Sports have come a long way over the centuries. They went from being played on dirt fields to being played in multimillion-dollar high-tech arenas. The first ancient Olympic Games took place in 776 BC hosting only 6 sports and with only Greek male participants. Today, the modern Olympic Games host over 50 sports with over 200 nations represented. It’s not just the Olympic Games that have changed, the entire world of sports has changed, and technology has played a significant role in how and where fans view sports, how athletes train, and how coaches coach.
How Fans Consume Sports
Technology has changed the way fans consume sports, making the viewing experience more available, convenient, and immersive. In the past, nothing beat heading out to the stadium and watching the big game live and in person. There was the feeling of community standing along with all of the fans and rooting for the same team. But with the skyrocketing parking and concession prices, uncomfortable chairs with no leg room, and lack of close-up instant replays, live sports have become less appealing, and fans are finding other ways to enjoy their favorite games.
As sports and entertainment technologies advance, it’s becoming more comfortable and convenient to watch the games at home rather than at a stadium. Viewers are not only able to watch the sports game in front of their TV, but they can also take the game wherever they go on any device with live streaming services and sports apps. NBC won gold for their multi-channel digital broadcast for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, making the world sports events accessible on multiple platforms and devices the entire time.
A big part of the excitement of watching sports is being able to watch it live. NBC announced that the 2018 Winter Olympics would be covered live in all time zones, so viewers no longer have to stay off social media avoiding spoilers or have to wait until the game airs in their time zone to find out the results. Other sports organization, like the NBA and NFL, are also providing access to online live streams to make live sports coverage as available as possible.
Second Screens Experiences
In addition to extensive sports coverage provided by sports networks, technology is changing how viewers spend their time consuming sports, and it encourages multi-channel engagement. More than 88% of U.S. consumers use a mobile device while watching TV. This second screen behavior does not distract from the game but enhances engagement for sports programming. Fans note that they use second devices while watching sports to look up stats and scores and engage with social media to catch the reactions of their friends. 44% of viewers use their device to stay up to date on what’s happening with other games.
The Immersed Fan
Another technology that can take the viewer experience one step further is virtual reality. The FOX Sports Skycam allows football fans to watch the game live through the FOX Sports VR app and communicate and interact with the other fans’ avatars. VR creates an immersive experience for fans that combines the comfort of watching at home with the excitement of being in the stadium with other fans.
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How Pro-Athletes Train
Technology has not only changed how viewers at home consume the game, but it also changed how athletes train for and play the game. Athletes are stronger and faster than they’ve ever been, with athletes shattering world records year after year. Technology helps sports evolve and transforms what athletes wear, how they train, and how athletes perform over time.
In some sports, the difference between first place and second is a thousandth of a second and uniforms are being modified to reduce drag and increase speed. For example, Speedo developed the LZR RACER in 2007 which helped 21 swimmers break Olympic World Records. The suit was banned after the 2008 Beijing Olympics because it was thought that the technology provided too much of an advantage for the swimmers wearing the suit and even said to be comparable to doping.
Another example of how technology has improved athletic gear is in football helmets. In a sport where players are prone to injuries and concussions, football mandates that players wear a helmet at all times. One helmet, created by Riddell, is loaded with sensors that notify coaches when a player may have incurred an injury so that the coach can plan accordingly to take the player out of the game. Other helmets are currently being developed that detect and disperse the force, decreasing the chances of a concussion.
Virtual Reality Training
Technology also enhances how athletes train for the big game. Professional athletes spend hours each day training on the field and in the weight room which can be extremely straining on the body and without adequate rest, all of the physical training hours can hurt their performance on game day. Some professional and college football teams are turning to an alternate training method with virtual reality. A Stanford lab developed an immersive virtual reality experience that simulates defensive plays for football training. They found that after the virtual reality training, quarterbacks improved their decision making by 30% and made decisions one second quicker.
Technology is becoming smaller and smarter, and wearable technologies like FitBits and Apple watches are becoming commonplace for individuals to track their fitness levels. Aside from tracking stats like how many miles you covered or how many calories you burned today, wearables have great potential for professional athletes. The Golden State Warriors, a team with close ties to Silicon Valley and its booming tech, has been experimenting with Athos, a smart clothing company that uses sensors to collect muscle data and heart rate so athletes can track their muscle activity during training and optimizes their performance.
How Coaches Coach
Instead of repeating the same drills over and over again during training, technology gives coaches a new perspective on what to focus on for each player. Coaches utilize technology to analyze data on their own players as well as their opponents too.
Before the roster is even filled, the coaching staff uses virtual reality to recruit players. The University of Michigan is using VR content to give prospective players a look into a typical day of a team member or a game day experience. This immersive experience helps prepare the athlete for what to expect when joining the team.
Coaches have long been using cameras to record game activity so they can go back to the footage and analyze where strategy can be improved. But that was limited to fast forwarding, rewinding, and pausing the footage. With more improved camera and playback technology, Sportscode gives coaches the ability to design code to break down the video reel and track specific metrics for individual players.
3D Motion Capture
In addition to watching a video reel to spot errors, coaches can use 3D motion capture technology to track the exact movements of a player in real time. The Chicago Cubs use motion capture technology by KinaTrax and their pitcher’s mound is equipped with cameras to capture every motion and produce a frame by frame 3D image of the pitch. They use this technology to analyze and improve pitching performance. It might be a coincidence, but they did go on to win the 2016 World Series.
The Future of Sports and Tech
Advancements in technology have proven to greatly improve the viewing experience for fans, change the way athletes train and perform, and improve the strategy of coaches. Sports technology is working harder so athletes can train smarter. With sports colliding with tech, where can it go from here? Viewing experiences will only become more captivating, and wearable athletic technology will only become useful. Tomorrow’s athletes will run quicker miles, swim faster laps, and throw balls with more accuracy than today’s athletes by using technology to gain that extra edge.
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