The way sport content is consumed is changing dramatically, and this is changing the business of sports events. PwC’s Sports Survey 2021 revealed the top “key market force” in the sports industry to be the transforming media landscape.
“We want to invest around the change,” George Pyne, Founder & CEO of Bruin Capital told SportsPro Activision conference. “The pandemic is accelerating the adoption of all things digital, which if you’re investing in technology is a good thing.”
The pandemic has presented challenges as well as opportunities.
“Portfolio companies are having a hard time hiring people and not meeting with clients – and there are supply chain issues. But strategically we feel good about the long-term technology change that’s taking place today.”
Bruin bought data-driven sports marketing agency Two Circles before the pandemic. Other recent acquisitions include Deltatre, TGI and OddsChecker. Bruin also bought golf simulation technology Full Swing, which experience mixed fortunes due to the pandemic. “Home simulators sailed off the charts, but golf was one of the sports that people could still do as it was outside.”
But Bruin’s investments have generally been well placed at this time of transition. “All our companies had a good tailwind. It’s working for us, being in the tech space – tech is disrupting life and for sure will disrupt sports.
“When I started Bruin we wouldn’t have been so tech focused. Our focus is growth, so where in the sports ecosystem can you find returns? We find the best place is in technology. We’ve landed on technology because of the growth credentials.”
High risk threshold
Pyne offered an insight into the needs of startups.
“When you’re looking for capital, you need capital that’s patient, easy to work with and can help you grow. When you are a startup you need to be able to pivot, to adjust, to be nimble and adapt to what’s going on around you.”
Investing in startups is a high-risk business. “In the startup space, most don’t make it. If you have 10 companies, about three are going to make it. It’s about investing in technology and people you believe in.
“Your threshold for risk is quite high. We don’t expect all to be successful – it’s the level of success you’re looking for.”
Pyne empathises with the disappointments that everyone in business faces from time to time. “I’ve been fired by a client, I’ve missed a budget, I’ve failed. Every day isn’t a sunny day. We are good to be around when things go bad – that’s the Bruin secret sauce. If you’re not a people business, you can’t be successful.”
From 2006 to 2014, Pyne was President of Sports and Entertainment and Board Member of IMG. “Having the experience of running a company, we are way more empathetic to CEOs. If you’re a CEO or management team, we are able to open doors. And equally importantly when things don’t go well, we understand. Those things are important to CEOs and CFOs.
“What works for me is three-year plans. It’s not just about money, but ideas. Check in once a month on strategy and numbers and you’ll never really fall apart. We have great CEOs, they run the businesses, we’re just here to help; we’re on their side.
“It’s based on trust, integrity, doing what you say you’re going to do – and how you handle it when things go wrong. Nobody’s perfect, we try to address our mistakes in the best way possible.”
New and emerging technologies
Technologies are emerging at an unprecedented rate – but which ones are here for good?
“NFT is probably here to stay. Cryptocurrency and the blockchain looks pretty sticky too.
“Sport reflects life and is going to follow the trends – all those trends are being enabled through global technology and sport will follow, which is good. I embrace innovation.
“If you look at Microsoft and Activision and the impact of the metaverse – that is the new frontier. There are going to be big winners and big losers and a lot of value created. There are going to be some big enterprises that come out of those categories.”
“NFTs and crypto is very exciting, but I’m more into the data and lifetime buy of the consumer. There are so many ways to interact with consumers through data and there are so many opportunities to be great in that area.”
“The relationship between club and consumer will define success in the future.”
Which perhaps brings us to the real reason that technology is such a huge growth area – it connects people with their passions.
“Golf is a passion point and Full Swing is satisfying that passion point – we love a good passion point in a partner.
“Our focus now is on TGI and Full Swing, helping them to do well. Somewhere along the way this year we’ll probably find a new technology platform to invest behind.
“It’s all about people. Technology without people is nothing.”
This article is based on the live Q&A by SportPro’s Editor-at-Large, Eoin Connolly