Wearing to Win: Wearable Technology In Sport

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Kieran Loftus, Director, Puzzle Sport

By Kieran Loftus, Director, Puzzle Sport

Technology has fundamentally changed sport, adapting the sports we spend hours watching. Gone are the days when we’d make uneducated assumptions on how a player is performing.  Through technology we are now able to make calculated decisions on our favourite players with stats being relayed to us throughout broadcasting.

Wearable technology is become heavily ingrained into professional sports, allowing adverse metrics to be taken into account and utilised within training and allowing for real-time decisions to be made subsequently.

Football has seen a vast change since its beginning, with so much technology being used to enhance the game not only for players but for spectators too. Players and clubs aren’t permitted to use wearable technology in competitive matches, but the International Football Association Board (IFAB) are discussing the use of wearable technology in the future.

Tech company Stat Sports created the Viper Pod, a device widely used throughout the sporting world with football teams such as Barcelona, Manchester United, Arsenal as well as rugby teams Ulster and the England National team. Weighing less that 50g, the device is mounted onto a vest and contains a GPS module, accelerometer, gyroscope, digital compass and heart rate monitor. These metrics are then transferred to other devices which enable coaches to make real-time decisions dependent on the player’s real-time performance.

Aside from creating some of the most innovative wearable tech, in 2014 Irish-based Stat Sports sponsored League One team Coventry City FC. The deal allowed Coventry City, unparalleled access to Stat Sports wearable tech an insight that some of the world’s best teams have access to, and in return gave Stat Stats the centerpiece position on both home and away playing kits. Whilst Stat Sports no longer sponsor specific teams, their previous foray into sponsorship will no doubt have had a positive influence, allowing smaller clubs access to top of the range wearable tech products.

Wearable technology has also been created for goalkeepers that helps monitor and optimise their performance. The Catapult OptimEye G5 enables users to track goalkeepers movement as well as movement speed and a host of other stats. Catapult have made a host of other devices including the OptimEye S5, that allow for position-specific stats creating “fingerprints” for ranging positions which can be managed and altered. The device can also track acceleration, direction, position and probably the most crucial is the impact of collisions, all at a rate of 800-900 data points per second, helping to mitigate the circumstances that conclude in injury.

Catapult Sports although providing wearable technology for elite sports and athletes, has allowed audiences from ranging sports to better understand the products, services and data that Catapult Sports deliver by releasing ‘Webinars’.

Similar to Stat Sports, partnership deals have been made with some of the biggest teams in the world across ranging sports, including the likes of Leicester City Football Club. Although no sponsorship deals have been made with Catapult Sports and other sports teams, the potential for Catapult to integrate themselves further within the sporting industry permits. With the increased emphasis of sponsors producing content to enhance fan engagement, and Catapult Sports and Stat Sports holding the insights into intricate player performance data, the opportunity for unique, engaging and creative content permits itself to potential investors.

Catapult have partnered with Stats LLC, a pioneer in technology and content, to provide streamlined performance data for clubs and their athletes within the NBA and college basketball in the USA. Similarly, other sports have incorporated have incorporated technology and data-based companies to help improve performance aspects as well as fan engagement, such as; the MLB have partnered with Bloomberg Sports and the NBA has links with SportVU.

The data-based links are not currently sponsored… for now. The impact technology has had with wearables and performance analytics presents opportunity for investment and sponsorship deals. Sports underlying influence throughout society presents direct opportunity for engagement with fans and spectators, that will no doubt become a tangible and lucrative position.

American Football is well-enveloped in the technology explosion that’s taking over sport. Last year, the NFL announced that they would be able to track players’ performance and then broadcast those stats to TV screens enabling viewers and supporters to track individual players, enhancing the fan experience. Currently unsponsored, the data that is broadcast elicits the opportunity for brands to showcase their image through the means of technology and sponsorship opportunities. The viewership alone stands as a calling card for brands to present their interest and conform to the technological based surge.

Between on-field tracking, to improved safety and tactical HUDs, wearable technology is being incorporated into every aspect of modern Grid Iron. Not only are the stats aiding the coaches, who can make esteemed decisions dependent on in performance stats, but the data offers fans an unprecedented insight into the game. The stat-based demeanor of American Football has helped the NFL gain such prominence in its fantasy league compared to other sports, with fans able to act as coaches, relying on in-game data.

Much like football the NFL has latched onto the Viper Pod with teams such as the Cincinnati Bengals, the Carolina Panthers and the Chicago Bulls all making use of the innovative technology. Though mainly based around performance, wearable technology is being used to help mitigate the risk of injury. An increased amount of emphasis has been placed upon player safety within American Football, with increased technology enabling more detailed reports on players’ health, more technology is being created to ensure player safety throughout the season.

The VICIS helmet has been produced to aid player safety reducing the risk of concussion for the players. The helmet uses some of the latest technology to ensure the minimal impact is endured on the athlete's head; an intricate structure to the shell allows the shell of the helmet to deform slightly with impacting, spreading the lessening the stress of point of impact.

Reebok, in conjunction with tech company MC10 also released an innovative piece of technology to help with concussions in the game, called CheckLight. The technology measures the force of impact that is put on the players which then presents a coloured light dependent on whether the player needs to be assessed.

Partnering with Reebok, MC10 allowed themselves considerable go forward through the partnership and also allowed for partnership and sponsorship deals to be made with American Football players, such as Andrew Luck in 2013 who enabled the MC10 Checklight to grow in popularity and has enabled teams to monitor concussion further.

As with American Football, player safety in rugby has been the focal point for wearable technology with concussion featuring prominently in today’s games. Concussion has been a huge talking point in recent seasons and increased emphasis has been placed on player safety and ensures the correct recovery is taken place.

London-based team Saracens have been wearing the xPatch created by Seattle-based company X2 Biosystems. The device is able to record the force and the angle of impacts made to the player’s head during training or a match. Measurements of each can provide detailed data logs and can help the doctors and coaches decipher the best course of action to take. In 2013 research was carried out by the Auckland University of Technology where amateur teams in New Zealand were recorded wearing the high-tech X2 mouthguard which measured direct impacts to individuals heads as well as rotational acceleration of the brain. These devices are still in the early ages of development, but no doubt these devices will become commonplace in the sport.

Over 9 teams in the Aviva Premiership use Catapults OptimEye S5 device enabling enhanced performance as well as the ability to mitigate risk. The clip-on device measures heart rate, velocity, distance covered, acceleration and impact force which can further determine whether the wearer is susceptible to risk when sent to coaches and doctors for further analysis.

Under Armour have partnered with tech company Zephyr to create the E9 Compression Shirt which is able to provide metrics on the wearer’s cardiac activity, their anaerobic threshold as well as their aerobic capacity and skin temperature. Using fabric electrodes, the wearable technology can sense when a player is becoming dehydrated and can prevent players from getting heatstroke with its temperature monitor.

One of the latest consumer wearable devices available is the TomTom Touch Fitness Tracker, which has the ability to read a person’s body composition. Using some of the latest technology, the device sends electrical impulses through the user’s body that measure the amount of muscle and fat in the body. Lean muscle tissue conducts electrical impulses quicker than fat in the body; readings that can not be found when stepping onto a scale.

Sponsorship activity within elite sport wearables is seemingly minimal, but consumer wearables is ripe with sponsorship activations. In August 2016, Fitbit signed a deal with New York Road Runners, in an attempt to encourage runners to participate in ‘enriching community-building activities and to use Fitbit’s platform of activity trackers and mobile tools to perform their very best at the TCS New York City marathon. The sponsorship link enabled Fitbit users to follow the training regime of the Fitbit ambassador, and current American record holder for the marathon, Ryan Hall.

In 2014, wearable tech provider Garmin teamed up with popular event, Tough Mudder. Garmin seeked to branch out from their already sponsored marathons and triathlons and envelope themselves within the widely appreciated obstacle course. Their Fenix 2 wearable was the focal point in the collaboration as Garmin aimed to provide Tough Mudder users with the ultimate training watch for those preparing themselves for “probably the toughest event on the planet”. Garmin also took the lead partner and sponsor role of the Paris Marathon back in 2014, that enabled Garmin to provide participants with wearable tracking devices that enabled for accurate race times and were compatible with a range of other Garmin wearables.

As wearable tech still remains a relatively new feature in sports, and an elitist feature in many sports, the use of sponsorship could trigger an enlarged aspect of fan engagement. The use of branded content through sponsorship deals could play a pivotal role in introducing sport-specific wearable tech to the masses.

Wearable technology in sport has become commonplace with teams across multiple sports looking to gain advantages and improve performance and mitigating risks of injury. Not only in sport, but for many users, the use of activity trackers and wearable devices that measure a range of metrics have proved that wearable devices are allowing users to track, monitor and improve performance and well-being. While there may be a gulf in metrics between professional sport and user devices, no doubt that bridge will be gapped allowing users to monitor intricate metrics allowing for best possible results.

Across all levels of sport, wearable technology is becoming a prominent feature throughout. As such, business and revenue opportunities allow for the likes of marquee athletes and large sports brands to sponsor such technology and continue with the current revolutionary change within sports. The larger brands in sport, such as Adidas, Nike and Reebok all have made themselves known within the wearable tech realm, but still stand in the wake of tech-based companies such as Catapult, who only have one induvial focus… tech. That being said, the opportunity permits itself for the likes of such big sporting brands to use their privileges within the sporting world with wearable-tech companies, and tap into the markets ranging from the elite athletes to the Sunday-league players. Viewership of sport throughout the world is vast, and with the technological advances seemingly in sense slowing down, the stat-based nature and performance analysis is quickly providing a larger amount of opportunities within technology and sport.

About Puzzle Sport

Puzzle Sport develops specialised digital offerings and experiences to the sports industry.  Our current roster includes clients such as:  Wembley, Aston Villa, LDN Muscle, Championship Manager 17, Ride 25 and 6Day London.

About Kieran Loftus

Kieran is the Director of Puzzle Sport.  A co-founder of Wear Your Support, with over 10 years of hardware innovation, he brings with him extensive knowledge from previous partnerships with Everton FC, Brentford FC, AFC Wimbledon and Kick it Out.