- Cloud technology has proved a powerful tool for sports organizations around the world.
- Coaches use cloud-powered tech to develop better game plans and training regimens for players.
- On the business side, executives are unlocking revenue streams thanks to cloud services.
- This article is part of “Build IT,” a series about digital tech and innovation trends that are disrupting industries.
Cloud technologies are radically changing the game for the fans, staff, and business leaders of sports organizations around the world.
The cloud is a network of globally distributed, remote servers that typically provide internet-based software, platforms, and infrastructure. It removes the need to store data and software on your own server or computer, which can be costly to purchase and maintain. Cloud data and services are accessible anytime and from any location.
With cloud tech, as a fan, you no longer have to be in a stadium to watch your favorite games — a plus if your boss won’t give you time off work or your bank-account balance is low. You can instead catch the action from any device through cloud-based streaming platforms, mobile apps, and immersive augmented- and virtual-reality experiences.
On the field, coaches are using cloud-based data-management and analysis tools to create game plans, hoping to land their team the next big trophy. And if things don’t go well, this rich data can help them improve player performance and anticipate player injuries. Meanwhile, from a business perspective, the cloud is providing new opportunities that are improving internal functions and introducing modern monetization models.
These digital cloud transformations are becoming an important priority as sports organizations look to continue improving fan engagement, player performance, and business operations in an increasingly tech-driven world.
The cloud is upgrading the fan experience
Cloud services provide the flexibility and scalability to “innovate without the burden of costly capital expenditures,” said Julie Souza, the head of sports in the global professional-services division at the cloud provider Amazon Web Services.
She said AWS clients such as the German professional football league Bundesliga used cloud tech for improving the fan experience. Its Match Facts feature, powered by AWS, provides live stats as on-screen graphics during broadcasts to help fans understand how their favorite players are performing.
Similarly, AWS powers the Next Gen Stats feature for the NFL in the US, tracking and sharing real-time player stats on viewers’ screens.
Drew Crisp, the senior vice president of digital at the English football club Liverpool FC, described social networks as the “quickest, most consistent” ways to connect. He added: “If social media is the means to capture attention, then our products, digital services, content, unique competitions, and merchandise are the mechanisms to maintain their attention and keep them coming back.”
Crisp and his team use a variety of cloud technologies to develop, launch, and scale digital products for fans in a high-speed, flexible manner. One such product is MyLFC, an online hub where Liverpool FC fans can win prizes, watch exclusive videos, access live match commentary, communicate with peers in a forum, and more.
“With the pressure on to provide the best for our fans across the digital state, there is a natural and logical skew towards products and services that are fan-facing, like media and content,” he added.
Crisp said products such as e-commerce and shopping experiences, customer-service platforms, and mobile apps and services for ordering food to your stadium seat were also necessary.
The Atlanta Braves organization seems to be on the same wavelength: In February, it announced that the team’s home base, Truist Park, would work with the financial-tech company Global Payments to implement cloud-based payment solutions for ticketing, as well as dining and retail experiences at the stadium.
“When fans visit Truist Park, they expect fast, seamless transactions that allow them to get to their seats quickly and enjoy the game,” Derek Schiller, the president and CEO of the Atlanta Braves, said in a statement. “This new partnership with Global Payments will continue to elevate our fan experience and Truist Park’s status as a best-in-class ballpark.”
Cloud tech underpins effective strategies for coaches and players
Cloud-enabled digital strategies introduce coaching staff to a treasure trove of data, which can help them analyze and improve the performance of their players.
Paola Olivari, the director of data analytics and artificial intelligence at Google Cloud, told Insider that data stored in the cloud helped coaches “understand every player’s performance and develop informed, tailored training programs to give them the best chance of success.”
Olivari added that automated access to players’ profiles and game-time stats enabled coaches to make “faster, more-informed decisions,” such as substitutions, in real time.
For example, Google Cloud teamed up with the Football Association in the UK to develop a platform that provided coaches with on-field and off-field data. It has resulted in “actionable individual and team-level insights” for the FA, Olivari said.
“This involves maximizing efficiencies by making shared documents in Google Workspace easily accessible, analyzing and comparing individual and team performance through a range of data, and even monitoring specific position demands to reduce the risk of injury,” she said.
Coaches at England’s Lionesses used this technology to train players ahead of the 2023 Women’s World Cup. They had access to detailed reports about the mental and physical health of the Lionesses generated by match videos, GPS trackers worn by players during training sessions, data collected throughout the entire season, and wellness insights reported by each player.
Olivari said the cloud even helped store and track administrative information, such as sports schedules and analytics tools that collect visual reports for performance data.
Cloud transformations are improving business operations
As sports organizations embrace cloud technology, they’re actively exploring ways it can help them transform their business operations and models, launch products, and improve their internal cultures.
Brian Shield, a senior vice president and the chief technology officer for the Boston Red Sox, said embracing cloud tech had helped smoothen functions within the East Coast MLB org. “Although many people view their favorite sports team as someone to root for, a team is a business at the end of the day, and the organizations must continue evolving digitally to remain competitive, both on the field and off,” he told Insider.
“We will always want to own, maintain, and manage all of our fan data for our own marketing, insights, and product development, but we need technology to help us do that,” Shield added. “Every single element of this needs cloud services, scale, flexibility, security, and interoperability, which is a very important aspect.”
For example, cloud-powered technology is critical to improving the safety and management of stadiums such as Fenway Park. Shield said that it enabled the stadium to “expand access to surveillance video as well as other IoT content to allow us to better understand fan behavior, while ensuring a safe environment.”
The cloud is also optimizing business processes at sports clubs. Shield said automatic archiving to the Wasabi Cloud resulted in a “more seamless and streamlined” workflow for its video editors, allowing them to find and edit game footage quickly.
Modern streaming providers also offer massive opportunities for sports organizations looking to transform their business models. Souza said leagues could work with the likes of Amazon Prime Video to distribute “interactive and personalized” content, such as prompts for placing bets and buying merchandise featuring a fan’s favorite player. This helps improve fan engagement and increase revenue through sales automation, data insights, and advertising.
Ensuring cloud transformation is a success
Developing strategies involving cloud technologies will be a new endeavor for many sports organizations. But there are steps to make it a smooth, straightforward process, according to cloud-tech experts.
Souza recommended finding a business problem and a cloud tool that could help solve it. For example, when Formula 1 fans requested closer wheel-to-wheel racing, the international racing organization faced the challenge of developing a car capable of maintaining closer races at extended periods of time. Running aerodynamic simulations on AWS’s platform allowed the F1 organization to create such a car last year.
“Technology applied appropriately should drive business outcomes — whether that is increasing revenue, optimizing operations, or serving fans,” Souza said.
Olivari said teams needed to understand “digital transformation and cloud integration doesn’t happen overnight,” adding: “Players, coaches, and clubs need to trust the process.”
She said: “Progressively introducing various aspects of cloud technology and for multiple users, including the athletes, is necessary to ensure a continuous feedback loop from the pitch to the control tower, but it will eventually pay off on the field.”
Sharing a similar sentiment is Ross McGraw, the vice president and head of the business unit at the wearable-sports-tech brand Core. He encourages sports leagues to focus on improving the experiences of their athletes and staff through cloud transformation.
“Often technology can outpace human willingness to adopt,” he said. “It’s important to find the right balance to assure you don’t lose the human touch that keeps your athletes engaged, motivated, and happy.”