HOT DOGS printed out at your seat, drones sending instant-replay footage to your phone and clothing that coaches – sport could look very different when Sport Business International celebrates its 40th anniversary.
But what is the technology that could really make a difference for rightsholders, and where is it in its development cycle? We asked 12 key figures from across the world of sport governance, broadcasting and science to give us an insight.
1. Cognitive Computing
Computing giant IBM used its Watson cognitive system, developed to compete with humans on logically complex US gameshow Jeopardy, to analyse social media and promote this year’s Wimbledon tennis tournament.
IBM Wimbledon client executive Sam Seddon says cognitive computing – where machines learn to make sense of complex information – can help rights-holders with the critical task of keeping their brands in the spotlight.
“If Wimbledon can make a connection between what is happening in Tsonga v Murray and a trending topic on Wales v Portugal in the European Championships, they can draw that audience in,” he says.
“We are entering a new era of sports rights. First was radio, then TV, then the mobile digital age. Now the social world means rights-holders are looking to keep rights to distribute in accessible channels.”
Seddon points to the deal struck by NFL to allow Twitter to stream live video of Thursday night US football games. He says the value of a sport business’s commercial deals will be driven by numbers of people accessing its various forms of coverage.
“It is going to be vital to get digital right. Any sports organisation that is not looking how it can drive personalised experiences through digital platforms will quickly fall behind,” he says.
With so much sport in the calendar, fan engagement is intensely competitive, according to Seddon. He says: “The marginal gains that Mark Cavendish looks for over a stage of the Tour de France are similar for sports rights-holders.”
2. Geofencing and Facial Recognition
Electronic display firm Daktronics worked on installations recently for Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates as the Major League Baseball teams looked to give fans advanced statistics and graphics at games.
Product manager in the video products engineering group at Daktronics, Bill Hadsell, says smart stadiums are vital for rights-holders. “Stadium owners are competing against the four ‘Cs’,” he says.
“Your primary competition is the couch, then you need connectivity as younger generations won’t even go to a public space that does not have Wi-Fi. You are up against high-quality TV coverage and of course going to a stadium costs cash.
“You have to offer something from a live event that people can’t get at home.”
Hadsell says geofencing will allow owners to drive targeted messages to people in certain areas of stadiums and to offer fans in executive boxes the ability to order highlights like they order food.
Facial recognition could come into play, too. “We can set up kiosks in stadiums where someone comes in and software recognises they are a female in their mid-40s and sends them coupons relating to that demographic,” he says.
However, internet connectivity – the NFL has asked all its stadiums to provide Wi-Fi – and privacy laws could prove limiters to some of the wilder possibilities.
“The technology is so in its infancy that the regulators are catching up,” says Hadsell.
3. Simulators and Ghost View
French computer graphics company Trimaran will use its GeoRacing tracking and visualisation system for coverage of the Transat Quebec to Saint Malo sailing race this month.
“Rights-holders want to engage fans,” says Trimaran chief executive Olivier Emery. “They want the tools to improve their content.”
The company has fresh innovation in mind, with a digital and mobile app for November’s Vendée Globe round-the-world yacht race.
“We propose an immersive 360-degree player so people can follow a skipper live with full visualisation, including weather information, wind force, wave height and other parameters,” says Emery. “It will simulate the boat on the sea.”
Trimaran has also created a ‘ghost view’ display for Canal Plus’ coverage of the French stage of the World Rally Championships. “You can see whether the car you are watching live is ahead or behind its competitors,” he says.
The firm hopes to expand its use of this technology and aims to bring ghost view and GeoRacing to the 2017 Tour de France.
“We are also working on bringing tracking into stadiums to allow live action to be supplemented by augmented reality. We are proposing to add graphics such as speed of acceleration, which could be ready for the 2017/18 season,” he says.
4. Virtual and Augmented Reality
Broadcaster Fox Sports recently used virtual reality as part of its coverage of the Daytona 500 Nascar motor race.
Fox Sports senior vice-president for graphic technology integration, Zac Fields, says the aim is not to replace traditional coverage, but to add to it.
“VR is in its early stages,” he says. “No one knows where it will be in two years.”
Advances in camera capability are also making a big difference to TV sport coverage, says Fields. Fox Sports has used GPS data from cars to automatically switch camera as a driver goes round a track and provide dedicated digital channels following, say, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The movement from HD to 4K is likely to take some time, however, says Fields: “I don’t see a major push in the near future to go into 4K. There is so much infrastructure involved to capture, retain, play back and transmit the images – and then the viewer needs a 4K TV.
“We did three holes at the US Open in 4K and it looked really good, but there was so much change that had to happen in the TV truck.”
Augmented reality techniques are likely to make an impact sooner, Fields says. Fox used it to show depth and distance in the US Open. “We realised this was something we really valued for showing golf on TV,” he says.
5. In-ear Biometrics
Jabra is one arm of Danish audio solutions firm GN Store Nord and believes the ear can be used to greater effect in sport
“We can get some really good biometrics from the ear,” says Jabra senior vice-president Calum MacDougall. “Headphones are near the blood flow and held in securely.
“Our Sport Pulse product uses the heartbeat in your ear to give coaching. We are launching new products in the next month which will help you understand your training.”
Sports businesses can use hearable technology to engage fans and enhance performance, says MacDougall: “You can show how people are performing – what is the heartbeat of a racing driver in the last five laps; how is a footballer moving around the pitch. We have a relationship with the International Triathlon Union and some triathletes are using our products to help with heart rate training.
“The potential is pretty high. We are right at the start. As the technology improves, we will be able to get better biometrics from the ear. Size will also decrease, helping fit and convenience.”
The products exist as wireless headphones that connect to a smartphone and an app that needs to be downloaded. “We are in a good segment to bring out new products,” says MacDougall. “Hearables are a fast-growing market as it is usual to wear headphones and you can get good metrics, as well as providing music.”
6. Wearable Technology
The Sports Technology Institute at Loughborough University works with elite sports people and product developers at the cutting edge of sport science.
Senior lecturer at the institute Paul Sherratt says wearable technology is set to come into its own in future years.
“It will get smarter and involve more data,” says Sherratt. “There will be convergence of technology, so where in the past you had a Fitbit and a phone, there will be electronics in garments – that’s not far away.”
Sports Technology Institute research project manager Ashley Gray adds that wearables could enhance coaching: “This could be stroke efficiency, running gait, golf swing – the technology is currently very crude, but it could improve in the future. Machine learning is going to be massive – it is about getting the algorithms right.”
Sherratt says wearables could be used in competition to enhance TV and digital coverage.
“In triathlon, when it’s the open-water swim, it’s not always great for spectators,” he says. “It can be a struggle to see who is who. For outdoor events like Tough Mudder, some data on who is on the lead could enhance coverage. You could have an iPad screen that shows who everyone is. I could see kicks and strokes per minute to give a different visual representation”.
7. Q Jacker
Birmingham’s NEC Group hosts indoor sport such as basketball and badminton at the Barclaycard Arena, as well as selling tickets for sports including cricket and rugby through its Ticket Factory business.
NEC managing director of commercial marketing Stuart Cain says more advanced use of mobile phones is the future for sports businesses.
“People might want immediate replays or a drone view of the action from a club app. Could you show a pitcher’s throwing stats as he steps up?” he asks.
“People can be quite detached at sport – drones, helmet cams and so on can make it more immersive.”
Technology could also be used to increase operational efficiency on match days. The NEC used the Q Jacker system, where people order and pay for food on their phones, at gamer event Insomnia.
“Forty-five per cent of people used it,” says Cain. “You take away cash management issues, theft risk, and you can see sales data and profile events to maximise sales and reduce wastage.” He adds that “anything is possible”.
“In the future, you may order a hot dog from a smart phone and see it 3D printed at the end of your row,” he says. If you think this sounds fanciful, it is worth noting that 3D company Natural Machine launched a Kickstarter campaign for a 3D food printer called ‘Foodini’ in 2014.
But Cain sounds a note of caution for rights-holders and warns that some of his predictions are in the outer realms of the imagination.
“Before you look at technology, get an old fashioned piece of paper and look at the demand,” he says. “In sport a lot of people knock on the door and tell you how many sales they can give you, but it does not always work out that way.”
8. Laser Pistol
Pentathlon governing body the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM) has introduced a range of innovations to the sport to make it more attractive to potential fans – and has even moved some events to darkness hours to maximise the benefits of technology.
“Creative ways to explain the sport are a key component for the future, especially for our multi-discipline sports,” says UIPM secretary general Shiny Fang.
She said the body was looking for “further optimisation of current equipment and data management in combination with the introduction of new technologies”.
Management systems have allowed the UIPM to give live competition rankings to broadcasters in what can be a complex sport.
Laser pistols have replaced pellets and air guns, making the sport safer and more accessible. Underwater cameras and drones are both areas the sport is keen to explore. It is also considering wearable cameras for its athletes, although Fang says more testing is needed of this idea.
While she warns that the possibilities are governed by the laws of the country hosting an event, Fang says drones can give a bird’s eye view, helping to link the different disciplines of the sport in the viewer’s mind.
“The fan experience is the key for the success of the competition,” she adds.
9. Brain Training
If there is one sports unit that you would not think needed to become more efficient, it would be the German football team. But software firm SAP developed technology to do just that ahead of the country’s 2014 Fifa World Cup success.
This led to the launch last year of cloud solution Sports One, which includes data on match performance, training, player fitness, scouting and more.
“SAP Sports One provides a single, unified platform to manage individual teams and players efficiently, as well as handle analytical insights for performance optimisation,” says Jacqueline Montesinos Suarez, head of global sports communications and North America programmes at SAP. Ahead of this summer’s European Championships, the firm announced new functions for the product, including the study of penalty kicks and the understanding of opposition teams. The future will see further enhancements and expansion of the product to other sports, such as hockey.
It is not only physical performance improvements that are sought through tech.
“With TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, we have developed something called the Helix that is a cool new way to train players’ cognitive functions,” says Montesinos Suarez.
Player tracking firm STATSports works with more than 250 elite teams, including England Rugby, Spanish soccer side FC Barcelona and basketball outfit Chicago Bulls.
STATSports head of business development Richard Byrne says data collected from wearing the firm’s Viper Pod within sports kit helps coaches tailor training sessions to achieve peak performance on match days.
“The Viper Pod collects data such as distance, speed and fatigue, as well as dynamic stress load, step-balance and high metabolic load distance,” he says. Showing the continued development of wearables, the firm has a new product coming to market later this year, which will incorporate ultra-wideband (UWB) technology as well as GPS. “UWB offers our clients data accurate to 10cm in indoor and stadium environments, where it can traditionally be hard to pick up GPS,” says Byrne.
Using low-energy bluetooth, ‘Apex’ will also gather data from up to seven other sensors and present it live to coaches on a laptop or tablet.
“Fifa has changed the rules to allow wearable technology in games, so we expect many of our Premier League clients to be wearing it during both training and matches next season,” says Byrne.
11. Underwater and overhead views
The International Surfing Association (ISA) says wave creation technology is “integral” to the sport’s future
“With the development of ground-breaking, cost-efficient and sustainable new technology to build artificial wave pools, millions of people – including those in landlocked countries – will have more opportunities to surf,” says ISA president Fernando Aguerre.
He adds that another major development is in the waterproof cameras that can be fixed on to boards, worn by surfers – or sit above the waves. “Increasingly, surfing events and rightsholders are using cameras mounted on drones, which legally hover above the ocean offering new, incredible views, angles and perspectives – bringing the TV and online audience closer to the action,” he explains.
Aguerre says a prototype board developed by Samsung could allow surfers to use their board like a screen to receive text messages and wave information.
“Surfing is a visually powerful sport and the various seascapes around the world offer incredible pictures for TV and online audiences,” he says.
“We can now bring surf fans even closer to the sport through wearable broadcast technology and interactive innovations. We are ready to embrace innovation and technology for the benefit of our sport, and we’re really excited about the possibilities the future holds for surfing.”
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