How the NBA and McLaren are leading technology innovation

Darren Roos gave the keynote speech
Darren Roos gave the keynote speech

Customers often ask my team how we stay up to date with the latest innovations across industries. One way is to attend industry events outside of your own.

Today we went to Leaders Meet Innovation – an event for sports organisations hosted by SAP and the NBA at the BAFTA in London. We were invited to the event because we produce several sports websites.

The event itself was extremely well organised. Most of the top brands you can think of in sport were there, and SAP – the main sponsor, gave a really good presentation on why sports is important to them, especially as a case study to other industries. They were showcasing their products at the event and during some their presentations.

SAP Keynote

SAP’s keynote described how they are helping McLaren with their Hana, cloud based systems. Whereas companies in other industries are often reluctant to use new products, sports organisations are eager to use the first-to-market to their advantage.

SAP are looking at Internet of Things and facial recognition in their retail offerings such as Hybris which I covered last year. And finally, Darren Roos, the COO for SAP in EMEA described how cloud technology has levelled most companies’ advantage by lowering costs and increasing computing power. And I completely agree.


A panel consisting a number of content producers including the BBC described how 4K has become successful quicker than first thought. Personally I remain sceptical of 4K – after HD, the television industry has looked for new challenges, including 3D and now 4K. Do we need either? Well, I’m sceptical.

The panel described how immersive media including Oculus Rift is going to become mainstream (this became a running theme to other presentations). The panelists also explained how the IP video in the UK (such as iPlayer) is more advanced than other countries.

Discovery networks explained how they localise TV programmes by country. This is harder to do in live sport, although voice over IP can facilitate commentaries in a choice of languages.

One particular quote I liked from the BBC was how TV and radio deal with large audiences but the web can personalise content for an individual. The BBC have offered login functionality for a while now, and I expect this to step up a gear in the coming year.

Digital Music

Soundcloud and Deezer formed the next panel with Facebook. It’s interesting that the same philosophy of build digital audiences, then monetise them, still exists.

Deezer’s business model is to charge a subscription for music, whereas Sound Cloud is available for free. Deezer will be launching new higher quality sound files, FLAC, soon – and similar to other subscription services, the higher quality will be the reason for paying money.

Consumer trends & disruptors

The next panel was Just Eat, Hailo and GE. Mat Braddy from Just Eat is a great presenter and kind of stole the show (it wasn’t a bad thing). His advice for how to stay ahead of the competition is to play with technology. This doesn’t necessarily mean having an Xbox in the office, but few large companies have an Oculus Rift in the office – and this could be the future of interface design.

Hearing Just Eat describe their business made me realise how we consider digital businesses as organisations going direct to consumer. However there is still a place for aggregators such as Just Eat to provide additional service (aka ‘value’) to consumers.

Technology: Changing Work, Life & Play

SAP, McLaren and BT were on the next panel, and considering most of the audience were aged 35-55 and male, it was a great debate.

Clearly the biggest challenge to large organisations at the moment is the new workforce. The new workforce is more IT literate and are natural sharers. Harnessing their tech-saviness is hard, and the McLaren CIO said that IT’s role is to give technology guidance to other parts of the organisation, not prescribing how and what they should be doing. He also described how the cloud has made the McLaren so efficient – during a race they can spin up an extra 2,000 cores (processors) for just two hours, which costs them a few hundred dollars.

McLaren find that new, younger staff want to be able to search through data much like we use Google, however enterprise software often pre-categorises stuff for users.

And the sense of urgency has changed. Whereas most employees build up a list of contacts to rely on for knowledge in urgent situations, graduates just search for answers anywhere.

Finally, graduates are brought up in an Internet environment which is non-competitive and heavily based upon sharing – from photos to contacts to source code. However when they arrive at work, they need to be retrained that business is competitive (especially in Formula 1) and you can’t just share everything.

Marginal Gains

Scott Drawer from the RFU talked about Athletic Performance Management. He used case studies from across the world of sport.

One quote which the audience responded to was:

“Learning faster than your competitors is the only sustainable competitive advantage in an environment of rapid change and innovation”

Arie De Geus

In the current commercial climate, this couldn’t be truer.

Digital Transformation of Sports and Entertainment

And finally, Adam Silver, the Commissioner from the NBA was interviewed by Alex Balfour. It was a great, thought-provoking chat which was well received by the audience.

Whilst NBA is already hugely popular, it wants to be the number two sport in the UK.

Like most other sports organisations, NBA has a pyramid where few people play the sport compared to watch the sport live, and this live audience is minute compared to the TV audience. Expanding this audience internationally has its own challenge – a new audience requires some level of education about the finer details of the sport.

New technologies help with this – such as social media, where just reading Twitter during a sports game can liven up some dull periods – to 3D environments (Oculus Rift, again) where fans can sit virtually with other fans and discuss the finer details of the game.


I enjoyed today’s event. The sports industry is fascinating – it has extremely loyal fans (I’m sure fans stick with their sports teams more than their banks, and consumers stay with banks longer than spouses). The challenges, of monetisation, audience size, technology, competition, marketing all feel more ‘passionate’ in the sports industries than others.

People in other industries sometimes look at the sports industry as irrelevant, almost ‘hobbyist’, however, as SAP and McLaren are showcasing, it’s very relevant to all industries.

1 thought on “How the NBA and McLaren are leading technology innovation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *