Monday 6 January 2020 4:03 pm

Sports technology in 2020: the key trends to watch this year

Drama is the currency of sport but if current trends continue in 2020, below-the-radar work will be the stuff really making the hard yards. 

Last year, forward-thinking organisations have been focused on leveraging newer media platforms better and tailoring engagement better, often with a social slant.

Two stand-out performers were AS Roma, which used the transfer window to promote awareness of missing children, and World Rugby’s work on TikTok during the Rugby World Cup.

Read more: Industry insiders on what to expect from sport over the next 12 months

So, what will brands’ behaviour in engaging sports fans be this year?

Don’t badge, make bank

Last year marketers focused on creating tangible commercial returns from their investments.

Whether driving subscriptions, selling tickets or lowering costs to increase profits, brands are looking to maximise revenues, not simply flag-wave.

‘If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product’

This was never truer than in 2019 and sits interestingly alongside brands’ quest for financial returns. But how will the exchange of data for rewards continue?

Two clear factors influence sports fans when data sharing: whether they trust the brand harvesting the information; and whether the reward is worth it.

Increasingly this means highly personalised, relevant and engaging content delivered in the manner of fans’ choosing.

Woe betide the 2020 marketer who cannot differentiate Snapchat from Spotify or Twitter from TikTok.


Virtual reality has been hyped – wrongly – for imminent, widespread adoption for years; it will undoubtedly achieve traction at some point but augmented reality is far more embraceable.

AR has two forms: marker and markerless, which roughly means digital imagery either related to a product or posted in the sky.

Some AR executions have been dramatic – see Estudiantes de La Plata’s AR lion if you missed it – but its core attribute is the potential for gamification, a growing force in sports.

For example, at live games, rather than firing merchandise into the crowd, fans can catch prizes virtually via their phones. Expect more of this in 2020.

5G or not 5G?

People get very excited about the speeds and capabilities of 5G but with fewer than 20 UK cities currently enabled, it’s still far from a major factor in fan engagement.

As the saying goes, quick downloads don’t compensate for boring content so backing 5G in 2020 is an each-way bet at best. 

Social politics

Any brand operating in sport which hasn’t yet reviewed its environmental, diversity and equality behaviour is already behind the curve; as sports battle to win young fans, these will be key.

Sustainability is probably at the forefront of this charge, as evidenced by recycled-material medals promised at the Tokyo Games, 100 per cent renewable energy at the Aviva Stadium and eco-cups keeping 9m plastic beakers from landfill annually.

But with live sports fixtures generating around 41 tonnes of carbon dioxide, fans will look to sports to improve both its behaviour as well as theirs.

Rebecca Hopkins is chief executive of The STA Group, a sports communications, events and consultancy business, specialising in sports technology, operating across sport globally.