Technology, innovation come to the forefront at Basketball Innovation Summit

By Eurohoops Team/

The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four held at Cologne staged the first edition of the Basketball Innovation Summit.

Per “Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four weekend traditionally brings together the who’s who of the basketball world and even with the limitations in 2021, that would be the case. The first edition of the Basketball Innovation Summit aired as a Zoom meeting and gave space to tech companies and partners such as SAP Sports, 4YFN and YBVR to showcase their projects and solutions within the sports tech ecosystem.

The two-hour event included the annual FanXP Innovation Challenge, which was a huge moment for the nine start-up companies that were announced as finalists. ImagineAR, LivXp AG, Fanprime: MyEB+, Seyu Solutions Ltd., Sceenic, Slate, LiveDuel, FanDome FRM and Clupik are shooting to be the winner of the week-long mentorship program with Euroleague Basketball staff for instruction and insight.

Innovation is not just something for start-ups as EuroLeague clubs FC Bayern Munich and Zalgiris Kaunas exhibited during the summit. Une Marija Jurkstaite, the Chief Business Officer at Zalgiris, talked about the Lithuanian club’s innovation strategy for the next five years – aimed at best understanding what the teams’ fans and ultimately end-users want and how to keep the business moving forward. One of the main components for the club is the online Insider platform, which was built up during the pandemic to help improve the fan experience and engagement with the club.

“The idea came a year ago, when we lost all of our normal revenue streams, the biggest from ticketing. But we didn’t lose our fans, the content of the team. There is no quarantine on the internet,” said Jurkstaite, who is responsible for sports business strategy, sports innovations and experience marketing at Zalgiris.

The Insider platform, which has users buy virtual tickets, features games and quizzes as well as podcasts, videos and Zalgiris-based TV shows.

“The idea is to let the fans be even closer to their team,” Jurkstaite said. “We saw that we have 1 million ‘passive’ fans that we do not monetize at the moment. So this is the potential we see, and we want to engage better at least a part of this target group.”

Bayern has a similar online platform – called Virtual Audi Dome – and Sebastian Ferschl said innovation is one of the core values of the club. And the pandemic pushed forward the club’s plans – just like it did with Zalgiris.”

“The pandemic accelerated the need for innovations, maybe innovations which we did not focus that much on before,” said Ferschl, Bayern’s Head of Corporate Partnerships. “I do not think current projects were permanently closed, but more adapted to the ‘new normal’, which maybe will lead to an even better output when they are finished.”

Part of Bayern’s three-year plan started in 2020 was to find start-up companies to integrate the latest innovation to the SAP Garden, the team’s future home arena for games. Bayern has already opened the doors to the Virtual Audi Dome for some home games, including the EuroLeague Playoffs.

“We wanted to create an authentic home game atmosphere. One person in the club said it was even better than the real arena,” Ferschl said.

The platform includes a shootout challenge where fans can win prizes and a fan shop with even better deals than the existing fan shop. So far, more than 7,000 spectators from 21 different companies have used the Virtual Audi Dome platform.

“We were forced to create this, but we can also use it as a benefit for the future,” Ferschel said.

The summit also showed that not only start-ups and EuroLeague clubs are interested in investing in the future of sports but also current players. Sinan Guler, who played for Efes from 2008 to 2013, talked to attendees about his perspective on how athletes can prepare for their retirement by investing in the game – whether that is on the tech and innovation side or not.

Guler, who played at two EuroLeague Final Fours and won the 2016 7DAYS EuroCup with Galatasaray, has invested in more than 30 start-up companies. And he places a high value on the community of networks he has built.

“From the financial side, the main purpose of today’s system is to gain more capital and gain more investment. With my network, I understand that community is wealthier than the money you can accumulate,” said Guler, who has been an owner of start-ups in the past.

“The more people who can put more value into something, if they know one or two more people, it can be that much bigger. There is a lot of value to be created. Innovation has an exponential value you cannot imagine right now.”

Guler explained that Europe consisting of numerous countries with varying legal systems and regulations in terms of business creates more obstacles for ideas planned for multiple countries. But he added: “The potential is for sure endless.”

The first edition of the Basketball Innovation Summit took place in collaboration with 4YFN and with THINK SPORT as an ecosystem partner.”

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