The Marriage of Tech & Sports

How advanced technology has been applied to professional sports, driving revenue and creating a new and exploding niche. 

Tech Photo

Tech’s role in sports is growing exponentially, and appears to be becoming even more intertwined. The last 10-15 years have witnessed a wave of analytics and data driven specialists clawing their way into the big business that is professional sports.

 

From the growth of instant replay in the NFL and NBA now trickling down into the MLB and countless other sports, to pinpoint accuracy on tennis line calls, high-tech motion cameras, and body-monitoring wearables, the relationship of tech and sports is booming.

 

Most now know the story of Billy Beane’s analytics-driven success with the Oakland A’s, with the results flooding into the rest of baseball like a whitewater wave of dats. There are countless examples, from NFL player monitoring systems to advanced GPS systems implemented by Florida State’s football program en route to winning a National Championship, tech in the last decade has infused itself within the fabric of sports at nearly every level.

 

Advancements in technology are sprouting up at an increasing rate, and their role in sports isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Let’s take three technologies, examine their importance in the advanced accuracy of sports, and ponder what they might evolve into in the next few years.

 

Shot Tracker / Hawkeye Technology

Hawkeye

What it is

“Shot-Tracker” or “HawkEye” technology (debuted in 2006) is exactly what it sounds like. Pinpoint technology can take live photos at 600 frames per second and, using triangulation, can decipher where an object lands within five millimeters accuracy. This technology has been implemented in soccer in goal-line situations, as well as cricket, rugby, badminton, volleyball, and most notably, professional tennis.

 

What it does

This technology has allowed for almost completely taking human error out of officiating/judging of these sports. In tennis and volleyball, it has also brought about an exciting “challenge” system, which contributes to player/team strategy and most importantly engages the crowd while waiting for the results of a close challenge to be broadcast on the big screen in a matter of seconds.

 

Where it could go

This is the fun part. Theoretically, this technology could expand to all sports that require its accuracy. Imagine a critical NFL touchdown coming down to a receiver’s toe touching the sideline of the end zone. The build-up of excitement on the sidelines and in the stands as the camera unveiled whether he was “in or out” would be riveting. Imagine a game-winning single that seemingly lands right on the 3rd baseline in the outfield. The entire stadium would be on the edge of their seats in anticipation of the close call. Precision and accuracy technologies will always have a role in professional sports, and will undoubtedly see that role grow in a variety of ways.

 

SportVU Cameras

Goal Line Cameras

What it is

SportVU cameras track a player’s every move on the court. This will provide data that can be used in a variety of different ways for teams to analyse and use.

 

What it does

Take the NBA as an example. With the use of these cameras, teams can track players’ habits, from how often they dribble to their left, how successful they are when they do, how often a player’s defense contributes to a missed basket, how effective a player is coming back from injury, and on and on. The data to be gleaned from these cameras is massive and can lead to in depth analysis of a player’s precise strengths and weaknesses.

 

Where it could go

The role of data and analytics in sports is increasing in scope and magnitude.

 

From a camera technology perspective: pro sports is an entertainment product showcasing increasingly fast movement, and networks will always strive to increase their capabilities. Take the entire sports arena, whether that be a basketball court, football stadium, or soccer pitch, and digitize it. The next big step in capturing sports action and making definitive judgments could be 360 degree camera angles. This means overhead cameras that move with players (some of which are already in place), cameras embedded in the floor of a  basketball court to better see tipped balls and fouls, and cameras on every single playing surface boundary down to the millimeter.

 

From an analytics perspective: camera technology like SportVU will lead to an ever-present look at every angle of the game being played and every player on the court/field. This will lead us to advanced metrics of the value of each player and the value of how well (or poorly) players perform when paired with certain teammates. Data gleaned from these cameras will have a direct impact on the strategies of coaches, the signing and releasing of players, and the structure of teams.

 

WHOOP and advanced wearables

Whoop

What it is

WHOOP is a thin, lightweight band that measures and analyzes heart rate, heart rate variability (HRV), ambient temperature and motion, among other data points. One of the main goals of the technology is to get athletes of all levels to value rest and recovery as much as exercise and to understand the relationship and importance of each.

What it does

HRV is essential in measuring fatigue and recovery and monitoring this (and other data points) drastically reduces injury and improves sleep habits. WHOOP and other wearable monitor important data points and levels and provide an accurate report on the inner workings of the body.

Where it could go

WHOOP and other wearables not only monitor everything happening inside an athlete’s body, but they can increasingly take that data and use it to prevent injury and form exercise habits. This has very practical applications like limiting practice/playing time in basketball, football, and soccer players when data shows they are strained, at risk, or wearing down physically. Often times these indicators would not otherwise be outwardly noticeable.

 

The technology has a huge upside for athletes of all levels and sports. Baseball pitchers are a prime example. It seems pitchers can be perfectly healthy one day, then one throw too many could cause irreparable arm injury. The more precise data we can analyze on the state of their bodies will help us determine exactly when and how long to rest and recover. This could help prevent devastating injury which in turn could save pitchers’ playing careers (and the big salaries that come with it).

 

The advanced wearable phenomenon is showing no signs of slowing down. Expect the trend to continue with smaller, lighter devices that can measure even more variables. This technology field seems destined to be our biggest indicator of injury prevention in athletes, and could grow into a full-body detection system monitoring all potential warning signs in the body.

These are only three examples from a variety of tech innovations infusing their way into sports of all levels. Consider this part one in a series exploring new trends and revolutionary new products.

 

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The Marriage of Tech & Sports