ITW Global > Blogs > SmartTech infusion may fuel a Sports Revolution

In a very generic sense, we often try and figure out why people adore the shape of a cricket-bat, or unlike few cricketers who like the smell of a shining cricket ball, or some would just fall in love with weight of a tennis racquet, or prefer specific material used for the badminton racquet for that matter. With decades of advancements, innovation & planning in manufacturing these equipment’s, we now have machines for cutting, pressing & shaping with a very little human involvement. This innovation with the evolution of technology has now taken a bigger step closer towards Technology Centric Sports Equipment (TCSE).

Concepts like bat-sense & smart-ball are on the verge of revolutionizing the way we look at cricket currently, with a potential to further enhance other sporting dimensions in the coming years, along with systems used by Abhinav Bindra Targeting Performance (ABTP) to ensure development & enhancement of an athlete’s performance, where science & technology work hand-in-hand. However, the impact of the adoption of such technology may extend beyond just the playing arena.

Post-liberalization economic reforms were a game changer for India’s growth rate in various sectors specifically, Information Technology (IT). It has been thriving with of course a few leaps and bounces. It is estimated that IT Industry will be a $5-trillion market globally, with a projected growth rate of 4% in 2019 as per Comptia IT Industry Outlook 2019 Report. According to the report, amongst 5-major categories where the Industry is focusing on, Device + Infrastructure which accumulates to about 22%, from a future investment perspective. Industry experts also, expect heavy investments in Emerging Tech like, Internet of Things (IoT) Hardware & Software, Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI) working in-sync with Big Data analytical engines for real-time response/feedback.

The sports ecosystem in India, which till date is not a full-fledged “Industry” is on a similar verge of expansion as the Global Sports Market surpasses the half a trillion-dollar benchmark (the market was estimated at $488.5 billion in 2018, having grown at a CAGR of 4.3% since 2014, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.9% to nearly $614.1 billion by 2022). The Indian market (for sports) is expected to be $10 Billion business by 2022. What could be driving the next phase of growth is the TCSE segment. 

With such developments & technological advancements in sports in recent times  like The Weather Company powered by IBM (who work towards weather forecasting for various tournaments), or SAP Sports One (working towards analytical processing in real-time for international games and leagues), the industry is at an inflection point. Athlete Performance Management platforms such as Catapult & STATSports are working towards athlete monitoring, performance management and injury prevention for peak-performance and longevity. These trends are now converging.

The convergence presents a few strategic opportunities for organizations in the sports industry. We take a look at five key ones.

Sports Technology

First, where-in the overall development of sports as an entity or as a business has been looked & thought about, most famously through the book by Michael Lewis, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (2003) and its movie adaptation Moneyball (2011). The framework of “assembl[ing] a baseball team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated statistical analysis to acquire new players” is still considered to be the Holy Grail for franchise owners and sports management professionals who sparked the analytics revolution as well as explored sports from a different perspective. The Moneyball lesson is about to get supercharged.

Which brings us to the second-strategic-angle. It is the depth to which the companies have gone to for the innovation which gets the, technology talking the language of sports. Data collection in the desired format was one of the major concerns for analysts and researchers, and for some dimensions of sports, this riddle is yet to be solved. Just the way, Moneyball approach changed the views of teams and their way of spending to acquire players, platforms like Stance Beam, SmartCricket.com, and Spektacom are changing the way we currently look at cricket. They are working on bat-sense technology which would give us instant details such as bat-trajectory, bat-speed, power in each shot and a few more depending on which organization we are associating with. SportCor tends to work on smart-ball concept which would help us get details specific to ball trajectory, ball speed, spin of the ball, degree of deviation for each delivery, etc.

Imagine these technologies being used in cricket along with existing systems to be more accurate and precise. In our perspective, this is the third-strategic-angle “collaborations & partnership opportunities” which would indirectly or directly help in viewership as people are willing to dive deep-down into technical aspects of game, whether it be associated with players, fans or the umpires or match officials. One of the best possible situation, we could probably think of is Cricket, where smart-ball concept works hand-in-hand with Hawk Eye’s Decision Review System (DRS) in order to reduce the probability of occurrence of errors (if  any), in the first place.

The fourth-strategic-angle is individualized & performance specific called Player Performance Management. Platforms like Catapult & STATSports are already working for peak-performance and injury prevention while managing the player workload. Example: Australia using Catapult, and India using STATSports wearable devices. We believe, in no-time these technologies will further be used in various other dimensions of sports like TrackMan (Golf) who have been delivering premium golfing experience with the visually appealing insights and performance measures for people to try and match them, not matter if they are playing it for the first time. Similarly, bat-sense technology conceptualizers would now be thinking about customizing the platform for sporting dimensions other than cricket, which can generate a bit of interest and would surely help in more viewership and visibility.

Last but not the least, the fifth-strategic-angle & the most important one is commercialization. How can these organizations sustain while making a relevant difference to the world sporting community? The answer to that can be making smart-bats concept, a viable option for Tennis, Hockey, Table Tennis, Javelin throw, Squash as well. The strategy would be very similar for smart-ball concept, as they have an identical target-market like Hockey, Table Tennis, Squash, Football, Basketball, Volleyball, Throw-ball, etc. For Catapult & STATSports the possibility to be associated with players like Michael Phelps, Usain St Leo Bolt or Roger Federer to know what it takes to be a Champion in numbers, seems to be a potential target.

There is a very interesting campaign started by International Olympic Committee (IOC) via Olympic Channel prior to Tokyo Olympics 2020,  called Is it possible, and the most recent episode is, Is It Possible for a Badminton shuttlecock to travel faster than 500 kmph?, featuring Carolina Marin Olympic Gold Medalist, RIO Olympics 2016.

One of the most recent examples of use of technology to enhance the quality of the sport by providing details in real-time is the “Chengdu Airlines 2019 ITTF Men’s World Cup. (See Images)

ITTF 2019 Men's World Cup
Screen grab from Hotstar | QF-30th Nov 2019 | HARIMOTO Tomokazu vs NIWA Koki.
ITTF 2019 Men's World Cup
Screen grab from Hotstar | SF-1st Dec 2019 | HARIMOTO Tomokazu vs Ma Long.

What if, smart-ball concept & bat-sense technology is customized for Badminton? Isn’t it something spectacular to know how much power does a woman (Olympian) applies for a smash, or what racquet trajectory, speed, and position she has for angle she creates to gain advantage in a set. With BWF’s Long-Term Sports Development approach of AirBadminton & AirShuttle, the customized smart-tech would probably work in favor of the Sport.

Can the ability of these TCSE’s to share numbers & analytical findings be used as a benchmark to train, educate & create role models out of the young-professional looking forward to be a World Champion, or be one of the Greatest of All Times (GOAT), while being commercially relevant & sustainable? The acceptance or denial of International Federations, National Federations, players & the fans, would be the best judge on dependency of Sports on technology, and innovation in the field of Information Technology.

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