Read our contribution to 'The Road to the 2024 Election Manifesto' by the Sports Think Tank.

The below article was originally published as a chapter in 'The Road to the 2024 Election Manifesto'.


Over the course of the last decade, the use and power of data has skyrocketed in the world of sport. We have seen countless examples of athletes, clubs, organisations, medical professionals, and more, using the power of data to improve performance, streamline processes, and seek out the marginal gains that can often make a career-defining difference.

The power of data can also be used to transform the way in which sport is governed, and for National Governing Bodies (NGBs), embracing data-driven insights can be the key to creating successful strategies and processes that lead to growth and sustainability.

The power of data in sports governance

To understand the significance of data-driven strategies in sports governance, it is essential to first recognise the profound importance of data. Data is not just a collection of numbers and statistics; it is the lifeblood of a business.

Making this data accessible can enable a wealth of opportunities and insights that have the potential to redefine how sports are managed, experienced, and enjoyed.

Throughout the history of sports, decisions have often been made based on intuition, tradition, or limited information. However, in an age where technology has revolutionised how we collect, analyse, and utilise data, it’s imperative that sports governance follows suit. The application of data-driven strategies is no longer a luxury but a necessity, as it allows for better decision-making, increased efficiency, and the creation of a more inclusive and engaging sports sector.

The challenge that the sector is facing today is not so much a lack of vision or awareness of the techniques such as those discussed within this chapter, but more so lies within a combination of funding & expertise.

Audience insights and fan engagement

The first building block in any data-driven strategy is understanding audiences and potential ‘customers’ (customers in this case will be current, interested, or potential participants, fans, volunteers etc). Through demographic data analysis, we can gain a profound understanding of audience composition, enabling us to tailor our offerings to cater for a wider range of groups, ensuring broader and more diverse participation is made more attainable. By tracking participation rates (through technology rather than the more traditional questionnaire-style submissions), we can identify areas of growth or decline, guiding strategic investment with a greater degree of accuracy and in real-time.

Data-driven insights not only enhance our understanding of audiences but also guide strategic decisions aimed at maximising participation and engagement. By centralising multiple data sources from across the industry, we can offer NGBs and other sporting bodies the capability to uncover trends and target new participants who may previously never have been discovered. Utilising techniques that have been the backbone of retail and commercial sectors for years will transform the way governing bodies operate, both when understanding the true potential of their ‘customer base’ and how to entice them in. A wealth of data on individuals’ preferences, tastes, spending habits and physical activity can be obtained through many legitimate techniques/sources. It can then be used both to inform broad marketing activity and enable more targeted communications once a potential customer engages with the organisation.

NGBs and other sporting bodies must embrace the above techniques (amongst many others) if they are to grow their reach, build sustainable revenues, and increase participation. There is no lack of technology available, however, the support and guidance often does not come cheap, and to truly deploy the techniques being used by ‘big business’, relatable budgets are required. We will cover in our conclusion how we believe the bridge can be built to enable more NGBs to benefit from technology that exists.

Athlete and member optimisation

Nurturing athletes and supporting members is pivotal to fostering a sustainable sports sector. To achieve this, simple-to-use but powerful membership solutions are required to provide NGBs with access to knowledge and insights, and to provide the capability to act decisively and with purpose.

Access to data is key to understanding and effectively supporting a member base. Individuals in the digital age expect to have experiences comparable with the biggest tech providers, such as Amazon. The reality is that running an NGB is complex and is not simply a commerce operation. Combine membership functionality with performance departments, events, education teams, and governance (on a national scale), and you begin to see how and why challenges have rarely been overcome when it comes to the use of data for commercial and sustainability purposes.

Through the combination of functionalities, access to data (be it participation or financial) is made a lot easier. Analytics tools enable trends to surface that can inform strategic decision-making, in particular, improving member retention, identifying new talent and attracting new individuals into a sport.

Empowering NGBs with such data enables investment in purposes that enrich the landscape and therefore provide more opportunities to capitalise on role models, trigger events, or simply enable more targeted approaches to attract and retain customers.

By bringing such a diverse set of capabilities into one single ecosystem, with partners who are all working toward a common goal, we can transform the way the sector operates and is able to act on the data that is captured.

Digital domination and engagement

In the increasingly digital world of sports, fans are presented with more ways to engage with their sport than ever before, and data can play a key role in ensuring NGBs keep up with this fast-changing engagement. Monitoring social media engagement and website traffic informs digital strategies, leading to effective social media marketing, content optimisation, and platform targeting. Through the intelligent use of AI in this space, NGBs can align themselves with big brands, to reach and present without the need for comparable resource requirements.

Additionally, gamification is evolving as a new and effective tool to engage with audiences, both new and existing. If used efficiently, we are finding that users engage with games that can be up to 220% more likely to lead to a ‘click-through’ than more traditional methods of communication, such as emails.

Combining techniques to unearth new customers through monitoring and utilising web traffic, social interactions, and deploying engaging tools such as gamification, is a modern approach to customer acquisition and it is our belief that NGBs will be able to grow their interactions, and therefore, their customer bases.

Improving athlete safety

Athlete safety and the deployment of safeguarding best practices has been a challenge for all governing bodies. The subject has become more topical globally since the very public incidents in gymnastics (both in the U.S. and the U.K.). Though technology cannot solve or stop bad practice at ground level, it can create a safer environment through the automation of processes that are historically manual.

Embracing technology can put training, awareness programmes and incident reporting in the hands of every individual , whether that be a coach, volunteer, or athlete. Integrated into a membership ecosystem, NGBs can automate their reporting and monitoring capabilities on a national scale with a great degree of granularity and accuracy. Combined with the tools to execute compliance requirements and the production of public registers (E.g., coaching registers that only include licensed coaches that are fully trained, DBS cleared etc), there are a variety of mechanisms to support with improving the culture around managing athlete safety.

Once again, the building of a robust ecosystem is paramount to ensuring an NGB can provide the necessary tools to its community, to enforce and deliver good governance at all levels. Through integrations with services such as Globocol (in the U.K.), the U.S. Center for SafeSport, and etrainu’s online learning solution developed and tailored for the sports industry, Sport:80 are working to ensure the above challenges are being catered for with accessible and effective tools.

In addition, CIMPSA (The Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity), have recently been tasked with the production of a centralised coaching database. There is no better time to ensure that the technology being used within the sector can produce data in a standardised format, and that it can be shared securely and effectively.

Driving revenues and commercial sustainability with data

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing NGBs today is generating consistent revenue streams. Data can be the key to tackling this challenge. Data can support a multifaceted approach to revenue generation, extending beyond traditional sponsorship and merchandise sales. By harnessing data, NGBs can unlock several avenues for financial growth and operational efficiency.

Understanding the various facets of their operations, such as member demographics and audience preferences, empowers NGBs to identify opportunities for financial expansion. Data offers insights into participation trends, which can be instrumental in boosting revenues by increasing the number of athletes and participants in sports. Data can also guide NGBs in enhancing the delivery of events, supporting the growth of event programmes locally, and increasing the regularity and effectiveness of delivery This, in turn, contributes to increased revenues (growth in this example comes from the bottom-up).

Data can also serve as compelling evidence for NGBs seeking grants, sponsorship, and funding from other sources. Organisational data, supported by financial metrics, can enable NGBs to access resources that support their activities, ensuring financial stability and opening doors to investments in athlete development and infrastructure.

Financial data is imperative to the efficient running of any business including in sport. NGBs often have multiple disparate systems to run the programmes that sustain them. These convoluted solutions make financial reporting difficult and time-consuming and can impact accuracy. By coordinating solutions into a central ecosystem, NGBs can streamline their processes and allocate resources more efficiently, ultimately contributing to financial sustainability.

By utilising data, NGBs can benefit from a holistic approach to revenue generation that goes beyond traditional methods. This approach encompasses increasing participation, optimising event delivery, accessing funding opportunities through enhanced marketing capability, enhancing operational efficiency, and tailoring programs to diverse demographics. This multifaceted strategy ensures that NGBs not only secure their financial stability but also pave the way for sustainable growth and excellence in sports governance.

Promoting diversity, equality, and inclusion with data

Diversity, equality, and inclusion are fundamental values in modern sports governance, and data is a powerful tool for achieving these goals. By analysing data on participation rates, NGBs can identify underrepresented groups and implement programs to encourage their involvement in sports. Moreover, data can inform diversity and inclusion initiatives by providing insights into the impact of such programs, ensuring that they are effective in creating a more equitable sports sector.

Data-driven diversity and inclusion programs could involve tracking the progress of initiatives and identifying areas that require further attention, for example. By continuously monitoring data, NGBs can adapt and improve their strategies, developing a community that is more reflective of the diverse members it serves. Data can also play a crucial role in identifying opportunities to celebrate cultural diversity within sports, encouraging cross-cultural participation and understanding. The careful analysis of data can lead to more inclusive governance, where everybody is given the opportunity to participate and thrive.


How do NGBs capitalise on the wealth of opportunity discussed in this chapter?

In our opinion, firstly it is about truly embracing a pro-innovation culture. Those that we have seen be most successful completely buy in to the use of technology throughout their organisations. They look to technology to improve the way they understand and engage with audiences; to make their sport safer; to drive operational efficiencies; and to ultimately grow their sports.

It’s similar to a ‘start-up’ mentality that embraces the need to change and continually evolve with an acceptance that not everyone is going to like it and join you for the ride. The sport sector is steeped in tradition and for many people (at all levels) change is an uncomfortable thought. This culture shift and the ability to unify people towards an over-arching goal is one of the biggest challenges we see leadership at NGBs face.

Finding trusted technology partners, solutions, and services is also crucial. We have encountered many NGBs that have been sold a dream or taken for a ride when it comes to technology. In the past, situations where companies over-promise and under-deliver, or not deliver at all, have been all too common. Sadly, it still happens today and as a result the sport sector is cautious when choosing what to adopt and who to work with.

We also believe there needs to be more support, education, and guidance when it comes to procuring the right technologies, from the right providers. This is one of the reasons we have forged close partnerships with the likes of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, Welsh Sports Association, and Sport Think Tank. Alongside leveraging these partnerships to share best practice, we have also established a collective called the Sports Technology Alliance that is committed to helping NGBs make the most out of technology. Stronger thought leadership is needed to help NGBs become more confident in the world of technology.

Finally, the sector needs a shift of mind-set from the belief that technology is a cost-centre and to a revenue-generator that provides the tools necessary to drive NGBs towards self-sustainability. The reality is that market leading technologies and their providers are not cheap, but any worth their salt will be able to demonstrate how NGBs can leverage innovations to become more efficient and grow their sport.

Policy makers, funders and NGBs must work collaboratively with trusted technology providers to bridge this topic. Doing so will open the door to enable greater cost-efficiencies to be realised, and the ability to tie the use of technology closer to Government policies and priorities.

Every NGB recognises that they need to modernise and embrace technology to drive their organisations forward. But there needs to be more advice and support to ensure they can navigate this world and make the required advancements.