‏‏‎ ‎I‏‏‎‎SSUE RECAP:

Fans are

the new

free agent

Matthew Chmiel

Head of Discourse

We drive discussion through a “Living Issues” content experience. As we transition to the themes, topics, and provocations of our next issue, let’s zoom out on the Fan Experience Issue, and try to make sense of what we learned and what comes next. Our issues never formally close; we will let you know whenever a new perspective comes along that can contribute to this exploration.

We launched The Fan Experience Issue with a focus on engaging sports fans. The big US leagues are built on a foundation of traditional distribution channels and platforms that nurture a stable transfer of fan engagement from one generation to the next. The stability of that engagement is extremely valuable, essentially transmogrifying a set of quaint “sports-ball” hobbies into multi-billion-dollar industries that define our culture. All that money has been a ballast against the disruptive digital forces that have reshaped other traditional industries.

As the newspaper industry literally folds, and the music industry turns to streaming, the world of sports fans is still organizing its schedules to watch the live game–and advertisers are capitalizing on that attention. Our Fan Experience Issue thesis was that the same forces that killed newspapers are going to impact the fan experience. Our goal was to investigate these forces and identify and understand the opportunities.

This exploration was ignited by a thought-provoking question at an event we hosted in Nashville for our members and leaders in business and sport. Our co-founder, Toby Daniels, interrupted our mingling guests with a hypothetical question that put it all in context:


The answer to this question had to involve professional sports. It could involve an ownership stake in a big league franchise, or a piece of equity in an up-and-coming insurgent league. The $100 million could be invested in live media rights for Thursday Night Football (like how Amazon is investing $11 billion over the next decade), or in improved production features of traditional sports. We heard so many answers and perspectives that really put this issue into overdrive.

We collected a series of guest contributors who are experts in identifying and analyzing trends in the business of sports. Some are pushing to innovate traditional broadcast formats, while others are leading a gut-renovation into how our oldest sports are played. The reverberations of their investments are going to drive the next generation of investments in fan engagement.

You can see their work in
the provocation list below:

Are live sports rights a bursting media bubble?


Game Over? The Uncertain Future of Live Sports

[ YES ]

Live Sports Needs to Embrace the Realities of Reality TV

[ NO WAY ]

The Death of Live Sports is Greatly Exaggerated

Can insurgent leagues capture market share from the NFL?


Innovating Without Losing Traditional Fans

[ YES ]

The Future is Fan Controlled


Tech is the Uncanny Valley of Fan Experience

Soccer has changed so much over the course of its inception. Today, the athlete drives fandom.

Unpacking the discourse

We cannot predict the future but the discourse this month shifted our perspective about professional sports. At first we focused primarily on the big insurgent leagues and the future of media rights, towering like a mountain range on the horizon. As we dug deeper into the topic, we discovered a developing ecosystem lying beneath the surface. A lot of innovative thinking and investment capital is flowing into insurgent leagues who are finding ways to drive market share without leaning on media rights. This type of entrepreneurial thinking is helping to redefine the way traditional games can be played for modern audiences. As Aly Wagner, co-founder of Bay FC told DK and Dan in Playing Business, “Soccer has changed so much over the course of its inception. Today, the athlete drives fandom.” She is taking that thinking to create new opportunities and experiences to let the athletes shine in her new franchise. As she said “the athlete drives fandom.” And that right there is where we are centering our primary takeaways from this issue.

Time for your takes. Let us know what you think and tell us how you would invest that $100M in professional sports. Reach out to chmiel@ondiscourse.com
Stay tuned for the next issue.