Prior to her ALSD 2019 keynote, the CEO and Co-Founder of Sports Innovation Lab sat down with the ALSD to discuss opportunities for disruption in sports, the scalable nature of tech solutions, and access to diversity of thought when making decisions.
Editor’s Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
It’s likely some of our members are not familiar with your company and what you do. Can you please share with our group who you are and the value you bring?
I’ve spent my whole career in sports, whether on the field or off the field in the business of sports. What I recognized was technology was changing everything, so I started a company called Sports Innovation Lab. We’re a market research and data company, specifically targeting the sports tech market.
Our job is to understand tech, be the Switzerland of all these thousands of solutions hitting the market, and give objective advice and research to our clients and the industry to understand tech innovation and how the business of sports is changing.
The ALSD community includes salespeople, service providers, architects, and others. We are not all technologists, but we all must have some acumen for how to deploy technology assets. How does your research help all of us in the business of sports, not just its technology professionals?
“We’re moving away from those diehard consumers who buy season tickets and don’t require a lot of service outside of the sport itself. This new generation of fans demands more.”
– Angela Ruggiero, Sports Innovation Lab
Well, I’m not a techie myself, and that’s part of the reason I started the company. To not have an understanding of tech is a disservice and an opportunity for disruption, so what we’re trying to do is simplify what’s happening, break down the areas of opportunity where tech can help fans, help athletes, better construct venues, and engage with that next-generation audience.
We call that [next generation] the Fluid Fan. It’s a big piece of research we launched recently that I’ll speak about here at ALSD. We’re moving away from those diehard consumers who buy season tickets and don’t require a lot of service outside of the sport itself. This new generation of fans demands more, and they have access to tech in the rest of their lives. They’re tech dependent outside of sports, and what we’re trying to do is say if those are the trends outside of sports, here are all of the thousands of companies that are deploying similar kinds of solutions in sports that will help captivate and engage that next-generation fan.
The term “innovation” is everywhere, and it can be overused at times, fodder for press releases or tweets. How do you help sports organizations identify real innovation, actionable innovation, something that’s going to make a discernible difference?
It starts with the organization and its goals. Is [the tech innovation] just fancy, and [the organization] just curious? Or do they actually have a strategy in place to implement a technology or a solution that’s going to help them with that particular area of focus? So it starts with trying to understand what their needs are and what their end goal is. Then we’ve broken up the market in such a way that we can honestly dissect all the providers in that space and give an objective opinion on the ones we think would be the right fit for that particular need.
Our community is also one of large organizations and small organizations, minor leagues, big leagues, college athletics, theaters large and small. How do you help organizations find solutions that are within their scale and budget?
“Information is power, and I want the information we’re creating to be available to everyone. That’s how change happens. And it really isn’t about the tech... It’s about what tech can do.”
– Angela Ruggiero, Sports Innovation Lab
When we started the company, a big thing for us was could we build a scalable service? So we built a software platform that is like a personal research assistant to help you see what’s happening in the market yourself. That takes us out of the equation to an extent but allows us to keep your costs extremely low.
I realized, coming from the Olympic space, there are international federations, Olympic committees, women’s sports, startup leagues, and a lot of needs in a market outside of the traditional big sports that need access to this technology, need to understand what’s happening, and honestly have posed the biggest opportunity to disrupt the current model. They don’t have those traditional restraints that you might see with the big leagues, so we tried to create a software product that’s accessible for everyone. And then if you want more services and more support from my team and my analysts, you can pay more for that.
Information is power, and I want the information we’re creating to be available to everyone. That’s how change happens. And it really isn’t about the tech. I always come back to this. It’s about what tech can do. Tech can help your athletes. It can help your fans. It can engage and inspire that next generation because that’s the medium they’re used to communicating with now. It’s the way you reach them at home when they’ve never been to your venue. It’s the way that when they’re in your venue, they have an unbelievable experience. It’s a means to a bigger end, which is keeping sports relevant, so kids aren’t playing other things and doing other things. And even as adults, we’re not just tuning into other forms of entertainment. We’re still captivated by the power of sport.
Last question. We’ll get you out of here on this. How does diversity of thought and diversity of backgrounds lead to success for your business, and really any successful company?
I’m all about diversity. It’s exactly what you said – diversity of thought. When you have different opinions, different perspectives, different backgrounds at the table making decisions, you’re going to be able to cater to what the world looks like. The world is diverse. The world looks different. And if we want to keep sports front of mind and relevant for everyone, not just the traditional consumer but this next-generation consumer, we have to have different perspectives in the room.
I always talk about women’s sports. If you want to grow to 50% of the market, it’s helpful to have more women’s opinions at the table, and that goes across every type of diversity. It’s not just the right thing to do. I really believe it’s good for business at the same time. And the more we can understand it’s not a check-the-box exercise, it’s really about that inclusion piece, the better our industry will be for it.
Watch our entire ALSD 2019 content series, featuring interviews with industry leaders, expositions of the conference’s best ideas, and venue tours of Soldier Field, Wrigley Field, United Center, and Wintrust Arena.