Innovative Switzerland is Primed to Become the Next Sports Digital Hub

Last month, Facebook signed an exclusive deal to broadcast the next three seasons of La Liga to fans across the Indian subcontinent. The social network already owns rights to screen Major League Baseball to US audiences on their platform. The fact that even a major player like Facebook wants a piece of the sports pie demonstrates exactly how tempting and lucrative investing in the sport tech industry has become in recent years.

It truly is an exciting time commercially when it comes to global sports because it’s never been possible to reach out to so many fans across the world so easily. As markets around the world wake up to this golden opportunity, the first one to corner this market and establish itself as the hub of digital sports will call the shots for years to come.

Tech is the Future of Sports

Back in 2014, a report by A.T. Kearney estimated that the global sports industry is worth around $700 billion, which is 1 percent of the global GDP. After the report came out, that year investors around the world pumped $1 billion into sports-tech startups around the world. Since then, the industry has grown by leaps and bounds, with every investor trying to predict the next big trend they should bet their money on.

The sports industry is constantly evolving, making it a challenging yet interesting space for both entrepreneurs and innovators. The industry’s biggest catalyst is clearly technology – from monitoring and improving the athlete’s performance through wearables to enhancing the fan experience with second screens, anything is possible. Even established brands like Nike and Adidas are investing heavily to digitize their product ranges in order to keep up and stay relevant in these rapidly changing times.

The Economic and Innovation Hub of Sports

As countries around the world scramble to get on the sports-tech train before it leaves the station, one country seems to be in the ideal position to bank in on this boom – our country Switzerland.

Since 1915, the Swiss city of Lausanne has been the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and many other federations have their headquarters around the country too, including FIFA, UEFA, FIVB and FIBA. Around 65 sports organizations call Switzerland their home, leading some to even call Lausanne the Silicon Valley of Sports. On top of it, St. Gallen is establishing an entire E-sports industry. The first Swiss Esports congress will take place during Digital Day 25th October.

The reason so many sports organizations are drawn to Switzerland is among others because of its political neutrality, the low taxes and its central location in Europe. Not just the sports organizations, Switzerland’s economy benefits from this arrangement too, as these organizations make most of their revenue outside the Swiss borders but spend a significant amount, more than $1 billion annually according to a study, within the country. This amount is growing, as earlier this year, the Swiss economics ministry actually announced the GDP excluding earnings from sports because it formed such a large part of it. A 2015 study by AISTS (International Academy of Sports Science and Technology) on the economic significance of International Sports Organisations in Switzerland found that every CHF 1 spent by these organisations spent in the country, created CHF 1.55 for the Swiss economy. The 45 organisations which were surveyed employed over 2,000 employees across the country.

Switzerland’s unique sports ecosystem is not the only factor that puts it in the prime position to become a sports innovation hub, it also has the benefit of being one of the most innovative countries in the world.

The Alpine land has very few natural resources of its own, which means that the country has had to take a Swiss knife approach to developing their economy by focusing on many sectors like agriculture, tourism, services at the same time. The Swiss have always had to be creative to survive and it shows, they’ve globally been on top when it comes to innovation according to a study by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).Over 43,000 patent applications were submitted by the Swiss in 2014 alone, which means per-capita, Switzerland ranks first globally. Switzerland has also moved up three spots in the ranking in the IMD World Digital Competitiveness ranking (5th). While Switzerland has focused on developing robotics, education and the financial sector through technology, it’s the right time for it to focus on sports.

The Perfect Mix

As sports becomes more commercial and technology driven, the size and influence of international sports organizations is on the rise. Switzerland has the perfect mix of ingredients to become the sports innovation hub the world needs. Switzerland is a neutral ground and located in central Europe, has over 65 sports organisations, all main stakeholders are on site, and the country is seen as one of the top players in innovation in the world.

Even though all the sports organizations present in the country are already directly benefiting the local economy, through employment and the amount they spend for their operations year-on-year, they are also making a difference indirectly when it comes to Switzerland’s image as a business and sports-oriented nation.

It sends out a very clear message to sports entrepreneurs and startups – that Switzerland is the place to be when it comes to sports related businesses.

The Change is Here

The seeds of change are already being laid by forward-thinking Swiss outfits like ThinkSport. Their initiative The SPOT was one of the first international events (where I was honoured to be one of the startup juries) which combined innovation, technology and sports in the Olympic Capital of Lausanne. The event brought together creators, brands, entrepreneurs, academics, media, NGOs, the public and digitalswitzerland to explore innovation and the role of technology in sports. The best part was that it included people from the sports industry as well as people who’re not part of it, to create a unique collaborative mix. While the US has always been at the forefront of sports innovation with its numerous startups and incubators, traditionally Europe has been reluctant to embrace change and technology, but thankfully this is changing.

The Future is Digital

digitalswitzerland was founded with the aim of positioning Switzerland as a digital hub to the rest of the world. By creating a cross-industry network which is more than 125 members strong, digitalswitzerland is working towards making Switzerland future-ready through our 6 core pillars – politico-economic environment, education & talent, start-up enablement, corporate enablement, public dialogue and international visibility. Sports innovation is a crucial tool within this multifaceted plan as we’re in the right place at the right time to become a global digital leader in sports technology and innovation.

The stage is set, and the world is watching as we’re living in interesting times which could go on to define the future of sports. The work seems to be cut out for Switzerland if it wants to become the sports digital hub of sports but the spirit of challenging the status quo is on our side and so are some of the biggest international sports organizations and businesses. Switzerland has to do is what it does best – innovate.

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Author Diana Engetschwiler, digitalswitzerland

Senior Project Manager Public Dialogue & Digital Day

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