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Digital strategy is lacking in Australian sport

View all · 28 Jul 2015 · revolutioniseSPORT

At a recent Australian Sports Technologies Network conference for National Sporting Organisations (hosted by PricewaterhouseCoopers), I was asked by a representative of an Olympic sport why it was so difficult to effect technological change at both a board and organisational level.

The answer is an uncomfortable one. The answer is that we have an endemic problem in Australian sport where the board level has little to no capacity to understand technology.

Almost one year ago to the day, coming out of another ASTN event in Brisbane ("Building the capacity of State and National Sporting Organisations"), our online sports management business revolutioniseSPORT ran a "Digital Health Check" which allowed sports to self-assess their digital proficiency. The results were striking – over 100 governing bodies (state and national) had taken the health check – and only six had a board director who was recognised for having a dedicated skillset in information technology.

We wondered if our methods were selection-biased (i.e. sports undertaking the health check were probably more likely to be lacking in capability and wanting to improve), but similar research from the Australian Sports Commission backed us up. Their own 2014 analysis confirmed the following from a sample of 47 NSOs:

  • 74% of NSOs had technology in their strategic plan
  • 30% had a separate IT strategy
  • 32% had a board member with digital skills
  • 6% had a board sub-committee tasked with digital oversight

Those figures are embarrassing for sport in our country. We only have to look outside the window to see that every second person has a fitness tracker, smart watch, or some other gadget tracking their every movement – but at the organisational level we turn a blind eye.

The makeup of peak sports boards has been the subject of much debate over the last 12 months. The mandatory sports governance principles introduced by the Australian Sports Commission outlines required board compositions (including the push towards gender balance on corporate boards by 2015), but stops short of recommending any specific skills required, only suggesting a "skills mix of Directors required to carry out [governance] at a point in time".

The traditional recommendation given to sporting organisations is that there should be at least one board member with a legal background, at least one with an accounting background, and the rest a complementary mix of business acumen – but where is the mention of technology capability?

To me, this speaks of a palpable fear of technology in sports across Australia – a fear of change, losing control, privacy concerns, growing costs – all encapsulated in my personal favourite: "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it." And this is understandable – when big sports like the ARU reflect on significant failures in technology, these fears are rationalised.

However, it is worth noting that these case studies invariably arise from the biggest sports struggling with legacy, custom-built technology. The knee-jerk reaction of boards is to accept these case studies as the norm, rather than the exception, and then dismiss all technology completely as a result. This leads to missed opportunities for learning, self-empowerment, and ultimately protecting the future of their sport.

The solution to this quandary, as I see it, is two-fold:

1. Boards must be technologically literate and capable; and

2. We need to share more of the success stories of technology in sport.

When it comes to success stories, there are plenty to choose from. Diving Australia is a prime example – being led by a technologically capable board and supported with one of the most progressive, intelligent and forward-thinking CEOs, David Bell.

Prior to rolling out their national system with revolutioniseSPORT, reflects David, "Our method for collecting membership data was out of date. We now have the ability to properly analyse our membership data from a national perspective. The analytic capability assists us in our efforts to promote our sport, retain members and grow for the future by assisting in putting in place strategies to enhance engagement and drive meaningful participation right across the country."

The data analysis capabilities provided by a nationally integrated platform give sports the opportunity to actively tap into and use their data to grow participation and build positive relationships with members – rather than keeping it locked away in a database.

In other words – fast-forward ten years, and every sport will have a membership database. The future is making that database work for them.

However, unless we empower boards to embrace technology, this won’t happen. Sports without sound technology resources will be left behind, and ultimately lose out to sports that are acting to upskill now. It is therefore critical that boards seek out technological capability, instead of leaving it for a future board to worry about. This fundamental shift in thinking must happen at every level of sport – starting today.

Alex Mednis is the Managing Director of revolutioniseSPORT, the emerging market leader in online club management in Australia. The platform supports both grassroots clubs and peak sporting bodies, and currently supports over forty governing bodies in Australia. To find our more, visit

Alex also sits on the Board of the Australian Sports Technologies Network. To find out more and to help secure Australia’s sporting future – visit


Originally published in Sports Business Insider.