New games and new rules for the sports business

Transformation with live sporting events

Christian Müller is CEO of digital sports experience expert Infront X. He talks to PwC about the transformation taking place with live sporting events, technological innovation and the momentum of long-term partnerships. He also explains that people are still the linchpin of real and virtual change.

Mr Müller, what do you personally understand by transformation?

It’s a continuous, active and positive response to the changing world. For me, change and innovation have positive connotations, especially when considered in the context of sustainability and tradition. I personally like the fact that technological change is rapid and creating endless opportunities for sport and people.

What constitutes a first-class sports experience for you?

It’s the formalised representation of athletic performance that is best experienced live, in other words in a stadium, through a public viewing or via a live broadcast on a screen. Ideally, the sports experience is embedded in a story. It’s first-class when it’s implemented in an appealing way and available on all channels relevant to the target group.

Why is the live aspect so important?

Live sport provides excitement, surprise, uniqueness and the authenticity of emotion. It’s the unique selling point of the sports business. Its live aspect has been slowing down digital transformation in sport for years. Breakthroughs in new technology, the reduction in live streaming delays to virtually zero and new types of artificial intelligence are what’s now driving the digital transformation in the sports business.

«We’re seeing a lot of playing catch-up. People are scrambling to get tickets to the stadiums.»

Christian Müller, CEO Infront X

During the pandemic, live events were impossible for a long time or still are. How has this affected your industry?

In 2020, we were able to respond quickly to COVID-19, so a lot of professional events could be held, albeit in a very limited way and with no spectators. Major events like the UEFA European Championship and the Olympic Games got record ratings. And we’re seeing a lot of playing catch-up. People are scrambling to get tickets to the stadiums.

Why are new technologies transforming the fan experience?

At Infront X we’ve recently completed a book called Brave New Sport, to be published soon. In the book, we explore various topics including the importance and social role of sport. We’ve found sport fulfils many basic human needs. For example, people want to belong to a community, which is why they join a particular fan base. Sport also improves your health and attractiveness, which are primal human needs. Technological change in sport is meeting these basic needs, quite literally zooming in on them and triggering a fundamental transformation in how sport is consumed.

How specifically?

The nature of content and media behaviour has changed radically over the last few years. Most notably, Generation Z is demanding exciting, rapid content that can be consumed in small amounts. They rarely watch a 90-minute match, instead picking out the best match summaries – the more up to date, the better. More and more people are consuming sport at home, and that’s partly down to COVID-19. Sporting activities like gaming and e-sports are in. The new digital technologies have accelerated these trends. In fact, platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Roblox are smashing one record after another. Of course, you can argue over cause and effect.

How can companies offer relevant sports content to younger generations?

This is a very difficult challenge, and we’ll only succeed if we use social media in a targeted way and bring viewers over to digital live channels. In particular, TV stations and other traditional media providers are finding it increasingly difficult to create a relevant offering. This isn’t possible without the use of new technologies.

For innovations to get established, the right mindset and a healthy start-up culture are needed. In Switzerland, this means a cultural change is due. Here, there’s a lot of invention, but little innovation. An invention is a long way off from an innovation as it needs demand and a market. But with long-term business partnerships especially, you have to think differently and do away with linear controls. At Infront X, we’ve learnt a lot from our partners in Israel, the USA and Asia because their approach to innovation and errors is different to Switzerland’s.

Which innovations do you think are forward-looking?

Without doubt, artificial intelligence. It’s a key issue for us. AI can be used, for example, to automatically generate match summaries with the most exciting match highlights, to search for the best football games or compile clips of goals, fouls and key scenes from different matches. AI can do all this but with a fraction of the human (time) effort. This means that for the same money today we can produce faster and more high-quality summaries.

AI can also be used to prevent injuries. Based on huge volumes of data on a sportsperson’s physical condition and performance factors, AI can determine an athlete’s risk of injury. The technology here benefits from having Big Data drawing on thousands of athletes whose teams work with these tools. These forecasts are of great value to a club or an individual athlete.

5G is also a future-proof innovation. What will 5G change? Where do you see the risks and the opportunities?

I only see opportunities for sport. 5G can cut transmission delays to virtually zero. 5G also makes it possible to broadcast sport in a completely new way. In five to six years, we’ll also be seeing virtual 3D broadcasts. The audience will be right in the thick of things without physically being at the event. In Asia, traditional sports like football have already been virtualised and then staged as competitions. 5G will revolutionise everything that’s interactive. At some point, the real and virtual worlds of sport will merge. This will again raise the question of which types of sport are official and which aren’t. The line between sport and e-sport will blur.

Christian Mueller

About Christian Müller

Christian Müller joined Infront X in 2006, where, as Senior Vice President People, Innovation & Corporate Services and Vice President Business Development, he actively supported Infront X’s business units. Previously he worked as a project manager at McKinsey & Company, where he advised and mentored leading international companies and sports organisations. As CEO of Infront X, Christian Müller contributes his extensive expertise in innovation, virtual technologies and digital strategies.

Streaming services, gamification and individualised offers are booming, according to PwC’s Swiss Entertainment & Media Outlook 2021-2025. What does this mean for the sports business?

Streaming is a massive achievement for sport. Today’s technologies allow you to stream more or less in real time. Together with Verizon, we’ve developed the 5G Verizon SuperStadium. Users can look live into the stadium and follow a match or individual sequences from different angles on their mobile phone. It can also project live statistics and detailed overlays in real time. The time delay is less than a second. These forms of technology and tools are opening up enormous opportunities: traditional television stations can expand their streaming content. New players like social media are coming into play and developing new momentum. And even small clubs can present themselves to their fans in real time via streaming. If you can recognise these opportunities, you can unlock enormous potential.

Picture Stadium

Does this also apply to the individualisation of offerings?

Yes, absolutely. There are two types here. Social media has powerful algorithms that personalise content, but we’re unable to control this. For these channels, we’re creating a plethora of offerings through automation and AI, and seeing what works best. This will allow us to optimise the scope and costs. On our own digital platforms, we also use AI to determine which videos or sequences are most popular. We can use this content for other purposes and increase our effectiveness as a result.

As a private individual, how do you enjoy sport the most?

The older I get, the more I like taking part in sport myself. Whenever possible, I watch live sporting events, preferably with friends or family.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a consultant?

A management coach once told me that people are and will remain the most important factor. This may sound trivial, but it’s often overlooked in a society based on meritocracy. What I now know is that good results come automatically when people are satisfied and motivated.

Christian Müller, thank you for talking to us today.

About Infront X

Infront X is an independent subsidiary of the Infront Group. It closes the gap between storytelling and technology. Using data-driven insights, Infront X develops platforms and experiences that meet the interests and demands of target audiences. In doing so, the company helps brands inspire target groups with their content and precisely measure and optimise profitability. Through partnerships with digital innovators from around the world, Infront X is changing the way consumers and fans experience sport.

PwC's sport survey 

Ready to find out the key drivers to rebuild a better sports industry?

Read PwC's Sports Survey


Read more Transformation Stories

Register to get notified about new Transformation Stories.

Subscribe to Stories

Contact us

Andreas Staubli

Andreas Staubli

CEO, PwC Switzerland

Tel: +41 58 792 44 72