A decade of technological innovations in sport
23 Mar 2022

Never before we have seen we such a technological influence in the sport like in the last decade. This time it is not because of new discoveries of things that did not exist before, but for its implementation. It’s what specialists call incremental innovations which can increase the value of existing products. Smartphones and communication combined systems using computer Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have made it easier to add sensor data, chips, and measurement systems. 

What has meant a radical technological change in these years has been the adoption of open innovation by almost everyone in the professional world. A system that blends professionals and companies external to organizations to promote internal flow and external knowledge. This was transferred to the hubs most of the great teams and leagues in the world have today. Working with start-ups interested in developing products, design and functionality improvement was achieved. 

Hubs are not limited to teams and leagues. There are also a series of cities in the world that has started to position as leaders in sportstech innovation, measured by the total investment in these places and the amount reached in start-ups financing rounds. From 2015 the rank is led by New York, followed by Beijing, San Francisco, Wuhan and Guangzhou. Only London appears in the top 15 in Europe. 

Microchips and their implantation, smart balls, and trackers

For a decade, the big issue about data capturing and analysis using microchips has focused on where to place them. Chips in balls claim its ability to measure data which is difficult to obtain with other systems: spin rate, axis rotation, speed, trajectory and position. The other trend was to incorporate them into system the players take with them, adding their movement data, speed and physiological response. Both mean a direct asset for the coaching staff and the coach who are meant to improve individual and team’s abilities. 

The NFL was one of the first leagues incorporating the first option. It implanted chips in all its balls for every game. However, a better system for data collection has not been proven. Where we can find more useful results is in the identification of the aspects of the athletes’ movement that have the greatest incidence in causing injuries, as well as in the areas to work to recover from them and avoiding relapse.

The future landscape for chip systems is their evolution to be integrated in sports equipment, making them simpler and overcoming the electrical power feeding problem, an especially critical aspect in smart balls. 

Artificial intelligence in referee support systems

Currently, it is agreed that the most feasible technological solution to aid referees to be objective could be to place a wearable in players’ legs, or in other parts of their bodies depending on the sport. These wearables will determine their exact position aided by camera images. This is precisely what FIFA has done when authorizing the use of ChyronHego’s system in the Bundesliga and Premiere League training sessions. What’s is more, it will be experimentally used in Qatar 2022 games. 

The key difference of this incremental innovation is to reduce the waiting time for the analysis of situations out of the rules, and there is where the future improvement of all referee systems lies. 

Two keys for the difference between going and not going to the arena 

Every specialist agrees on the idea that live experiences are no longer interesting for fans if they cannot share them on networks and interact with other users. The use of mobiles is growing 70% yearly, and 5G implantation is often referred to as the tech resource to meet this demand.  As important as 5G to get it, is Wi-Fi 6, massively adopted in arenas all over the world last year to attract all the audience again after the pandemic. A clear example is Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse of Cleveland Cavalier (NBA) which has doubled the access points, giving each point simultaneous connectivity for 16,000 spectators with a speed of 25MB in each seat. Wi-Fi 6 provides the lanes for the great 5G motorway. 

This connectivity not only feeds the fan, but also feeds Big data, allowing behavior analysis and the addition of changes that upgrade the experience, and invite the fan to come back. In a decade the Super Bowl attendees have increased seven times the data exchange using the arena Wi-Fi. Similar increases have been seen in games all around the world. This flow of data will continue to grow, and it is a true treasure for sports planning if leveraged appropriately.

With that data, we approach the real key on the 2030 horizon. If in the last decade the transformation drives in sport were the devices, this decade leveraging their data will do the job. Interpretation, analysis, and use of data in strategic decisions will mark the change that is already taking place. 


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