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The Interview - Iris Córdoba (General Manager at GSIC powered by Microsoft)

SPSG Consulting had the opportunity to interview Iris Córdoba, General Manager at Global Sports Innovation Center powered by Microsoft (GSIC) in order to talk about the sports industry and all the changes it is subject to due to digital transformation, innovation, and globalization. SPSG Consulting has been assisting GSIC powered by Microsoft in various projects since 2017.

GSIC powered by Microsoft is considered one of the leading clusters in the sports industry when it comes to digital transformation and innovation with technology. What is the origin of the entity?

The Global Sports Innovation Center powered by Microsoft (GSIC) was born in 2015 from the initiative of Microsoft Sports team which back in that time was dedicated to work with Microsoft clients in sport. Those were big sports entities such as Real Madrid or NFL.

It is well-known that working with partners has always been in Microsoft’s philosophy, so GSIC was born based on that, because there was an understanding of a great potential of the ecosystem that lays beyond big sports organizations. There also were smaller clubs, leagues and federations, tech companies that provide solutions to the sports industry and those could be from startups to big enterprises. And of course, research groups, universities, governmental organizations, and other kind of entities that had some connection to sport.

The GSIC was born to bring all of them together in order to detect synergies, enhance collaborations, carry out joint projects that would add value to the sports industry as a whole. GSIC is betting on a vision of teamwork, building from the effort, providing support to entrepreneurship, applied research and education, as well as generating a meeting, networking and business space for our members’ network that now reaches 230+ different entities. All our members in 41 countries get involved in different onsite and remote activities that are helping them with their internationalization processes.

Recently, you, as General Manager of GSIC, have moved to Singapore from Madrid. How important is Asia for the entity and what are the plans for the future?

Yes, indeed. I just arrived in Singapore few weeks ago and already in a process of preparation of our new office for the official launch. We are very proud and excited that hopefully soon we can start receiving our Asian members here, in Singapore.

At GSIC we understand that Asia’s sports industry in undergoing a significant transformation. With three Olympic Games (PyeonChang 2018, Tokyo 2021 and Beijing 2022), the 2019 Basketball World Cup (China) and the 2019 Rugby World Cup (Japan) all being held in Asia in a five-year period, there is rapid growth, development and modernization in all areas of the sports industry in the region.

International leagues, clubs, media rights owners, sports brands, sports technology companies, are all starting to move towards Asia looking for opportunities to penetrate this market with great potential that is very interesting for our members. We understand that it is not very easy for outside companies to enter this market, that’s why we are happy to have stronger presence here. With support of Sport Singapore, who made this project possible, and other regional partners who already signed up or membership at GSIC APAC, we believe that we can provide great opportunities to our current and future members, connect with local sports tech ecosystems interested in making contacts in Europe and America, and together build the bridge between the continents.

GSIC is composed by hundreds of start-ups, universities, public entities, and big companies, working all together in the sport and innovation – technology area. What are the main challenges you are facing as “cluster” to bring all the pieces of the ecosystem together?

I think, after 6 years of operation we have already reached the point at which bringing the pieces together is not challenging. I’d even say that now they are coming together by themselves. But if you’d ask me how it was in the beginning, I will probably say that at first it was challenging to engage with sports organizations because back in 2015, there wasn’t broad common understanding and awareness of digital transformation, so it was taking more effort to work on dissemination and knowledge sharing on why sports organizations needed it.

Today, sports entities are mostly aware and have deeper understanding of digital transformation processes, but there are coming new challenges, for example, on the implementation of different solutions and generation of new revenue streams. As for the startups and tech companies, the main challenge we are helping them with is internationalization. Coming back to GSIC APAC, I think it will be a great opportunity for them to solve this challenge.

Another piece of the puzzle is educational sector that is now facing the challenge of filling the gap in lack of talent that can lead the digital transformation of the sports industry. Here we are also working with different universities and educational entities to bring more professional programs in this field to the market. So, as you can see, every part of the ecosystem has its own challenge that we are helping them to solve, but putting them together is not a challenge itself, because everyone is aware that only through collaboration and joint work we can grow.

A few weeks ago, GSIC has released another report about innovation and the sport industry “The sports industry and the digital transformation: 5 years ahead”. How will the sport industry look like by 2025 from a digital transformation perspective?

First of all, I would like to highlight that this report was born as an update to our previous report that came out in 2019 and was called “Digital Transformation of sports entities by 2025: What will it look like?”. At the GSIC we were understanding that the crisis generated by COVID-19 pandemic has affected the picture that we draw in that first report, so we felt the necessity of looking at and analyzing the current situation.

In general, I think the years ahead will be challenging, but also full of many opportunities and with slightly better conditions, since we have all adapted to the situation. Now that sports entities already have a little clearer vision about their own challenges and the solutions they must seek, with the competitions resumed, sporting events that are carried out with new measures, there will be a lot of room for technology to offer value to the sports industry. For example, smart venues will allow for better a fan journey and engagement. The three areas that are expected to grow the most until 2025 are: usage of big data, connectivity, and cashless payment.

In terms of fan engagement, digital platforms gained importance, involving single fan profile, analytics, and marketing automation to monetize fan engagement. Furthermore, sports entities need to consider the whole customer journey including prior, during and post event presence and activities. Also, we see 2 main trends in terms of team and athlete performance. Firstly, data analysis will gain more importance for measuring athletes’ and teams’ performances and secondly, injury prevention will be embraced through tech and data solutions. This will allow trainers to make decisions based on accurate information. As for the business growth of sports entities, they are expected to search for employees with a wide skill set composing of soft skills comprehensive industry knowledge, project management skills and knowledge connected to digitalization, and the skill to adapt to ongoing changes. Furthermore, there will be a rise in big data about consumer and the necessity of increasing cyber security matters.

GSIC covers a wide range of areas and sub-sectors, from athlete and team performance to smart venues to business insights etc.. What are the areas that you think are the most critical for the sports industry from a technology innovation perspective?

I think with COVID-19 still impacting all the industries and economies, we are at the point where every area is critical, but I believe that the fitness and health industry will continue to transform, responding to the situation we are experiencing during COVID and what will come in the post-COVID era. Also, Fan Engagement continues to be an area of significant growth, because the challenges of sports organizations in this regard have not yet been resolved, although there are already some solutions that allow fans to connect in some way with their favorite players and clubs, they are not yet satisfied. completely the lack of presence of the fans during the matches. Likewise, there will be the great challenge of how to make fans return to attend the stadiums safely and that they can continue to enjoy the experience in person.

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