Sport is a unique and important connective tissue that binds people together. It enables multiple audiences and generations to find alignment. And there’s something that is now being hailed as the biggest influencer behind this global unifier. Technology.
Technology has been quietly transforming the world of sports for years. It has resulted in some countries and teams making steady progress ahead of the pack and has seen others falling behind. It influences how athletes train and compete, how fans engage and consume content and how world-class venues are constructed.
Of course, among the chief reasons why a lot of countries or sporting organizations have not been able to catch on or perhaps catch up to those who have gone ahead is the financial aspect when it comes to accessing some of the most advanced technological boosters that are taking over.
With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and other major events such as the biggest of them all, Qatar's FIFA 2022 World Cup, approaching, a massive amount of investment and innovation are pouring into the sports technology industry ahead of these globally unifying events. Recent research was conducted to identify which sports are at the forefront of the technology revolution and which factors are holding the industry back. Fan engagement technologies, including live streaming and esports, are set to make the largest impact on sports in the next 12 months.
When asked about which technologies would make the biggest impact on the sports industry in the next 12 months, an overwhelming 78% selected fan engagement technologies, such as live streaming, esports and content platforms. The Top three technologies for investment were media and content-related platforms; measurement platforms for data, analytics and biometrics; and esports. Several factors were cited for holding back sports technology adoption, with the top three reasons, similar to many non-traditional technology sectors, being unqualified decision-makers, risk aversion and cost.
Data and analytics have transformed how professional athletes train and perform, allowing elite sports players to dissect and improve their performance in ways not available before. The national men's football team has been using the GPS and heart rate monitors since 2017 but it has not trickled down to the other levels in local sport such as the different clubs and leagues whereby in countries such as Mexico, Argentina and most in Europe and South America, these devices are common among most teams and at youth level.
Cricket Australia and India are also using GPS. But it doesn’t come cheaply. Some companies have started attempting ways to make these programs more easily available to teams or athletes at a more reasonable cost. But it remains a challenge. especially in smaller countries such as ours where when it comes to budgeting for sports, the focus and also the struggles still lie with basic items such as airfare, accommodation, compensation, venues and even meals. Yes, meals.
Technology is not even on the list of many of our sporting organizations or perhaps maybe somewhere low down on the chart. So straight away we are trailing and forced to play catch up.
With elite athletes embracing the opportunities to improve their performance through sports tech products and new data analytics capabilities, it was inevitable that consumers would aim for the same. On a global stage. we aren’t only seeing it with fans who are using the most advanced ways to follow their favourite sports but the regulars are now making the effort to train just like the professional athletes.
Though tracking has become an everyday occurrence at the professional sports level — from hydration and heart rate to stress level — it’s still relatively new for amateur athletes in the consumer market.
The expectations from consumers as data and analytics becomes more accessible has challenged sports tech companies to understand how to scale their products accordingly. Companies must think about scaling to amateur-level play and education, as well as to consumers’ financial standards.
“It’s really about scalability: how do we impact the greatest number of lives sooner with an accessible, affordable product?” said Meridith Unger, founder and CEO of Nix Biosensors. Marilou McFarlane, president of SportsTechWorks, emphasized that at the youth level, it is important to have fun, but there is also a need for measurable and actionable data that allows young athletes to do a multitude of things: Collaborate with coaches; Record pain and injuries in an appInform adults responsible for them of any health issues; Track hydration and other performance needs and Understand how they are improving.
The tracking and analytics that are currently being used on distinct segments, like athletes, apply to soldiers, labourers, the elderly and others, and they can lead to better awareness of personal health.
“We have the opportunity to make that leap from the athlete to general health care,” Unger said. Who knows, 20/20 vision in the new year may see our local sporting sector stepping up its game.
Shaun Fuentes is the head of TTFA Media. He is a former FIFA Media Officer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and also currently a CONCACAF Competitions Media Officer.