As the 2018 World Cup in Russia kicks off amid a frenzy of febrile global excitement, the host of the 2026 tournament was announced as the ‘United’ bid made up of Canada, Mexico and the United States.
The key question is, how will we consume the world’s largest sporting event in 2026, and what talent is needed to capitalize on this unparalleled opportunity?
Everything will change, and nothing will change
The disruption and convergence of the media, content, technology and sport industries are evident worldwide, and there is nowhere else better to see this in real time than the World Cup.
Myriad content rights deals covering standard TV broadcast, OTT, VR, 3D and more have already been sold. Digital LED boards are displaying different ads, depending on the region in which you’re watching the match. Real time player data tracking, goal line technology, video assistant referees and cutting edge in-stadium technology are all on show.
Although the number of teams at the 2026 World Cup may well be higher than the already inflated 32 going to this year’s edition, you can be pretty sure that very little else about the game itself will change.
And the size of the global audience will still dwarf any other sporting event; harnessing the power of the World Cup will remain essential for media, content, technology and sport businesses.
None of that will change. But our behaviors as consumers will certainly change over the course of the next eight years, when the opening match kicks off. How will we consume it?
VR now Reality
This year’s World Cup will be the first to offer its fans the experience of watching each match in virtual reality – it will be accessible to any fan with a smart phone, and a VR headset or the like (which can be purchased for as little as 5 bucks a pop).
The UK’s BBC will be providing live coverage of all the BBC’s 33 matches in VR through a new app, allowing users to “sit” in a private box at a Russian stadium, with the option to switch views.
But will we all be virtually planted in the famous Azteca stadium in Mexico to see ‘el Tri’ beat, a European powerhouse team to make the Semi-finals in 2026? Don’t count it out just yet.
Will there be any cords left to cut?
Internet giant Amazon firmly signalled its intent to become a sporting force a few weeks ago when it bought the rights to 20 English Premier League matches for the 2018/19 season that traditional pay TV providers Sky and BT Sport declined to bid for, making it the first non-pay TV broadcaster to hold EPL rights.
Cleverly, the two rounds of league matches (10 games in each round) Amazon purchased are just after Christmas on the traditional Boxing Day slate of games, and another round of games over Easter weekend. What could be better for Amazon than an enormous influx of eyeballs on their platform just in time to do some day-after-Christmas shopping before and after watching the ‘football’?
With such a minor dipping of their toes in the water – all things considered – it’s unlikely to be seen as a failure no matter what the viewership results. But with another eight years to continue to drag consumers towards cutting their cable cords, World Cup 2026 may exist solely online and away from cable or satellite dishes.
Converging industries need agile and impactful talent
Beyond the World Cup, other sports are already “game planning” their approach to today’s consumer and their success will certainly have an effect on content plays for businesses involved in World Cup 2026.
Major League Baseball is a prime example. From a pure business standpoint, MLB franchises generate approximately 30% of their revenue from the league, versus NFL franchises, which enjoy 70% of their revenue from the league.
The other difference? Eighty-one home games in baseball, versus eight home games for NFL teams.
The strategy stretches from the ballpark to the living room. As one prominent CEO of an MLB franchise I spoke to recently told me, “I have 300 opportunities between pitches and innings in each and every game to reach our consumers. Whether they are in the ballpark or watching at home, we need to ask ourselves what content are we giving them? What is their second or even third screen experience (phones, tablets, laptops) with our brand, and how do we engage them?”
That CEO has a good point.
What is certain is that the next eight years are going to be one wild ride in the media, content, technology and sport space. It’s an arms race for the best in-house talent to ensure businesses not only survive in this hyper competitive, convergent environment, but thrive.
Businesses need talent that can not only adapt to convergence, but those who can see it coming and take action to harness its potential. It’s a simple fact of life that many of the businesses we’re all familiar with and use regularly today won’t exist in 2026.
Who will survive? Who will thrive?
Only those who get the right talent on board will succeed.
Jamie Waldron is a Partner with SRi who specialises in finding transformational talent for the media, content, technology and sports industries from his Los Angeles base.
For a confidential discussion, contact Jamie directly by email here, or on +1 (323) 694 6740.