Back in the grainy black and white days of sports, high tech was a coach in tight shorts holding an analog stopwatch. My oh my have sports and technology come a long way.
Technology in sports these days can mean dozens of things, from athletes using wearables to maximize training, television networks adding computer-generated graphics and augmented reality to broadcasts, franchises using AI to inspire more emotional fan interaction and active engagement, and education professionals featuring robotics and e-sports to a school’s curriculum.
Amateur and professional athletes are using wearables to enhance training, improve sleep patterns, and ensure hydration. Coaches and staffs are using the fastest computers available to crunch massive amounts of data to drive success and earn wins.
While most staffs are mum about their practices, citing competitive advantages, one coach has been a proponent of wearables on and off the field.
Football coach Chip Kelly, who has made stops at the University of Oregon, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, and is currently at UCLA, is one of the best-known proponents of nutritional, sleep, and athletic technology.
Kelly’s program is outlined in a fascinating Sports Illustrated article.
Shaun Huls, Kelly’s “mystery man,” began developing this program when he was working at Nebraska in the late 1990s. Huls has worked both with athletes and Navy SEALs. What made the Huls program unique was his use of data and performance to craft more effective training sessions that delivered more wins on the field.
Since the NFL and other professional teams — in the United States and around the globe — are copycats, these stories are going to become more regular.
Major League Baseball teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers are using AI to predict how players are going to perform in certain situations, where defenders should be positioned, and how pitchers should handle different hitters.
Auto racing teams use computers in the pits to identify cars that are flying by faster than the human eye can process.
At the same time, franchises are taking this technology off the field and into the stands to give fans better live event experiences.
By tapping into data collection and analysis tools, stadium operations departments are managing personnel, food, and inventory with greater efficiency. Additionally, fans can alert stadium personnel to problems with the facility or unruly crowds via social media channels or text messages right from their seats.
AI is also important outside of the stadium and is being used by chatbots to communicate with fans, offer ticketing information, and sending out game-action news.
Further, these teams are improving communication with fanbases and engagement using any number of social media tools or companies that crunch data, like FanThreeSixty.
Broadcasters are also catching the wave, using computer-generated graphics to increase interactivity and interest in a show, adding augmented reality to give viewers an inside look at a play, and utilizing the streaming technology to air events to a global audience.
One of the more exciting ways that sports and technology have come together is this new thing called e-sports – gamers competing in video games – and the more established robotics.
E-sports are booming and is expected to grow to a $1.65 billion industry by 2021. Large brands are spending money on sponsorships, major networks are broadcasting competitions, and teams are integrating gamers into their marketing efforts.
There are even colleges offering e-sports scholarships — Robert Morris University in Chicago —and summer camps for kids featuring e-sports programs.
Not only do e-sports add competition to the video game world, but they also give teams a way to extend their brand reach and build brand loyalty. And, some schools are reporting that these programs are improving attendance rates, grades, and reducing disciplinary issues.
Robotics offers a similar benefit to students, say experts. “Competitive STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs like FIRST Robotics teach the same 21st-century workforce skills of teamwork, communication, and perseverance — while developing technological workforce skills around mechanical design, assembly and computer programming,” said Chris Magee, a College and Career Academy coach at Guilford High School in Connecticut.
Just as technology is becoming more and more essential to everyday living, data and AI are having an impact on amateur and professional athletics both on the field and off. We might be a generation or two away from Jetsons-like robot athletes, but it sure appears we’re closer to that reality.