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Sports Economy

The UK has an excellent sporting reputation – one that’s underpinned by the presence of several huge sports brands and an unrivalled experience of delivering global sporting events.

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The UK is home to many sporting champions and it’s hosted multiple prestigious sporting events, such as the 2012 Olympics and the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

This heritage is supported by government funding for organisations such as UK Sport, which plans to host a further 97 major sporting events in the UK over the next decade.

Grants for grassroots sports are increasing physical activity throughout the nation, while British innovations in the sports and health tech sector are changing the future of global sport.

Opportunity highlights

As Europe’s leading market for sport and sports tech, the UK provides many business opportunities.

Performance

Innovation in athlete performance tracking, such as wearable technology, advanced sensors, and GPS tracking has been embraced by UK sports teams.
Activity data and analytics is transforming how athletes train, compete and manage their careers. AI is being used to enhance performance and fresh opportunities exist in the development and application of such technology.

Media consumption and distribution

The UK’s globally renowned sporting events provide opportunities for businesses in media consumption, distribution, sales, and marketing. The Premier League, for example, is the most watched football league in the world, with matches broadcast to 1 billion homes in 188 countries.

Such events enable businesses to take advantage of virtual, hybrid and in-person fan engagement, creating new and exciting market opportunities in the process.

Immersive technologies

Immersive technologies such as AR and VR, are transforming how fans interact with sport.

With the emergence of new technology and innovative forms of fan engagement, companies based in the UK capitalise on the UK’s talent pool in the development of new and immersive content.

Gaming and esports

Gaming and esports offer significant and growing opportunities for sports teams and leagues to attract the next generation of sports fans.

Leading UK sports teams are investing heavily in the industry. The Premier League teamed up with US sports gaming giant EA Sports for a fourth season to launch the 2021/22 ePremier League, with every topflight team offering up a representative. And, in July 2021, McLaren launched a new gaming studio for its esports team at its Technology Centre in Woking.

Management, organisation and sustainability

With sustainability high on everyone’s agenda, UK sports teams are looking for innovative ways that they can integrate sustainable practices and green technologies into their operations and stadia.

Businesses and clubs can draw upon support provided by organisations who assist these sustainability efforts, including the British Association for Sustainable Sport (BASIS).

Blockchain, cryptocurrency, and NFTs

As technology evolves, so do the commodities and the transactional methods used to procure them. Blockchain can provide athletes, fans, sponsors and advertisers with a new, seamless way to work and interact with each other.

Meanwhile, the sports industry can open access to its massive community for blockchain-powered projects. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have also established themselves as a new means of fan engagement in the sporting space, with several high-profile teams and organisations rolling out their own digital collectibles for purchase.

5G

The government wants the UK to lead the way in 5G engineering and technology, establishing a clear competitive advantage in the process.

The sports economy can make the most of the 5G expansion in the UK, whether that takes the form of real-time immersive content to engage fans at sporting events or utilising the network for sports technology innovations.

Project VISTA, which has received over £1.3 million in government funding, will deliver next-generation viewing experiences for spectators, showcasing the potential of 5G-powered sporting events and the market opportunities it brings.

Commercial maturity

Sport and physical activity contribute £39 billion to the UK’s economy and the sports landscape comprises a wide array of sports organisations, ranging from large professional clubs, to semi-professional and amateur teams.

The UK also ranks 1st in Europe for number of Sports Tech start-ups. Businesses involved in the British sports industry can draw upon the expertise of a range of organisations, including the government-supported Sport England and the consulting group Sporting Innovations.

Key UK assets

The British sporting industry can utilise the multiple assets located throughout the UK.

London

As the top European city for Sports Tech funding from 2016-2020, London is home to market-leading Sports Tech companies and internationally recognised universities.

Major sports teams are based in the city, with London boasting the first purpose-built NFL stadium outside of America, which seats over 62,300 fans.

Northern powerhouse

The North of England has an exciting cluster of Sports Tech companies and high-profile Premier League football clubs who drive forward innovation in the sports economy.

Businesses in the North can also call upon the talent forged by renowned educational facilities, such as Sheffield Hallam University.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland enjoys an international reputation as a region of expertise in tech development, with one of the fastest growing tech sectors in the UK.

Northern Irish Sports Tech companies deliver market-leading solutions to global sports clubs and the research from Ulster University’s School of Sport will ensure this trend continues.

Midlands’ engine

Birmingham has a wealth of existing sports venues and arenas that are ideal for hosting sport and the city is set to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

With over 1 million tickets being made available for spectators, the games will provide a wealth of opportunities in business and trade, cultural engagement, education and tourism.

R&D capability

Universities throughout the UK are pushing boundaries in sports technology and driving progress within the industry.

Loughborough University’s Sports Technology Institute is a £15 million centre with state-of-the-art equipment. It also has an international reputation for its work with global brands in the design, simulation, testing and manufacture of sporting goods.

Other institutions also bolster the UK’s R&D capacity. For example, the English Institute of Sport’s (EIS) Sports Performance Innovation team deploys leading-edge technology, engineering and new research in science and medicine to help British athletes achieve improvements in performance.

Likewise, BAE Systems is UK Sport’s Official Research and Innovation Partner, enabling British athletes to achieve sporting excellence through the application of novel technology and engineering solutions.

The positive impact of such institutions, in conjunction with R&D tax credits, has had a profound impact on British innovation, with the UK ranking fourth in the world on the 2021 Global Innovation Index.

Business and government support

The UK is home to various accelerators and business support organisations that help drive the sports economy forward, including the Sport Tech Hub by London Sport.

The Sport Tech Hub offers a bespoke 12-week programme, supporting start-ups validating their initial product right through to scale-ups looking to grow in the UK or beyond. They have helped 31 start-ups in the past 3 years.

Grants are also available to encourage activity amongst the populace. There are funding opportunities from a variety of sources such as local councils, Sports England, and charitable trusts helping to develop sports and leisure projects. Tax relief for community amateur sports clubs also supports grassroots activities for all communities throughout the UK.

Case studies

Tech Mahindra

Global technology giant Tech Mahindra has joined forces with Loughborough University, taking advantage of the cutting-edge R&D conducted by the university.

Reflecting on this partnership, Lord Grimstone has stated that “world-leading universities are just one reason why the UK is such an attractive global investment destination”. He also described this collaboration “puts us at the forefront of sports technology”.

SPORTSENGINE Inc

SPORTSENGINE Inc, America’s biggest provider of online sports management solutions, has expanded its presence into Northern Ireland following the successful GB introduction of a new platform for swimming clubs.

SPORTSENGINE Inc’s time-saving software quickens administrative tasks, helping teams, clubs and administrators to manage, connect and communicate with team members and parents.

Busby

Personal safety app Busby - and its sister technology RoadRadar - have secured a seven-figure investment, including funds from a syndicate of angel investors through the Liverpool City Region Angel Network’s introductions.

Busby resides in Liverpool’s Global Innovation Hub for sensor technology, Sensor City, and specialises in enhanced personal safety. Its success reflects the opportunities for both domestic and foreign investors.

Fanbase

Scottish tech firm Fanbase was set up in 2019 to offer sports clubs mobile ticketing, membership and subscription services.

It has since received £500,000 in funding to expand into the US market and can boast high-profile foreign investors who are capitalising on the tech firm’s prospects, including former South African rugby union international Bob Skinstad.

FB Curves 3D Gym

Developed by Cardiff born ex-international Welsh gymnast Kris Horrigan and fellow director Fabien Bougas, Welsh-based FB Curves 3D Gym, offers new modern technology to enhance understanding, learning and development in the gymnastic world.

The product has been developed through collaboration between international actors and is affiliated with both Welsh Gymnastics and the French Gymnastics Federation.

Okkulo

Okkulo, a North Tyneside-based sports tech firm, is eyeing further growth after securing a six-figure investment.

Okkulo has created a system to help improve reaction times in athletes and the business currently works with clubs globally, reflecting the lucrative investment opportunities offered by the British sports tech sector.