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Sports events boost business, fuel innovation and economic growth
Fri, 11th Aug 2023

The recent cancellation of the Commonwealth Games is not only a loss for fans and athletes across the world but potentially also a missed opportunity for local sportstech businesses. The financial cost of the Games, and the figure widely touted as ‘too much’, is obviously significant, but it also shouldn’t be considered just on face value and out of context.

Yes, the Games would bring great entertainment and excitement, but they would also bring tremendous business opportunities and the potential for local innovators and entrepreneurs, startups and scaleups to be hoisted onto the global stage – in turn driving long-term economic growth for the state (where the majority are located) and Australia.

We saw this at the Commonwealth Games held on the Gold Coast 2018 and Birmingham 2022, where many Australian sportstech companies were activated across fan engagement, broadcast, event planning, rostering, athlete tracking, recovery and rehabilitation equipment and athletic management systems – to name a few.

As I hang up my boots and retire from Australian Sports Technologies Network (ASTN) – Australia’s leading industry body for Australian-inspired sports technologies – I reflect on how far the local sportstech sector has come and the potential for the future growth, but only if the right foundations are laid. I will forever be grateful for the part I was able to play to develop and build the sportstech industry into one of Australia’s leading sectors.

The best footballers always think a kick ahead of the play
Prior to the inception of the Australian Sports Technologies Network in 2012, Australia had no strategy or funding to support sportstech founders to compete on the global stage. We predicted the emergence of an important industry and had a dream to establish a thriving sportstech innovation network. ASTN became just this. One of the first coordinated sportstech ‘ecosystem’ or ‘super-cluster’ initiatives globally. With the world’s best practise at its core, ASTN’s ‘born global, die local’ mantra was crafted, and we designed world-class programs that would instil a global mindset in all ASTN companies from day one.

In 2021 ASTN launched the Australian Sports Innovation Centre of Excellence (ASICE), located at Victoria’s Digital Hub in Cremorne adjacent to Melbourne’s Olympic Park Precinct – to support the commercialisation of research and development and attract national and international partnership opportunities for Victoria's growing sports technology sector. As a state, Victoria built a legacy investing in world-class sports infrastructure, hosting major sporting events and providing the emerging sportstech sector with an opportunity to test and validate emerging technologies.

Now in just over a decade – according to the latest ASTN 2023 Sports Innovation Report – the sector has grown a remarkable 11.8% per annum since 2012 when only 284 companies were identified. It is now worth A$4.25 billion, which is equal in value to Australia’s fintech sector. There are now 758 sportstech companies employing 13,438 people. Proving the sector has well and truly moved out of its nascent stage and is predicted to continue its successful trajectory with a new wave of technologies emerging in preparation for the Brisbane 2032 Olympics and other major events in Australia’s sporting calendar over the next decade and beyond.

The next generation of sportstech founders are paving the way
ASTN’s success is a result of the many dedicated organisations and passionate people that have believed in it and thrown their support behind it. ASTN’s network of companies and founders has proven that they are almost unstoppable. We are home to innovative game-changing brands like Zena Sport, which creates apparel fit for females to prevent injuries; IDA Sports, which distributes female soccer boots through North American retail stores; GTG Network, which leverage sports data and statistical insights to enhance the fan experience, and ActiveXchange who harnesses information that supports communities to become more active and healthier.

Others, like VueMotion or Gerford AI, deploy deep technologies to automate, simplify or enhance performance analytics and companies like Vald Performance, KangaTech, or Smartabase are expanding from sportstech to adjacent sectors like health and defence. AirCast, LIGR and CloudMix are providing sports events with new streaming capabilities and operate at the intersection of sport and entertainment. The bold ideas and sheer grit of these businesses, along with hundreds of others, have contributed to making Australia one of the top six sportstech ecosystems globally.

The future is fit for sportstech in Australia – if we don’t get in our own way
The global sportstech industry is now estimated to be worth more than US$50 billion and expected to grow by 13.8% per annum to US$100+ billion by 2027 – proving there are plenty more opportunities ripe for the taking.

I hope major events that are of the same calibre as the Commonwealth Games continue to be a staple on our sports calendar into the future and that the value these events drive for our local sportstech ecosystem isn’t overlooked. As a country, we have proven that innovation thrives when we invest in infrastructure and events, and that’s what will secure our spot on the podium for years to come.