Digital sport in the Covid 19 crisis (3) – Visionary action is needed now!

Financial support for clubs and safety concepts for spectators are necessary, but not sufficient to help sport through the crisis. It also needs more digitalisation – right now, here and now! The health crisis will be with us for a long time and will pose challenges for sport. Good security concepts and state financial aid remain necessary so that sport can get through the crisis well. The following applies: The better the tracing of contagions works and the more meaningful the analytical risk evaluations are, the better for sport – and for all other activities that live from the audience and exclude social distancing in the core activity. But merely cushioning the financial consequences is not enough. At the same time, it is important to adapt innovative approaches to digitalisation for sport and thus to use opportunities for the popularisation of sport that have been ignored so far. All involved stakeholders can benefit from the fact that digital technologies are becoming cheaper and better, but also that know-how is increasing on how to use digital opportunities professionally.

Three digital fields of action

It is important that clubs and associations also set new digital priorities, because there are three urgent digital fields of action in sport: A) Further development of coaching and self-coaching with digital tools, i.e. 1) Remote/online training and coaching 2) Data-based, computer-generated analysis of athletic performance and control of training B) Further development of the use of digital content, i.e 1) Digital formats for public events, which at the same time enable more attractive and broader participation 2) Valorisation of multimedia data on events and for the promotion of events C) Building online communities, i.e. especially through virtual fan engagement. Action area A.1 is currently seen as redundant because many are convinced that NEVER AGAIN applies with regard to lockdowns. Only time will tell whether this is a good bet or negligent. In field of action A.2, we are at the beginning of a development in two directions: in more and more sports, Big Data is becoming a MUST-HAVE for top performance and, at the same time, data use is “democratising” and diffusing from well-financed professional sports to amateur sports. However, the heterogeneity is great and the data use cultures are still very different even in professional sport. In field of action B, many are still not aware that television is far from being the best possible digital sports experience. But the decreasing popularity of television among young people will make many rethink. In field of action C, social media is perceived by many sports organisations as a necessary evil. Here, a paradigm shift should be aimed for and the possibility of monetisation should be more strongly considered. While fields of action A and C are crucial for future funding, field of action A in particular is important to ensure that sport can continue to take place even in lockdown phases.

Concrete recommendations

Predictions are difficult, especially when they concern the future. This bon mot, which may have originated in physics, naturally applies to Covid-19. Much about the health crisis is too new to make reliable predictions. But there are some sensible, well-reasoned strategies for defending against the impact of the pandemic, keeping the ball rolling and going on the attack with new lines of business:

To “defend”:

1. Actively support contagion tracing on the part of the clubs: because the better this works, the fewer restrictions there will be on events. 2. Develop concepts for data-based coaching that addresses normal operations but also supports lockdown phases: There are many possibilities here from amateur to professional sports. R&D are important for professional sport in particular, but sensible guidelines are also needed in the amateur sector. 3. Promote hybrid forms of competition in which athletes can compete against each other in their discipline over distance, even in possible future lockdowns, and which are designed to be attractive to the public through multimedia

On the “game structure

4. Make popular sporting events digitally accessible to all without the need to pay, so that they do not get lost in the competition for attention against other events: This requires financially sustainable thinking and a willingness to find joint solutions. 5. Make junior and amateur competitions digitally accessible, on the one hand to make these competitions more popular and on the other hand to make it easier for people from risk groups to experience competitions of friends and relatives: This can be financed with a mixture of creative pricing and donation models, grassroots sponsorship and government subsidies. As a side effect, the clubs get multimedia data which they can use for analysis purposes.

To the “attack

6. Create multi-sensory experiences with virtual reality technology (VR) to make the experience at a distance much more attractive than before and simulate participation in the audience: This is where research and development (R&D), and bold thinking, are needed. The time is ripe for multisensory communication via the internet. 7. Learn from e-sports and copy successful practices there to reach a young audience in particular.


Already published in the series are: Part 1, which looks at different approaches to crisis management, and Part 2, which looks at ways of transferring emotions into the digital.


Some innovation resources

  1. Digital Sports Hub Switzerland: Network of organisations in the Lake Constance region with expert knowledge
  2. SACSS: Symposium of the Swiss Association of Computer Science in Sport on 25 November 2020.
  3. ThinkSport: is building a national thematic network on the topic of “Sport and Physical Activity” and is a contact point for innovation in sport
  4. Topic Leadership “Sports Data Analytics”: provides access to over 250 data science students for project-based collaboration (e.g. in the form of master’s theses or research projects). In autumn 2021, the MSc in Applied Information and Data Science at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts will also hold a “Sports Hackathon”.
  5. Master Digital Business Administration at BFH Wirtschaft: offers a profound overview of transformation practices, with opportunities to delve into the topic of “digital transformation of sport” in project work
  6. Sports Business Institute: offers sports management training

AUTOR/AUTORIN: Martin Rumo

Martin Rumo is an Embedded Computer Scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Sports Magglingen (EHSM). He conducts research on digital performance analysis tools in elite sports. In addition, he is working on new forms of sports, such as e-sports.

AUTOR/AUTORIN: Reinhard Riedl

Reinhard Riedl heads the BFH Centre Digital Society and edits the online magazine SocietyByte. He was president of the Swiss Informatics Society and the International Society for New Music Bern IGNM.

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