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According to a major annual survey which was published last week by PwC, almost 60% of football executives believe that sports organisations should focus their attention on controlling costs rather than increasing revenues.

On the face of it, you’d ask who could blame them? It’s much easier to save a pound than it is to earn it, even in the best of times and with sport (as with almost every other industry) still licking its wounds post-pandemic it makes sense to pause and survey the wreckage. It was estimated by Deloitte that English football sustained losses of £966m in 2020/21 and we have seen across the continent many clubs paying the price for years of over-reaching themselves. Others have taken Government support and are sensibly prioritising paying off their debts.

We have seen the UK already preparing for the long-term financial impact with Corporation Tax and National Insurance set to rise and with around 1.5 million people due to come off the Government-backed furlough scheme at the end of this week, we may well see the post-pandemic bounce, if not halted, then certainly checked.

We have spoken repeatedly about how we see behaviour changing over the short to medium term: as it always does in times of financial uncertainty, people move to quality or price. What this means for sport is that if you are one of the big boys, you’ll be largely unaffected. If you’re one of the smaller organisations, likewise (because you’re used to having to operate within your means). If you’re stuck in the middle – the vast majority – not cheap but also not offering a particularly great experience then you are at risk. Sponsors will either not buy (or just stick their money into “safe” bets like paid search or social), customers will vote with their wallets and you then need to ponder the slippery slope that is cutting prices.

Back to the PwC report, we don’t see why this should be a binary decision. Yes, costs need to be controlled and many would say that is long overdue. We also recognise that bringing in smart revenue (ie that which actually makes a profit) is going to be harder than ever. We would also never suggest that cutting prices is the right approach either, especially if you have ambitions to rebuild the organisation over the long term.

The issue we suspect most are wrestling with is how to grow revenues from the traditional model, which is thinking that has hampered sport for many, many years. As we have argued ad infinitum trying to iterate what is by definition a naturally-limited model with limited scope for scale completely misses the point. Sport continually fails to recognise that it is sitting on a huge-untapped asset: its customer data. 73% of respondents to the PwC survey felt rightsholders had failed capitalised upon this opportunity.

Whilst many recognise this is both a challenge and an opportunity, in our view, our industry still lacks a proper understanding of what capitalising on its data actually means. We are seeing big disconnects between macro and micro in sports organisations: lofty and well intentioned visions contrasting with the hamster wheel of day-to-day activity, with no meaningful plan to bridge the two. People in the industry are universally working hard but not necessarily smart as the absence of an understanding – or the absence of time to form an understanding – of how a digital-age commercial strategy could help realise data-driven potential.

PTI’s Digital Transformation Pyramid helps to put these conundrums into perspective. There is no simple solution, nor is it an overnight fix. Whilst you focus on sensible cost-controlling measures, we are able to act as an extension of your team on a shared-risk basis to help you grow your revenues. Cost-savings + high margin revenues = long term sustainability.

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