Change is constant on and off the football field, and technological advances means fans could soon be watching more intuitive players via more mobile friendly channels.
The 22nd Soccerex football finance event returns to Manchester this weekend for its last year as host – discussing everything from who will be showing future action, to how top stars will in future be mentally match conditioned.
There is change around the forum itself. Not only is the event poised to move to a new city next year, it is also the first without founder Duncan Revie as its driving force after his death last autumn.
And Revie, as an innovator, would have taken a close interest in football’s continued march into a new digital era.
“Technology is continuing to emerge as a major part of the business of football,” says Soccerex’s David Wright.
“It’s a big factor on both the straight technology side and on the media side of things, where disruptors are helping to change viewing culture.
“Social media is also changing the way fans consume football, and changing the broadcasting landscape.
“Viewing habits are changing and more customers are moving online to watch football.”
In the UK it was recently reported that Sky had experienced a 14% drop in viewing figures but also recorded a 31% rise in adoption of its online services Sky Go and NOW TV.
Indeed, there is debate in the sport industry at present involving broadcasters, rights holders and social media experts about the value and direction of rights in this disrupted marketplace.
For example Amazon Prime has reportedly secured the rights to stream nearly all elite men’s tennis events except for the four grand slams, with the US digital giant having secured the UK rights to the ATP World Tour from Sky.
It would be Amazon’s second big live-TV-sports rights deal this year, after its tie-up with the National Football League to stream 10 Thursday-night American Football games in the US from this month.
And it has the rights to live audio-stream Bundesliga football commentaries in Germany, available via its Amazon Music service.
Meanwhile, Facebook is also looking to establish deeper digital and streaming relationships with football clubs, fans and rights holders alike.
The social media giant last year streamed Wayne Rooney’s Man Utd v Everton testimonial match free of charge. It also live streamed matches from Spain’s La Liga last season.
And in the the US, where it has already streamed Major League Soccer (MLS) games, the social network will from this month show live Champions League matches through a partnership with Fox Sports.
‘Dip in and out’
“The current state of flux is creating both problems and opportunities for all rights holders and media companies involved,” says Mr Wright.
“A lot of companies are looking to become viable challengers to more established media platforms. The Premier League rights are coming up for auction again sooner than we think. How Sky or BT will bid, or an incoming challenger such as Amazon or someone else, is up in the air.”
He adds: “If Amazon or Apple for example decided to bid, they would use their technological expertise to make it work.
“There is technology there to deliver it via streaming and the internet, or via smart TVs. Also it is worth remembering that BT didn’t have sports channels until they had done their first rights deal, so these things can be turned around quickly.
“It is new technology that is allowing all of these new incumbents to operate. People want to dip in and out of content, and they want lots of it.”
It comes as a report from strategy consultants OC&C says that up to £1bn of the UK broadcast industry’s overall profit could be at risk from the emergence of rivals such as Amazon and Facebook.
And Mr Wright says that social media changes are not only disrupting broadcasting, but also marketing.
“Historically, a brand seeking wider exposure might have gone with a player to endorse your product, or gone with TV advertising,” he says.
“Now there are other people on YouTube who may have many more eyeballs than the TV channels. And they have a trustworthy air and reputation, but bigger channels can seem more corporate.
“What we are seeing in the marketing aspect in football are these user-generated channels.”
For example, one of the most popular of the supporter channels, Arsenal Fan TV, carries advertising for bookmaker Ladbrokes.
Meanwhile technology continues to develop in other parts of the industry, including traditional areas such as marketing, ticketing, and sponsorship.
However, it is in around health, fitness and performance where some of the most interesting innovations are taking place.
For example, firms are looking at ways to help footballers improve their “field vision” – their ability to anticipate, react quickly, and make the right decision at high speed.
Using technology, it is developing a methodology to break “vision” into separate components such as: peripheral vision, eye reaction time, and pattern recognition, which will enhance player performance.
Tech that enables players to boost fitness and avoid injuries will also be discussed as Soccerex, which is set to be attended by 3,000 delegates, 450 clubs, 700 sports rights holders, and 170 exhibitors.
As mentioned, founder Duncan Revie, 62, passed away last September.
The son of the former Leeds and England manager, he came up with the idea for the event after a visit to a music business event, and realising he could do the same for football.
The first conference was held in 1996 at Wembley stadium, and since then has been held in Paris, Los Angeles, Dubai, Johannesburg, Rio, as well as in Manchester.
“His death was a huge blow, an awful surprise, for us to lose the guy who had the vision and drive to build the business,” says Mr Wright.
“The last thing his wife Rita and chairman Tony Martin wanted was to stop what we were doing. It was his passion and commitment which developed the conference and took it across the globe.
“Most positive thing for us is that his legacy continues and we are coming back to Manchester for this year’s Soccerex.”