Online Sports Trends in 2020

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The NBA season looks like it may be entirely scrapped. The Eredivisie and French League 1 have already put a lid on their respective seasons. The Olympics have been postponed. Euro 2020 is taking place in 2021.

Covid-19 has put the biggest dent in sports since World War II. To say that it’s been a rocky year would be a huge understatement. We’re, unsurprisingly, expecting seismic changes to the way we experience and consume sports online in the coming year. Here are 7 trends to watch out for in 2020.

Trend 1: Survival Through Digitization 

The cancellation of the Olympics is costing $277 million. For the Euros, it’s $300 million. F1 racing is losing an excruciating $602 million. Should the NBA definitively call it quits for 2020, the league is looking at a loss of $450 million.

These numbers have industry-killing potential, no matter how you slice it. Considering that any return will likely see empty arenas, professional sports leagues are looking at digitization to make up for the shortfall.

The NBA is one league that’s taken charge by dramatically changing its online strategy to mitigate the effects of the season’s hit on the pause button. The NBA is running a series of documentaries, re-wrapped editions of old games, competitions between former and current players, and other gimmicks to give fans an all-engrossing experience, while the world slowly resets. Should the league restart in the short term (and probably sans crowds), the NBA will still have its fans to tune in online.

Trend 2: The Rise of Esports 

Before Covid-19, esports was already going through an unprecedented rise. In 2017, for example, revenues had increased to $665 million. The prediction for 2020? $12.9 billion.

And that’s before we’d even heard of Covid-19. Considering what’s now happening to traditional sports, we’re pretty confident that the esports market is going to easily exceed original estimates and get a greater chunk of the pie.

And the big media players have taken notice. ESPN Sports now has a channel dedicated entirely to esports. Newspapers like the LA Times are putting it on the front page and online-only media outlets, such as the World Sports Network – WSN, are giving esports dedicated attention and providing its fans with the latest news and updates.

Trend 3: Legalized Sports Betting

The general sports betting ban was lifted by the Supreme Court in 2018. Since then, 18 states have legalized it. 2020 will see this number grow, with states scrambling to increase their tax revenues and people stuck at home clamoring to put some money on their favorite teams (now watchable on television only!).

Once the number of states which have legalized sports betting reaches the 20ish mark, we expect advertisers and professional leagues to get a sniff of the dollar signs. Think sponsorship deals, television commercials, and online ads, all putting legalized sports betting at the forefront…

Sports and 5G Networks 

Reduced latency and faster connections will undoubtedly change how we experience sports in the coming years:

Trend 4: Changed In-Stadium Fan Experiences 

Once we’re allowed back in sports arenas, 5G will have changed the way we consume it. The improved connections and speeds will allow, for example, instant replays, the ability to order food and drinks, and live-TV style graphics.

Tend 5: VR to Become a Real Thing? 

So far, VR and sports haven’t been up to much. Sure, it’s some cool technology, but it doesn’t add that much value. In short, it’s gimmicky. We think this may change in 2020. Developers are coming up with some interesting ways for fans to experience games with each other (while being socially distanced in different cities!), and 5G will prevent the stop-start experiences that have stunted growth so far.

Trend 6: The Gamification of Sports 

Elite players are competitors. They want to win at all costs. And gamification has been introduced by several big-league teams to improve player performance.

For example, the San Francisco Giants have implemented apps to get their ballplayers to compete against each other using alternative scoring measures. If you move a runner with less than two outs, you get a point. Drive a runner in from a scoring position? That’s another point.

The St Louis Cardinals implemented something similar and posted the best average for runners in a position to score since 1974. While it clearly wasn’t the only factor, gamification has been given credit for upping the ante in the clubhouse.

Trend 7: Fans Want to Do More Than Just Watch 

The old school sports fan can happily sit back and enjoy watching their favorite game. The younger generation, however, is used to interactivity. Think next level up from fans voting for the NBA All-Star game.

In 2018, for example, Arsene Wenger wildly predicted that substitutes may be guided not by the manager, but by fans. This may be a little bit of a reach, but we wouldn’t be surprised if teams extended fan participation going forward.

It’s Still Up in the Air 

Sports is going to look entirely different for the time being, that’s guaranteed. But at this point, everything is still conjecture. As a society, we’re very much having to adapt to the changes COVID-19 is placing upon us. Considering we still know relatively little about the virus, some of these trends may look a little different still in the coming months.