Sports fandom attached itself to me in my youth, and its power over me today is stronger than ever. As a child, I listened to radio broadcasts of my favorite team on a portable Walkman, and today, I listen to that same broadcast on a mobile app from 3,000 miles away. In the 1980s, I would wait for the local paper to arrive so I could check basic stats and track day-old news nestled within a few pages of newsprint. Today, I have access to unlimited possibilities for analysis and perspectives online.
Thankfully, those analog days are long behind me because technology is now truly at the heart of a multi-billion dollar sports industry, and the possibilities for fans and athletes alike are endless. Technology is changing sports every day, but here are four key areas to watch (click to tweet) now:
On a rainy February morning in San Francisco I watched an Oakland Athletics intra-squad game-that is, half of the roster playing against the other half in an empty Spring Training ballpark-via Periscope. In-between innings, an A’s employee took viewers into player conversations, coaching strategy sessions and much more, all with a smartphone camera. In the era of 24/7 sports consumption, this type of behind-the-scenes access creates deeper bonds between diehards and their favorite teams-along with the heightened expectations of always-on access. The question today isn’t whether we saw the game, it’s whether we know what our favorite players posted on Snapchat in the clubhouse. Fans have anytime, anywhere access and it’s only getting better. We’ve broken through the fourth wall and there’s no turning back.
The home field of the San Francisco Giants, and crown jewel of the San Francisco waterfront, boasts more than 1,600 Wi-Fi access points to keep fans connected to “second screen” game experiences-and whatever else they care to watch in the palm of their hand. Most stadiums lag behind (just try posting to Facebook across the bay at the Oakland Coliseum), but with connected devices on the rise (24 billion coming online by 2020), the strain of today’s mobile technology on data plans is real, and teams will need to find an answer to keep fans satisfied.
I recently attended a stadium event that centered on the intersection of technology and sports. Strivr Labs, a presenter at the event, is working with several NFL teams to create non-contact training exercises through virtual reality. Put on a headset and instantly, you’re standing on the field, calling plays and dancing through blitzing defenses. Amid the league’s struggle to combat injury, virtual reality holds the potential to prevent unnecessary injury, extending the careers and, quite possibly, the lives of the league’s players.
To ignore big data analytics would be a huge oversight, but it’s almost quaint to mention its impact in sports at this stage. A single game produces so much data and all teams now deploy advanced, proprietary tools to find their unique, competitive edge. Google analysts are migrating to big league front offices and Ivy League grads are finding a home in sports. Advanced algorithms have replaced old school counting stats and, to some extent, the eyes and experience of scouts. Big Data Ball has picked up where Moneyball left off-looking for that tear in the matrix-the hidden insight.
What’s next? Have I missed any technologies you’re following closely? Post them in the comments section below!