The Cleveland Cavaliers are on the Top 25 Most Innovative Sports Teams List for 2022 as named by Sports Innovative Lab. The Cavs are ranked No. 17, above the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL and behind Olympique Lyonnais, a French soccer team in Ligue 1. Below is a look at the determining metrics and the full list of teams.
Sports teams and leagues are not all the same. Throughout the history of professional sports, differing governance structures and organizational models have developed, which means that no two leagues are exactly the same when it comes to innovation.
Throughout our analysis of team innovation for this report, we continuously examine how the decisions and control, or the lack thereof, impacts innovation at the team level. Indeed, after the publication of last year’s Top 25 Most Innovative Teams report, we had many conversations with teams on the Top 25 list, and one of the most frequent topics in those conversations was governance—what are teams allowed to do to innovate, and what is restricted or managed by the league.
A pattern has emerged in our ongoing analysis: older teams, like European Association Football (soccer) teams, tend to benefit from a higher level of autonomy than North American sports teams that have been founded in the last century. Specifically, North American sports leagues have
a more centralized, league-controlled approach to certain partnerships and sponsorships that can make it difficult for teams to forge their own path forward on innovation. That said, autonomy is not the only, or even necessarily recommended, approach to innovation, as our analysis shows that centralizing innovation authority at the league level can potentially benefit all teams in a league, thus limiting the gap between the richest teams in the world and those that have less discretionary revenue to invest into innovation.
This year’s Top 25 Most Innovative Teams in the World list illuminates this trend and the comparison of these two approaches. While the top of the list is dominated by Association Football teams, when we look across the leaguewide averages, we see a more even distribution of innovation success that benefits all.
What is clear is that balancing autonomy and control is of critical importance for sports leagues pushing into the Age of the Fluid Fan.
Three metrics were used to determine the team score: Revenue Distribution, Technology Enablement, and Organizational Agility.
Revenue diversification means that sports properties are able to go beyond ticketing, concessions, media rights, and traditional sponsorship categories to drive fandom. Some of those metrics include: ownership models, mixed-use development venues, multilingual social media capabilities, sports betting partnerships, owned OTT channels, association with a women’s team, and more.
The category of technology enablement is about analyzing specific Fluid Fan behaviors through technologies. In order to empower Fluid Fandom, teams must engage on many platforms to attract, maintain, and fulfill the attention of their viewers. Fluid Fans are open to change, empowered to choose, and continuously evolving. Teams that understand how to use technology to enable the ten core behaviors—Access, Bet, Co-Watch, Connect, Create, Learn, Listen, Own/Buy, Participate, and Show Up/Go—are innovative.
The category of organizational agility is about staffing for the future, leveraging new skill sets, and looking to other industries for talent. The teams who are most innovative are able to invest in talent, leverage data, learn from adjacent industries, and launch new ventures. Some of those metrics include: Accelerator Programs, Business Intelligence and Analytics Groups, D/E/I Initiatives, Social Justice Initiatives, Internal Staffing Structure, Talent Development, and more.
A major part of the overall scoring system is the Technology Enablement metric, which is a measure of a team’s efforts to work with innovative technologies and through partners to reach the Fluid Fan where they are today. We do so by measuring these efforts along Ten Core Behaviors that we have identified as critical activities to the Fluid Fan experience. This is done by measuring these efforts along Ten Core Behaviors that are identified as critical activities to the Fluid Fan experience.
Access: Empowering athlete/fan interactions, digitally mediated training/workouts, and gives fans the athlete centered content they want.
Bet: Empowering fans to bet/wager or play fantasy sports and sites dedicated to betting insights.
Create: Empowering fans to create, manipulate, and share content.
Connect: Empowering fans to connect digitally with one another.
Co-Watch: Empowering fans to digitally watch, participate in a second-screen activity, or otherwise stream the content they want.
Learn: Empowering fans to consume media and acquire more info on events, games, or players.
Listen: Empowering fans to listen to sports or sports related content.
Own/Buy: Empowering fans to purchase and own a piece of their fandom or sell to other fans.
Participate: Empowering fans to join a community and participate in the brand’s digital activities.
Show Up: Empowering fans during any part of the live venue fan journey.
- FC Barcelona, La Liga
- Real Madrid F.C., La Liga
- Arsenal F.C., EPL
- Manchester City F.C., EPL
- Philadelphia 76ers, NBA
- Manchester United F.C., EPL
- Atlanta Braves, MLB
- Liverpool F.C., EPL
- Dallas Mavericks, NBA
- A.S. Roma, Serie A
- Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA
- Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga
- Boston Red Sox, MLB
- FC Bayern Munich, Bundesliga
- Washington Capitals, NHL
- Olympique Lyonnais, Ligue 1
- Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA
- Seattle Seahawks, NFL
- Phoenix Suns, NBA
- Golden State Warriors, NBA
- Los Angeles Rams, NFL
- Brooklyn Nets, NBA
- Toronto Raptors, NBA
- Washington Nationals, MLB
- Portland Trail Blazers, NBA