ Olympics – though some prefer the term ‘Mobile’ Olympics. Athletes tweeted their backstage pics and retweeted congrats from celebs. Spectators posted images to Facebook within seconds of historic moments being made. Keen programmers developed tools to help unfortunate sports fans get tickets from the official ticketing site (which got blocked and then reinstated). My Twitter timeline was filled with live comments and opinions on both ceremonies – I didn’t have to listen to the #openingceremony or #closingceremony commentary from the BBC. Without a doubt, technology enhanced the overall experience and allowed the public to participate in inspiring a nation.

I saw Luke Campbell of Team GB win a bout in the Quarterfinals, from Row 5 (which somehow translated to the 2nd row)

It was also an opportunity to use technology to get around restrictions imposed by ‘the establishment’. I attended a Technology in Sport event organised by the brilliant team at Amoo Ventures (I tweeted a little with the hashtag #amooevents) where it was clear that for some startup innovations in sport, the power attached to traditional broadcasting right agreements can’t be ignored. On the day, this actually prompted the important (and yet slightly philosophical) question: ‘Who owns sport? Is it a private or public good?’ I think it’s telling that NBC’s handling of their coverage led to a spike in VPN customers – who circumvented location restrictions to enjoy the fuller BBC coverage – in these days of online streaming and ‘freedom of information’ even official broadcast rights don’t act as a guarantee. Their power is being drained.

There were a number of pitches from sport-related startups, including SharetheMatch.com who allow football fans to check-in to stadiums and share videos live from a match via their mobile phones. Two guys from Original Content London also pitched a highly entertaining ‘Make your own Game’ concept which actually had legs. The highlight for me, was a pitch from Makoto Inoue of ‘Londinium MMXII Hackathon‘ who was hosting a London 2012-themed (but not endorsed – hence the Latin/Roman name) hackathon the following weekend.

The Hackathon preview was 3 hours well spent: a lot of beer, free food and 48 hours resulted in several great ideas for complementary apps, including a mobile Vuvuzela app which had the room feeling like the 2012 South African World Cup stadiums, a visual web app collating a live feed of Olympic images from Instagram and another displaying location-based Olympic tweets on a rotating virtual globe. The winner was this 8 bit visualisation of 100m finals in modern Olympics.

Despite my frustration with the official ticketing website that constantly hung and then crashed, I was fortunate enough to get hold of tickets for both Boxing (row 5!) and Basketball (row S of S rows). What amazed me about the technology at the events themselves? The extensive camera work: there were cameras (and editing suites) capturing the action from all angles, providing streams for instant replay and instantaneously playing Boxing bout highlight videos. Well played.


My point? – What happens next?
I’m excited about seeing the Paralympics in HD. And I also have high hopes for Rio 2016 – given I don’t travel much and don’t generally anticipate sports events, this is something. I’m looking out for proper eTickets that eliminate touting and a much better booking algorithm for their ticket lottery. Before then, I’m looking forward to seeing other ways that the sports industry might be shaken up or ‘disrupted’. The high that we’re currently on (even I took up jogging during the Olympics) means that for the first time in ages we might be able to put some raw ingredients together to help more people get into sports in a sustainable, long-term way. At the Amoo Event it was remarked that ‘Sports are big but people don’t do sports – they watch them”.

Three ways to make the most of this opportunity going forward and turn sports fans into ‘actives’:

  1. Sports education in schools has been hotly debated for a while and alarming obesity stats point to the fact that we’re not active enough. It’s not ground breaking for me to say that obesity is a huge problem and sport is one of its answers (an equally valid answer is nutrition). How can we responsibly fund a revolution in sport, its profile, its popularity and its ease? Sport education reforms (led by people like Kevin George) may be able to prevent current problems in a new (under 16s) generation – but what hope/incentive is there for those of us no longer in school?
  2. There are concepts like Hackathons (my favourite word at the moment) and Open source that work in the technology world and could be effectively leveraged in the world of sport. The Londinium hackathon guys had to effectively copy and paste event data from official sites: such data should be made easily available so that skilled individuals can contribute apps, code or games to a wider pool of ‘sport interest’ things. Can we open source the making of sports so that anyone can make up their own games, complete with their own rules using a common set of equipment?
  3. Other ways sports be shaken up? Can we push awareness of more roles in sports? It’s an industry: if you’re not an athlete, what can you be? I sit on the board of the Urban Development Music Foundation which helps youngsters find other roles in music. Can there be a concerted effort to help youngsters establish support roles in sport?

Peace, aimafidon