Tech could turn out to be the new sport. When men and machines, enabled by technology, compete for honours it can create a business opportunity worth billions and also captivate the world.
Online platforms are taking sport to a new level, enabling the youth to compete with the best. If their popularity grows at the current pace, some tech driven sport could soon be an Olympic sport. While that change is happening, a different set of people are using tech to improve the ability of athletes like never before.
Where there is tech, there is data. Companies are finding ways to monetise the data and build a new revenue stream. Little wonder, everyone wants to control the data being generated about the sport, players and their activities.
Data to be new revenue
Several companies and professional sports leagues have already been generating tonnes of data. The shoes and sporting gear of athletes across several sports have chips in them to generate data about their body. If the sport does not allow it, the athletes wear them during training to design specific programmes.
The ball and players uniforms for National Football League (NFL) have a chip on them, provided by Zebra Technologies, to generate data nearly every minute of the NFL match. Two years ago, NFL signed a deal with Whoop, a fitness tracking company that tracked the personal data of players. The deal allowed players to sell their data too.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) has announced a multiyear partnership to make DraftKings the authorised sports betting operator of the league. Others are sure to follow.
While grey areas around the sale and ownership of data are still to be sorted out, there is an emerging market for wearable data for players. A confrontation on the issue could happen as leagues and marketplace try to have a say regarding data that many claim belongs to the players and teams.
There is a tech factor that is enabling the industry as 5G is ready to roll out in the US. Verizon Communications, the largest wireless carrier, has now joined hands with casino giant MGM Resorts International to jointly offer sports betting opportunity for anyone who is game. Other telecom companies are also stitching similar deals.
For a small amount as a bet, people can be allowed access to the data to take a more informed bet about a player or a team. Better informed bets could, possibly, have a higher chance of winning! That’s the opportunity for players and teams to make some money.
Jostling for data
Sports betting has taken off in the US after its Supreme Court ruled that states had the authority to authorise the industry. Till the Supreme Court order in 2018, only the state of Nevada permitted sports betting and saw $4.8 billion, a record, being spent on betting in 2017.
The amount of money people are willing to wager on sport has definitely been mouth-watering. With about half the states in the US making it legal, the industry hopes it could hit $8 billion by 2025. If all the states permit sports betting, the industry size could be nearly double of that.
The Supreme Court ruling opened a new opportunity for tech companies. Major League Baseball pitchers can be found wearing a compression sleeve on their throwing arms. The sleeve collects biomechanical data for players to keep a track of their elbow stress. Players in football, baseball, hockey and other leagues wear wristbands that collect their personal data.
While players wearing them has become routine, coaches have taken it to the next level. The details of each player, some of which can be critical including trends, seasonal variations, are assiduously maintained so that their training schedule can be planned accordingly.
Suddenly, everyone wants to control the ‘critical information’ about the players. While some of this data is real time – when players are wearing the sleeve and in the thick of action – others is more passive data that indicates a trend. Sportsbook (https://www.sportsbook.ag), which accepts wagers from public and earns a commission against them, want to have access to the data.
The leagues does not want to let go of it, arguing that companies like Sportsbook should only use the official data provided by league approved distributors.
Tech-driven sports emerging
Tech is now helping new sports to emerge where data could be even more central to the idea of the competition, not to talk about the business it can generate.
Imagine Drone Racing as a professional sport. It has nearly 100 million viewers – people who are thrilled with the idea of machines zipping past the cameras on screen. The cameras mounted on the machines, which can travel at nearly 150 kilometres an hour, can be even more exciting to watch for some.
When some of the leading broadcasters like NBC Sport included it as part of their programming, the speed of the game caught the imagination of the youth.
Four years ago, the first cybathlon was held in Zurich, with 66 teams participating. 96 were to participate in the second edition but it has been put off due to the situation after COVID-19. People with various kinds of disabilities use robotics, technologies and exoskeletons to compete against each other. Think of it as a team of man and machine.
It also serves as a place where companies can demonstrate their work and the technology being developed for people who are specially-abled.
Money has always made the world go around. Now tech has taken over!
- Ashutosh Sinha is the founder of WordWiseWeb Media. Read his weekly column on the business of sport here. He can be connected on Twitter at ashutoshsinha00.