TECH TALK: Sport, We Need To Talk About Digital Transformation

In this Industry Insights piece, Ben Wells, Chief Commercial Officer at PTI Digital, explains the what and the why behind “Digital Transformation”; is it another meaningless techie term or the keys to a 365/24 dynamic commercial model? 

Let’s get down to brass tacks: what are we actually talking about when we say “digital transformation”? PTI have a very simple definition:

Harnessing the potential of digital tools and your own data to move your business from a 20-30 day a year event business to an always-on, always-engaging, always-monetising media business…

Sounds simple doesn’t it? We won’t lie: the truth is that it requires a lot of hard work, thought and commitment but the technology side of it is relatively straightforward.

PTI are not evangelists. “Digital” in itself is not a panacea, a silver bullet. What digital technology enables is the super-charging of your strategy to allow you to move away from the traditional model, built on a handful of inelastic revenue streams to one where you can communicate with customers in a personalised manner wherever they are and at whatever time. Rather than requiring them to come to you, you are able to go to them.

Part I: Transformation

This is the “transformation” part: it enables a complete overhaul of what is a decaying and finite commercial model. It is not called “digital iteration” for a reason: this is not a time where tinkering will do. It requires a bold vision, a very honest look in the mirror and a clear, costed roadmap between where you are now and where you want to be. It is what used to be called “strategy”, the big difference being that modern tools and techniques enable that holistic pivot at much greater pace.

The flip side to that is that it allows others to move at pace as well. We are not talking necessarily about your rivals on the pitch, although many are starting on this journey. The biggest threat – especially with fans having been eased out of their matchday ritual by COVID – is that the digital revolution has spawned countless other ways for them to spend their time and money. If they’re on the digital transformation bandwagon sooner, with greater clarity over their vision and greater commitment to get there, it could be at cost to your business.

We are seeing lots of sports organisations doing some good work in pockets, albeit without a global, transformational view. Digital Transformation, addressed bottom up may succeed but at a pace where others will soon overtake. Sport’s tendency to distrust marketing, technology and strategy means the piecemeal, cautious approach is a lose-lose. In the words of Yoda, “do it, or do not, there is no try”.

Building a Roadmap 

PTI Digital have designed model which enables Digital Transformation for sports organisations. It is an approach which, put simply, starts with a vision and works back to the current state, identifying the gap between the two and build a roadmap to bridge it. It is an approach which

  • Is based on a comprehensive and honest audit of your business
  • Does not throw the baby out with the bathwater
  • Is pragmatic, realistic and achievable
  • Is modular and able to flex with your needs
  • Is fully costed and dovetails with your financial planning
  • Identifies skills gaps and training needs
  • Identifies short term wins
  • Comes with a 5 year payback model
  • Enables dynamic, exponential growth post break-even point

Start at the Beginning

It all starts with “why?” Too many in our view, rush straight into the “what?” without first understanding what the question is. No end of Facebook likes or new customer records is going to solve the fundamental commercial challenges sport faces – the fact that the traditional model cannot scale and is therefore unable to keep pace with ever rising costs – without understanding the context within which you are pursuing them.

You could look at it even more alarmingly: in rugby union for example, the average season ticket holder is in his (and it is 70% male) late 50s and the sport is not attracting anywhere near enough youngsters through the gates. The life expectancy for that demographic is 79, meaning that the sport has 20 years to save itself. That isn’t going to happen with more of the same.

Looking at the problem through a narrow lens means there is a naturally low ceiling on what you can achieve, no matter how much time or money is thrown at it. The iterative approach misses the point, costs money and most importantly, time.

Sport is at a crossroads. Digital Transformation offers a golden opportunity to address the myriad challenges sport faces – and will continue to face post-COVID – and safeguard its future. There is no quick solution, it requires a clear vision, clarity of messaging and a commitment to deliver the roadmap. There can be no more time for iterating the traditional model, it is an anachronism in a fast-paced digital world. It is time to be bold.

We appreciate that there are a lot of smoke and mirrors and a lot of scepticism about what digital transformation is and whether it can be achieved. PTI is here to help sport demystify that world. We like to ally best-in-class digital-commercial consultancy with good old fashioned logic, pragmatism and hard work.


Check out our recent video interview with PTI Digital CEO, Mike Bohndiek, in which he discusses their work at Edgbaston Stadium

If you would like to find out more about the work PTI are doing, drop Ben a line at:

PTI will also be discussing Digital Transformation in greater depth at the PTI Conference at Edgbaston on August 12th. It’s free to Venues, Clubs, Leagues & Rightsholders. Click here for more information.

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