Smart Building

4 Trends Impacting Sports This Year (and Beyond)

Christine Williamson

Last year was tough for everyone and everything—including the world of sports. Fans didn’t get to watch their favorite teams in person, players weren’t amped up by roaring crowds and major events like the Olympics were rescheduled or even cancelled. But this year is bringing back a sense of normalcy with full stadiums and crowds gathering once again.


There were many developments happening in sports before the onset of COVID-19, but the pandemic acted like a foot on the accelerator: It created a rapid shift in how sporting events were produced and viewed. It brought about changes that—without the pandemic—would’ve likely taken years to come to fruition.


Here’s a look at four trends that have been in slow motion for a while but are now picking up speed …


1. Venues & Broadcasters Transition from SDI to IP 


The move from SDI to IP technology for sporting and entertainment venues is picking up speed due in part to support resolutions like 4K. The recently published SMPTE 2110 standard is also driving acceleration by delivering unprecedented interoperability and providing a solid foundation to fast-track video over IP adoption.


IP brings promises of flexibility and reduces bottlenecks and barriers that restrict content creation and distribution. In other words: IP gets unique content out to fans faster (such as an angle or close-up they wouldn’t receive via a traditional TV broadcast). 


A few years ago, we worked with Notre Dame Stadium to deploy a cabling solution to support its IP-based operations. The stadium invested in IP to provide more flexible access to production resources and support features like enhanced capture and playback. Although they were an early IP adopter—especially in the world of college sports—many other venues will follow in their footsteps.


In the meantime, however, Belden offers a solution to make the shift more seamless. Our 4K UHD Coax Cable for 12G-SDI supports 4K or UHD content without an overhaul to IP or fiber. It maintains a 12 GHz bandwidth and maximizes 4K/UHD transmission distance over a single link, decreasing bulk associated with dual-link and quad-link configurations. Now manufacturers can integrate 12G-SDI ports into equipment to support traditional coax or upgrades to IP or fiber to support 4K/UHD broadcasting.


When you are ready to shift to IP, we’ve got fiber solutions that offer unlimited bandwidth potential, built-in security, immunity to noise and the ability to handle vast amounts of traffic. 


2. Remote and Cloud Production Become Real Possibilities


During COVID-19, the swift move to remote production was necessary to keep broadcasts going. Onsite crews could be reduced to mission-critical staff only, with most functions hosted in a centralized studio control room. 


Many broadcasts were able to safely produce and broadcast live events by embracing remote and cloud-based solutions, which has now raised the bar for the future of sports. If we could pull it off last year, why would we stop now?


Remote production proved to deliver high-quality coverage while ensuring health and safety—from crews to players. As a natural extension of remote production, cloud-based production also emerged as a possibility for live sports broadcasters. 


These innovations let production crews work from anywhere, improve flexibility and delivery, and enable each production element to occur in the cloud. This also opens up new content and revenue opportunities: instantly produce exclusive content for social media or create highlights packages, for example.


Remote and cloud production also create additional network strain, requiring more feeds to be sent between venues, networks and production facilities. This, of course, translates to a need for increased network capacities and capabilities.


3. Amazon and the NFL Strike a Deal


In case you missed it, something big happened recently in the world of sports: Amazon and the NFL made a deal. Instead of streaming Thursday Night Football alongside networks like NBC, Fox and the NFL Network, Amazon now has exclusive rights to the Thursday Night Football package. This makes it the only producer and distributor of the games. To watch, viewers will need to be Amazon Prime members.


Presumably, this means that more and more fans will begin to watch sports on streaming platforms vs. traditional TV broadcasts. It also means that sports—and content in general—is becoming more monetized.


Connectivity is critical for fan engagement inside and outside the stadium, as well as at home. Without it, fans can’t communicate, stream 4K content, interact with fantasy leagues in real time or create personalized experiences. 


It’s very likely that some fans will attend games and stream them on devices simultaneously to access content only available to remote viewers. Venues will need high-speed connections and high bandwidth levels so fans can stream, engage with interactive content, post photos, share experiences on social media and watch their teams wherever and however they want. 


4. Women’s Sports Get More Coverage


As sports return to “normal,” we anticipate an increase in women’s sports coverage (along with a viewing surge in sports like soccer, which haven’t been as popular in the past). A recent multi-country study found that 66% of people are interested in at least one women’s sport; among existing sports fans, that number rises to 84%. 


This boost in broadcasting means there will be more content to share, more fans to please, more events to cover and more revenue to be had.


Just like the rest of the trends we identified, this rise in coverage will depend on networks with strong, reliable, future-forward infrastructure for venues and broadcast/distribution centers. 


Belden is proud to provide cabling and connectivity to support innovation in sports and entertainment venues, production trucks and broadcasters. Our solutions extend beyond the production control room to support in-venue technology that’s important to fans and owners alike: automation, lighting, security, distributed antenna systems (DASs), etc.


Want to learn more about our work in sports? Listen to this recent Belden interview with SVG News.


Visit Belden's stadiums and venues page to learn more about the solutions we offer.