On the May 12th Stick and Hack Show, David Pierce, Ph.D., met us from the safety of our stay-at-home offices to talk about sports innovation. David is the Director of the Sports Innovation Institute at IUPUI in downtown Indianapolis and is an associate professor of sports management in the Indiana Department of Tourism, Event and Sport Management.

He works with students and professors to help understand and solve challenges in the sports industry using human-centered design. He’s passionate about preparing the next generation of sports business professionals to be creative and innovative. He’s an expert in the area of sports sales, publishing the first textbook to teach students how to sell (Selling in the Sport Industry, 2017).

The following excerpt has been edited for space. Check out the full interview here.

S/H: Are you responsible for all innovation in sports over the last hundred years?

David: I’m getting a lot of credit there that I don’t think I deserve.

S/H: What does sports innovation mean to you and what do you see moving forward?

David: At the most basic level, it’s changing for the better. I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into understanding the design thinking process and how that can help students better understand and frame problems and then ultimately innovate creative solutions.

Innovation is more than the new gidget or gadget — that’s technology. It’s really understanding people. Understanding their needs and their wants and their pain points — and then figuring out, sometimes with technology but sometimes just with a good idea — how to make people’s lives in sport better. And that can be from golfers to the golf course owners to sports officials.

I’m looking forward to when we get to actually work with some golf course owners and look at the golf experience and understand ultimately what’s holding people back from participating more in golf and understanding what people value about it and how the golf course experience can be tweaked or altered so that it fits in people’s lives. It starts with understanding how the sport and the activity really fit into someone’s life.

What are these kinds of silly things that we’ve been doing or that’s just always been the way it’s been that we can now rethink — even just putting the ball into the hole, right? If we can go out and have fun with golf and we don’t actually have to put the ball in the hole, that brings up all kinds of things. Why is it nine holes? Why is it 18 holes? Those are just things that are so entrenched in golf that maybe it doesn’t actually have to be that way.

S/H: We talk about this all the time. Why are things the way they are in golf? And it’s the establishment. It’s just the way things have always been. And it’s run typically by a generation that doesn’t like change. Do you look at innovation as what happens with the technology of the sport or things that happen within a sport to help it grow?

David: I think it’s definitely both. My personal interest is how do you grow. A lot of the problem spaces that we’ve worked in have to do with recruitment and retention. So some semesters we’ll look at volunteers who volunteer at sporting events, and other semesters we’ve worked with people who are sports officials. There’s a huge national shortage of sports officials across all sports, and no one is really stepping up to try to solve the problem. A lot of governing bodies are “business as usual,” but we’re out there doing observation.

A lot of problem-solving happens in boardrooms of governing bodies and organizations where everybody walks into that room thinking that they’re the expert. Right? Everyone’s just going to throw an idea at the wall, and there’s a lot of random, scattered, unstructured conversation, and then there’s some dude with a title that’s going to make a decision.

But what design thinking really allows everybody to do is go through a different process, starting with the user, understanding their values, their needs, and their pain points. And then it brings in a structured, problem-framing, and ideation process so that you’re really asking those inspiring questions that are fundamental to advance your organization, advance your business, and create a better experience for your user.

Golf is a fertile ground for this.

S/H: Tell us about your history in sports and what about that history made you gravitate toward this field?

David: I went to Indiana University in Bloomington to get my undergrad degree. I really wanted to be a play-by-play radio broadcaster. If you’re from the Midwest and you know Don Fischer, who is totally who I wanted to be. And newsflash, he’s still the guy calling the game and those jobs don’t come up very often, so I thought maybe I should broaden my perspective. So I went more of the sport, business and sport management route.

S/H: For about 60 to 75 days here we’d have no professional sports. [Apologies to major league fishing fans.] Do you feel that major sports leagues have used this time of silence in the sports world to really think about how they innovate and change and the future of engagement with their sports? Because some people have said they have realized they don’t really need to watch sports on the weekend, they don’t really care anymore.

David: Some leagues have been more proactive than others on what I would just call thinking about the in-home viewing experience until we have games that come on and we’re not gonna know what that’s gonna look like. But ultimately, if there are three big revenue streams for all these leagues — TV, sponsorship, and game-day tickets — the key thing everybody is trying to do is, even if you have to sacrifice the ticket revenue, you still want to get the competitions aired. And so that is gonna demand some sort of new, and improved different enhanced home-viewing experience that uses a mix of all these tools that are out there that kind of have been looked at as a little luxury toy, but may become more integral to the experience, from augmented reality, virtual reality, some kind of your point-of-view, experience. And ultimately if there are fewer fans, there should be more accessible to get into places that you typically have not been part of as a fan.

Listen to the complete podcast to hear David’s perspective on the biggest innovation in golf in recent years and its big missed opportunity to market itself, plus Mike and Adam argue about remote working. Listen to it here.