I’m a sucker for made-up words and British musician Brian Eno’s description for “the intelligence of the whole operation or group” sums up where we are in sport.
“Scenius” is collective creativity that drives innovation. This happens in music or art when scenes bubble up. Think dark overcrowded clubs in Seattle that launched grunge music legends Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Nirvana. Or, Gertrude Stein’s home in Paris where the likes of Picasso, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Matisse collided to reinvent modern culture. We call each of these artists geniuses, but we might as well call them “sceniuses.”
I was reminded of this idea by legendary venture capitalist Marc Andreessen during a podcast where he talked about how entrepreneurs who want to change the world need to join the right scene. For years, that meant Silicon Valley where the ideas, creativity, and capital flowed like the cultural inspiration that ignited the Italian Renaissance in Florence during the 14th century.
It’s important to be in a scene. And the sport innovation scene has grown significantly in the past five years and it’s getting better every day. We normally view sport as a “one or other” proposition. You either play for the team or you own the team. You either work for the club or you support it. You either work on the performance side or the commercial side of sport. These invisible walls are subtle, but the current scene is beginning to knock them down.
We can trace the current arc of sport innovation we are in to the early 2000s when Billy Beane launched the Moneyball revolution. This made nerds, analytics, and thinking differently fashionable for coaches and scouts, and it made the guys in ticket sales curious. Eventually, they started knocking on the nerd’s doors and dynamic ticket pricing became a thing.
At the same time, on the other side of the pond, Great Britain was gearing up for the 2012 London Olympics and they needed to innovate so a country the size of Texas and California could place third in the gold medal count. UK Sport, the governing body for British Olympics, resembled NASA as they stockpiled scientists, creatives, engineers, and hackers to drive creative strategies for winning medals.
These scenes helped launch the Houston Astro’s (2017 World Series) and TeamSky Cycling (6 of last 7 Tour de France’s), amongst many others.
And while all these smart people were using better math and ideas to win more in the field of play, the iPhone became ubiquitous, Facebook connected all of us, and Amazon gobbled up the world. The smartphone put the answer to just about any question in the palm of our hand and the app store that accompanied it was fertile soil for ideas to move from concept to killer app.
Clubs used social media to rapidly expand their fan bases and entrepreneurs now sold and shipped their products with greater ease than ever before. Adidas leveraged eCommerce to bring the company back from inevitable death of selling sneakers to old dudes to becoming the kicks of choice for fashionable 14-year-old girls. These platforms and tools made it cheaper and easier to build products and businesses.
These scenes helped grow BAMTech in America, which eventually became the first unicorn exit for a sport born tech company. And in Europe, DAZN took over the sports streaming world almost overnight to grow as rapidly as any sport tech company to date.
The Los Angeles Dodgers charged headfirst into the sport investment scene with their accelerator turned studio. Teams across the pond followed and iterated – Arsenal with their accelerator and FC Barcelona with an entirely new approach in the Barça Innovation Hub – a true platform to help one of the biggest teams in the world grow even bigger. They’re creating a scene and inviting people to join it.
What does this mean?
It means times are good in North America and in Europe. Venture investing in the US is mature and still flourishing, and the lessons learned in California are migrating overseas where early stage investing has been slow to catch on, but they are, and will catch on. Europe is giving us Americans sport science and diversity of thought and culture.
For five years, we’ve been banging the sport innovation drum on both sides of the pond and we’ve seen the NBA go on Twitch and the PL sell their rights to Amazon. Man City is an LP in a sport venture firm and still nobody is quite sure if eSports is worth a lot of money or just a brilliant marketing activation. The world is changing fast and the sport innovation world is small, and it’s a good scene to be in right now because it’s still early. The scene is just forming.
From the Barça Innovation Hub to GSVS to UEFA Innovation Hub to One Team Collective to GSIC to Will Ventures to Advantage Fund and beyond, there are great people who really know sport doing amazing work. This is creating the scene we need to percolate the next “scenius.”
So, the questions are, how are you contributing to the scene? How are you getting into the scene? And what are you doing once you create value in the scene?
After almost a decade in the scene, we believe openness is critical to the scene, which is why we love young guns like SportsTechX. Information is currency, but spent well, or given generously, it creates networks, which is where real power lies. We love sportsmen, which is why more women and men from the inner tribe of sport need to transition to the business of sport technology and innovation. And we love data – the new driving force behind sport. But most of all, we love sport because it’s the best innovation scene to be in today.
We’re all looking for the next sport “Scenuis.” Are you in?