As the sports calendar, if not the weather, turns to summer, we are currently enjoying an especially vintage year of sport – not least of all because of the amount of women’s sport on our screens. If female achievement is in the ascendant, especially regarding its vastly improved profile, the invisible force behind sport remains technology.
The STA Group enjoys a unique ‘backstage pass’ to tech-led innovations in sport, not least of all because each year, the Sports Technology Awards reviews hundreds of entries from around the world of sport, giving us unrivalled insight into the power behind the power of sport. So, what are the key things affecting the forthcoming competitions?
The past few years have seen some impressive technology emerge but if anything has been the hallmark of the last year, it was the need for clear financial returns. This doesn’t mean commercial technology, but now purchasers in the sports market are clearly demanding investment in technology is repaid with tangible income revenue streams.
Just one example is sensors; these have been integral to data collection in the past, especially for athletes, but their use is set to increase greatly. Applications already in place include in-stadium crowd satisfaction and atmosphere tracking, as well as being embedded in club products – for example, why print a ticket if it can be manufactured into fan merchandise? Sensors mean that data is now more trackable and accurate, which means commercial decisions are much better informed.
Big Data is also helping form crucial decisions about investment into talent, with predictive analysis being adopted on an even wider scale to identify future stars earlier and create key signings.
User Interface ‘Gamification’
After years of sports executives stating what esports can learn from sports, the reverse has transpired. The esports-led rise of in-platform audience engagement is widely evident with extensive and impressive ‘gamification’ of the fan sports experience. In jargon-free language, what this means is audience chat alongside broadcast, and apps with game elements intended for in-venue use, such as MVP / Man of the Match voting, ‘Kiss-cam’ participation, and predicting plays.
Additionally, there is greater connection being created between the physical and digital worlds; currently this is primarily an AR (augmented reality) initiative, with activities such as virtual prize cannons (where phones catch virtual merchandise) and treasure hunts using both AR and sponsored QR code scanning. As rights holders strive to engage younger fans, expect to see much more of this.
More Video Content, Done Better
On-demand video isn’t new but the speed of delivery and the extensive content options available now are. Instant replays, additional camera angles and match highlights viewable on smart devices in real time are increasingly available. Furthermore, animation is an exciting element starting to creep into the mix; it is very early days for this service but as the technology develops this is likely to become significantly more extensive. The evolution of video isn’t restricted to images, bespoke commentary, such as the service provided by Spaulk, is also an increasingly widespread option, all of which means that fans can curate their own, highly specific match experience.
3D and Visualized AI
As demonstrated by the popularity of video, people respond better to visualized data. 3D imaging, used especially for analysis and comparison, is set to increase further this year, not least of all thanks to the ability to create full, moving replicas of athletes. This has opened up 3D use across adjudication, welfare and performance – and with 3D printing also becoming nimbler, consumers everywhere can soon look forward to finely personalised sports kit. Customized bike saddles for all!
So far this summer we have watched the first Women’s World Cup to implement video replay technology (VAR) and at Wimbledon, IBM’s AI Robot ‘Watson’ is set to recognise player emotion for the first time. Already an established part of the tournament, IBM Watson won our 2019 Best Digital Technology category thanks to its ability to cut output production time of a highlights package, by 95%.
Rugby fans are already talking their teams up for the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year and it is fair to say that rugby and its sponsors have repeatedly proved themselves impressively tech-forward in their thinking. As with all contact sport, athlete welfare is a constant issue and whilst head trauma protocols have improved, there is still huge scope to find a robust, tech-led solution for determining and preventing concussion – here’s hoping the competition inspires a visionary somewhere soon!
The start of IAAF World Championship’s in Doha runs close on the heels of the RWC and whilst the temperatures may have started to ease, technology is vital to help meet the challenges of extreme-climate competition. The most notable solution on show is at the Khalifa Stadium, along with its tech-forward running track, which has also offered athletes the chance to check out the venue in advance via a VR app.
The force that is sports tech cannot be underestimated and constantly proves to be dynamic and exciting. Its impact, whilst not always visible, is significant and as fans get more sophisticated and need to meet the differing expectations of in-stadia and on-sofa viewers evolves, whilst the athletes take centre stage, it is undoubtedly technology which sets it. If only it could guarantee good weather…
Words: Rebecca Hopkins – CEO of the STA Group
Image: PA Images