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Technology, commercialization and rapid growth are reshaping the international industry of sports. Pure physical performance is no longer enough, the future belongs to athletes with more agency, professional knowledge and commercial opportunities than ever before.

Technology is opening up new possibilities in every sector of sports, from streaming and consumption of sports entertainment to smart arenas and data-driven training schedules and biometric recovery regimes. The global sports market, including both spectator and participatory sports, is projected to grow 25% from just under 440 billion euros to over 550 billion by 2022. The sports domain is increasingly commercialized and becoming intertwined with the booming wellness industry. 

At the core of this evolution are the athletes. They are expected to be more accessible, to understand every aspect of their passion and shoulder more responsibility for their own and their supporters’ success. 

“If sports were once about pushing the envelope of physical ability, that alone will not cut it today,” Anna-Leena Vilo says. She explains a massive, slow-moving shift towards training athletes as whole persons, whose overall welfare is the key to great results.

The consultant herself has a broad background in sports; she has worked with coaches, athletes, national sports federations and organizations for over two decades, mainly in Finland and Sweden. Vilo specializes in a holistic approach to coaching and the mental aspects of sports: learning and personal growth. 

Vilo first noticed the trend as a journalist in the 1990s while working on a story about the Swedish national golf team. A former competitive golfer herself, she found the team adopting a more holistic approach to coaching, engaging the players with the process and discussing mental discipline and group dynamics along with strength and technique.

This way of thinking is the new norm, and it has brought athletes' nutrition and recovery to equal footing with physical training. Such aspects are also better understood because technology has made them easier to measure and analyze. “In fact, the world of sports has long been a frontrunner in the utilization of data,” Vilo says. 

Data is certainly pushing many of the changes in sports. On the business side of things, getting more accurate information about viewer habits and preferences help drive fan engagement.

New economic needs and opportunities

In Finland, support for sports has traditionally relied on a combination of public, private and civil society. This has allowed a wide variety of aspiring athletes to shoot for the top, but the aspect of psychology in commercial and personal sports has been somewhat underdeveloped.

Things are changing, and the commercialized sports industry brings new opportunities for  Finnish athletes. One such opportunity is the Sport Fund, a KPMG-led initiative that aims to invest in athletes while providing funding and guidance for their careers.

Simply put, a future top athlete is likely to be more professional and more entrepreneurial than ever before.

“It's not the government's job to hire a 25-year-old athlete to become a potential Olympian. But every promising 10 or 15-year-old should have that opportunity,” says Jyrki Louhi, the primus motor behind Sport Fund Management Ltd and newly-minted COO of the fund's management company.

The public sector is still needed to uphold the necessary infrastructure and sports facilities. But in the future, Louhi says, the world of elite sports will be more market-led. Athletes are also finding new ways to prosper from their versatile and intercultural experiences during and after their competitive career. 

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