Discover more from Sports Tech Feed
Meaningful (Commercial) Relationships. Or how to effectively sell tech to teams and leagues.
Sports technology industry insights, news, and analysis. Brought to you by STWS.
Welcome back to Sports Tech Feed! In the lead-up to the inaugural Sports Innovation Summit, we spoke to its Co-Founder, Nate Thompson, for an inside look at how best to sell technology to sports teams and leagues. We also look at where Web3 is at in sports now the hype cycle has settled down.
STWS is proud to announce the launch of the Sports Innovation Summit. A new one-day, must-attend industry event for the US sports industry.
Hosted at Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans, on July 12th, 2023, the Summit provides attendees with meaningful insights and connections to drive tangible business outcomes in their organization.
Secure your Early Bird Tickets and learn more here.
What do sports teams really want when buying tech?
At STWS, we hold the thesis that technology is having a revolutionary impact on how sports are played, administered, and consumed around the world. Furthermore, we believe that this impact is net positive for fans, players, and administrators. So we’re passionate about empowering new, innovative technology to be adopted by sports teams and leagues.
However, the Sports Tech industry can be a bit of an echo chamber. Vendors, startups, consultants (yes, yours truly), agencies, and investors, all talking to/at each other ad nauseam about what fans want and what teams need, without involving either of the latter in the discussion.
It’s a competitive industry and everyone is fighting for their own slice of a finitely sized pie it can naturally lead to an echo chamber. Take North America for example, there are only 153 sports franchises across the five major men’s leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and MLS). That’s only 153 potential customers at the core of the world’s largest sports market by capitalization.
There’s obviously more to the TAM than just the pro men’s leagues: collegiate sports, women’s pro sports (an ever-growing market sector), challenger leagues (e.g. Overtime Elite), and niche/participation sports (e.g. cornhole and pickleball) all grow the market size.
But the fundamental issue remains the same: as a sports tech company, in such a crowded market, how do you get above the noise and sell to these teams and leagues?
Forming meaningfully connections with your customer.
To answer this question we spoke with Nate Thompson, Co-Founder of HTX Sports Tech, and the Sports Innovation Summit, a new industry event targeted at pushing past the hype in sports tech and innovation to realize tangible business outcomes.
Nate has over 15 years of experience in the sports industry, working in ticket operations, data analysis, strategic planning, and technology implementation. He’s held positions with the Houston Astros, University of Cincinnati, Complete Ticket Solutions, Baltimore Orioles, and Cleveland Guardians.
So he’s perfectly placed to speak to what it’s actually like to work in a sports team looking for new technology and what businesses need to know when they’re trying to fill that need. Here’s 4 key takeaways from Nate:
1. Sell to the right person, for the right reason.
Seems like a bit of a no-brainer, but ask yourself, is this a real problem that needs to be solved and is your technology product/service the best way to do that? Or is it unfortunately a cool bit of tech looking for a problem?
Once you have identified a real need, then start with due diligence into who is responsible for solving that problem and how much decision power they have in the organization. Intimately know your customer and what motivates them within their organization.
For example, whilst Nate was at the Astros, the sponsorship/marketing team was responsible for single-game ticket sales. So if you’re trying to provide a product/service that helps the team sell more tickets, then you actually need to include the sponsorship team as well as ticket operations in any discussions. This leads to the next point…
2. Sponsorship can be a way in the door.
How can your product/service help pay for itself? A deceptively simple answer is you help sponsor it directly, generally only the reserve of very large companies selling stadium tech (e.g. DAS/Wifi/connectivity providers, audiovisual displays).
Or more realistically, you create an asset space that can be sponsored. This is especially pertinent for “fan engagement” tech which might find it harder to draw a direct line from the product to the team either saving or making money.
Nate gave the example of white-labelling fan-facing apps and experiences in order to provide inventory to be “Sponsored by” a new or existing corporate partner.
3. Sports teams are looking for innovative tech, but everyone is busy.
A persistent myth is that sports teams don’t care about innovation. Teams do care about ways to improve fan experience and their bottom line. But the reality is that everyone is incredibly busy running and delivering existing projects, without exploring implementing new technology.
Sports organizations are unique to many industries in the cycles of in-season and off-season determines focus areas, workloads, and budget. Once you’ve found who the right person to speak to in the organization, then you need to identify when is the right time to start the sales process. Being respectful of their time is essential to building a good relationship.
As previously mentioned, you also need understand how much decision making power that person has and what policies will affect the length of the sales process.
For example, some teams will require ownership sign off on all major new vendor agreements which can dramatically slow deals. Whilst others will have a more traditional corporate structure that empowers individual decision making. There’s also unique situations with some collegiate Athletic Departments that must abide by the onerous IT policies and vendor bidding processes of the main academic institution.
With each team having a slightly different approach and structure, how do you know the who, when and what? You build relationships.
4. Building Genuine (Commercial) Relationships.
There’s been more written on business networking and relationship building than we could ever cover here, but the fundamental importance of building genuine relationships is what underpins everything other piece of advice. That means getting out of the house and meeting people at industry events (cough, Sports Innovation Summit), social happy hours, and
What also needs to be understood is the commercial nature of what you’re both trying to achveive. A quality relationship will have give and take but ultimately a net positive outcome for both parties.
What does this look like? Free tickets don’t exist. They always have a cost. Try not to ask for that. Or if you do ask, acknowledge there’s no such thing as a free lunch and that “free” ticket will be accounted for somewhere else.
If you truly believe that your product or service can benefit a team or league then do not give it away for free. “Logo chasing” is an insidious and ineffective way to try to build momentum in sports. The idea is that by giving your product/service away to a team for free, in order to use gain credebility from them as a “client” on your website/deck/promotions, it will attract other teams to become paying customers.
It’s not a sustainable business practice and doesn’t have the intended effect on building industry credibility. Its very straightforward for a phone call or Slack message to ask about the quality of the product but also how much that team is paying for it. If you value your product at zero, then so will clients.
Trials and discounts can still be effective tools but there’s always got to be some give with the take. If you’re an earlier stage company, then accelerators and innovation hubs linked to teams can be a great way to get pilots and beta testing, with the aim of leading to an ongoing agreement.
We hope these tips have been valuable! If there’s anything we’ve missed then feel free to add to the comments.
Want to connect directly with key leaders from innovative teams? Tickets are now available for the Sports Innovation Summit. Hosted at Nissan Stadium, Home of the Tennessee Titans, on July 12th, 2023. Learn more and secure your spot here.
What We’re Reading: Fan Club On-Chain: Leveraging Web3 for Sports Fan Engagement
Intersting update from Altman Soloman covering where we’re at with Web3 in sports, including best practices for teams setting up a Web3 loyalty program
Sports rights holders should put thought into setting up a token-gated fan community and focus their efforts on community outreach and engagement.
Relying on speculative fervor can be counterproductive and fuel suspicion towards Web3 products. Indeed, tokens should be given (not purchased) as a reward for fan participation and engagement.
Thanks for reading Sports Tech Feed! Subscribe to stay ahead of what’s happening in the world of sports tech.