TECHNOLOGY has changed every aspect of our lives. Almost every industry has been disrupted by the advent of the digi¬tal age and sports is no exception. Here’s a look at how technology will impact sports from the standpoint of the athletes as well as the spectators.
How well you do in sports doesn’t just depend on how hard you train. It also depends to a certain extent on your genes. Let’s face it; some people have natural talent in certain sports because genetically, they’re well-suited for that sport.
Athletigen is a company that helps ath¬letes make use of their DNA tests to “train, eat, learn, recover, plan and thrive” through special reports that provide insight into what their DNA means in terms of sports mobility and wellbeing. These reports will allow the athlete to make the necessary adjustments to their training regime and nutrition plans.
If an athlete doesn’t have a personal nutritionist, they could turn to a start-up such as Habit, which uses genetic infor¬mation to suggest the ideal meal for its customers. The athlete just needs to send the company a blood sample and provide some body metrics in order for it to do the necessary analysis to recommend a suit¬able eating plan that will allow the athlete to optimise their nutrition for peak performance.
Data analytics makes it possible for coaches to analyse the performance of their players. The movie Moneyball starring Brad Pitt showed how a sophisticated analytical approach for evaluating players allowed his character to identify undervalued talent for recruitment into his baseball team.
At its most basic, raw data can be the players’ competition results (which was the case in Moneyball) but these days data can also be accumulated through special sensors on the players’ body, for example through small live cameras on players’ helmets (for those sports that involve helmets). Monitors can also be placed on wearables as well as on the sports equipment itself.
Vert, for example, is a wearable that measures (and thus can help improve) jumping capabilities. It’s suitable for use on sports like volleyball, basketball and perhaps even badminton. Players just have to wear a lightweight sensing device on the waistband of their shorts. The device then wirelessly sends data such as jumping frequency, average jump height and best jump height to a nearby mobile phone for analysis.
Babolat Play is a tennis racquet with lightweight sensors on its handle that record a multitude of information about a player’s performance, including the number of strokes (forehand/backhand, serves, smash), volleys, power, shots, topspin, longest rally, ball serve speed and impact. As with Vert, this data is sent via Bluetooth to a nearby mobile phone.
There’s even clothing designed to measure an athlete’s vital signs. HexoSkin has developed shirts with sensors woven into them that measure heart rate, breathing rate, acceleration, cadence, step count, calories burned and so on. Sensoria makes not only smart T-shirts (for heart rate monitoring) but also smart socks (for measuring cadence, impact and foot landing).
These are just a few examples of just how niche sports tracking devices have become. In time, there’ll probably be a device to track athletic performance for every single sport in existence. As the game becomes more competitive, it becomes necessary to gather as much data about athletic performance as possible in order to get the best out of each athlete.
Technology will also affect how the audience views sports. Traditionally, people watch live sports in person at the stadium or they watch it on TV. Both these approaches will be radically changed in the years to come.
In the near future, sports fans will be able to experience live events in smart stadiums where digital technology makes everything run seamlessly. For example, they’ll no longer need physical tickets. All that can be scanned through their phones. And it’s also through their phones that they’ll be able to find their seats, order their food and drinks, and post status updates, pictures and video on social media via strong WiFi (in case there’s too much congestion because too many people are using their mobile phones at the same time, which is a common case in stadium situations).
Fans who are not in the venue will also be able to experience the live event through their computers and mobile phones. A combination of livestreaming, 3D, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will bring the event live to the home viewer in ways that a traditional TV broadcast could never do. Imagine being able to tilt, zoom and pan the arena or view the game from a multitude of different angles and see replays in realistic 3D, AR or VR formats.
The ability to allow home fans from around the world to feel as if they were actually there in the venue will open up a whole new world of opportunities for tournament organisers and teams for new, innovative sponsorship opportunities.
Traditionally, to view live sporting events, audiences would have to pay a premium for pay-per-view access. This certainly was the case with the 2016 Olympics. To have live access to the judo competition, I had to pay for a special package from an Australian broadcaster which streamed it live via its website. That model could potentially be changed if sponsors and advertisers are excited about the potential innovative livestreamed sporting events.
Perhaps pay-per-view will be a thing of the past and the free model will prevail. Imagine, instead of having tens of thou¬sands or hundreds of thousands of paying customers, an online broadcaster could potentially have millions or perhaps even billions of viewers (depending on the sport, of course) if they had a free livestream sponsored by various global brands.
For this to happen, the way some sports are played might change too, to make them more advertising/sponsor-friendly. For example, there might be more breaks in order to create more advertising slots. Perhaps instead of just half-time in a soccer match, there could be quarter time? Players’ jerseys might even be made of material that could feature changes in sponsor logos. Imagine the possibilities in terms of advertising rates for different lengths of time a sponsor’s logo would appear or when it would appear (perhaps immediately after every goal is scored).
Many industries have been disrupted by the march of technology. The music, movie, radio, news media and book publish¬ing industries for example, have all been negatively affected and are still struggling to find new ways to harness digital technology to make money. But sports is in a unique position whereby it has everything to gain through technology. The game will be heightened by improved athletic perfor¬mance thanks to technology and the viewer experience will also be enhanced whether they’re watching the game live at the venue or from the comforts of their homes.
Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at oonyeoh@ gmail.com