How Wearable Technology Will Change Sports

New technology represents a critical advantage in analytics.

Tanner Simkins
Tanner Simkins
Apr 3, 2014 at 1:41PM
The Business

Last month at the Vancouver TED conference, Google chief executive Larry Page challenged company leaders to think big. He explained that stagnation is plaguing innovation, a sort of staleness of ideas. Page added, "especially in technology, we need revolutionary change." 

Advanced player tracking

Although billionaire entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban falls short of Page's idea to send people to Mars, he is still transforming how sports and technology blend. Cuban is pioneering the use of elaborate GPS tracking devices in the NBA. These hi-tech devices measure hundreds of data points, everything from acceleration to biometrics. They are discreet and nearly weightless, commonly used under a waistband for example. This enables the devices to be worn and collect data during training and games. This data can be mined to identify countless performance benchmarks, improve game strategy, "make teams smarter, and keep players on the court more," Cuban told the Australian Financial Review. "It also may save a career or even a life on the way."

Catapult Sports, the Australian company that makes the wearable sensors, heralds the visionary Cuban and the Mavericks as its first major U.S. sports client. Now the technology is used by NHL teams, some football teams like the Cowboys, in addition to more international sports like cricket and rugby. Cuban said, "Wearable analytics will be a critical advantage in pro sports and eventually ... in business."

He is so committed to the space and the world's leading provider, Catapult, that he has purchased an equity stake in the company. Cuban could be on to something here -- prospective clients include hundreds of university athletic programs and the thousands of sports teams and leagues – all with deep pockets.

The 'wearables' phenomenon is big business

Twitter: @mcuban                       

There are reality interfaces like Google Glass, fitness bracelets like Fitbit, an Apple smart watch on the way, and many more devices on the market. As the technology improves, these devices will continue to combine features and increase potential application. Another NBA owner (and fellow billionaire) Vivek Randivé already has added tech infrastructure to the Sacramento Kings. He is also committed to Goggle Glass and the creative use of wearables to engage fans, in what he calls "NBA 3.0."

The wearable market is heavily invested in by multinational apparel companies like Adidas, Nike, and Reebok. Catapult is attracting capital daily and has only this technology to focus on. Therefore experts believe the Australian company holds an advantage in the space.

Investors like Cuban could license the technology to the interested brands and properties. As Catapult Chairman Adir Shiffman stated, "[Cuban] will act in an advisory role and will help open doors for us to speak to new clients," adding "we're on the way to being a billion-dollar company."

Change in sports

Sports science and analytics is a growing field. Whether fans are looking for a deeper breakdown of the game or teams are pursuing performance improvements, leagues have committed to being a part of it. Through its advanced media division, MLB is partnered with Bloomberg Sports. The NBA has a relationship with SportVU. The results are very similar to Catapult devices except done with optical-tracking cameras. They equip advanced digital cameras in the sporting venue that monitor the coordinates of the players. Much like with the wearable devices, the cameras collect vast amounts of data. Then the raw data is analyzed by a series of algorithms that quantify player movement and live action.

The Catapult wearable technology is well positioned to supplement the visual data from an analytics perspective. This can all be done in real-time to an iPad on the bench (depending on league rules), enabling smarter decisions from the coaching staff. 

Whether for professional athletes or for the weekend warrior, wearables are the hot tech item for performance analysis. They also are able to provide insights on recovery times and injury prevention. 

Catapult's technology is currently in use by over 300 teams across the globe. "Teams become very proficient very quickly with generating reports and numbers that have the potential to be useful. The real power lies in helping teams understand how this data can be useful and how it can evolve practice and thinking.... The advantage of having our data is that the arguments from players or other staff members is removed because the data is objective," said Product Development Manager Michael Regan in a release.

Perhaps more important, the devices have preferred revenue opportunities. These include distribution across all sectors of professional, amateur, and youth sports, direct to consumer sales, licensing to the many interested brands, and more. The nature of the technology allows for a marquee athlete or tastemaker to sponsor the product, should a consumer version be developed. This new era of sports business, armed with technology and deep analyses, is the "revolutionary change" Larry Page has called upon. Firms like Catapult and visionaries like Cuban lead the charge.