The Future of Sports Technology

Picture this: you are at the edge of your seat cheering for your favourite team, the game is tied and it could go either way so every shot matters. Your favourite batsman understands the enormous pressure on him and gets ready to face the challenge. The bowler delivers the ball and the batsman tries to hit it but the opposing team claims  Leg Before Wicket. There is no way of verifying the appeal, it is completely up to the umpire on the ground. He rules  Leg Before Wicket and the batsman is forced to walk out at the very peak of his game. 

This was the situation a mere 20 years ago. Since different camera angles and bat sensors were not used, any controversial decision was subject to human fallacy. That is not to say that the umpires back then were incompetent, they did the best they could and most of the calls they made were correct. But there always is scope for human error and errors of judgement in such situations that could lead to less than desirable results.  Today, however, we cannot imagine watching a cricket game without a replay showing all possible perspectives or Hawk-eye technology that can predict the trajectory of the ball. 

Hawk-eye Technology used to predict the trajectory of the ball

Today, we use a lot of tech to ensure the right call is made. From using myriads of camera angles to using neuroscience to prepare players  for a game, over the last few decades, technology has unknowingly become a fundamental aspect of the sports industry.  

In 2022, the sports technology market was estimated to be worth $21.9 billion and is projected to be valued at a whopping $41.8 billion by 2027 with an annual growth rate of 13.8%. The main driver of this growth is increased investment in artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, the Internet of Things (IoT), and 5G technology. Innumerable organisations plan on adopting these technologies for engaging audiences, training athletes, and making improvements in the sport itself.

Engaging audiences

Sports would not enjoy the status it does today if it weren’t for the diehard fans. Sports fans are devout customers, therefore engaging audiences is essential to retain and increase valuable revenue. Sports companies, teams, and media outlets try to create experiences that boost the enjoyment and passion of ardent supporters. Innovations in this arena cover two major aspects:

  • Enhancement of the stadium experience: After the pandemic, the concept of a no-contact stadium experience was introduced. This includes digital tickets and facial recognition software to verify the identity of the viewers, trackers on smartphones to help people navigate their way around the stadium, stadium Wi-Fi that fans can connect to so they don’t miss out on any of the action, and manned drones delivering snacks that minimise the physical contact even further.
  • Bringing the stadium experience to the home of the audience: The shrinkage of stadiums due to millennial viewing habits has not gone unnoticed. Businesses are attempting to capture the stadium environment at home using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology. AR is used to create an immersive viewing experience. It is possible to create an AR view of the playground and let people discover the specialities of the track and manoeuvre their way around a map to watch the different angles of the players and the game. 

AR technology for an immersive experience

Further, the conception of fantasy leagues was a brilliant strategy to make audiences feel more connected to their favourite teams and players. Fantasy leagues are online prediction games that allow people to build their own virtual teams that compete for points depending on how well the players perform in the real world.

Training athletes

Advancements in this field aim to give athletes and coaches a clearer idea of what they should concentrate on. Smartwatches (like Fitbit) measure calories burnt, pulse, and heart rate, and smart clothing can measure breathing activity, postures, pace, and weight distribution. Data collected from these devices helps analyse every aspect of a player’s performance. Using AR graphics and AI technology, coaches can track the live movements of the players and easily evaluate them. In addition to physical training, advancements in neuroscience assist in training the mind. A Halo headband sends pulses that help neurons fire together and trains the athlete’s brain for exercise and a big game.

Neuro training  of Athletes

Changing the Game

There have been advancements that alter the dynamics of the game. Drones were used to film a high school basketball match in the US. Teams, spectators and officials all had new perspectives on the game which affected the judgement calls made by referees. Exterior elements are not the only things that are changing, interior aspects such as the balls, racquets etc. are changing as well . The ball utilised in the FIFA World Cup2022 had sensors for spatial positioning. Recently, they 3D printed an airless basketball that didn’t need to be inflated!

3D printed basketball

Development in sports technology has also focused on sustainability. Professional competitions must adhere to stringent rules, which means a lot of sporting goods are wasted. Efforts are being made to ensure sustainable materials are used to produce sports goods. Formula 1, the epitome of technological development, switched to hybrid engines in 2014 with  an aim to reduce its carbon footprint, much to the disappointment of the fans. Call it nostalgia or devotion to the legacy of the engines that came before the V6, fans and racing purists detested the sound of the new hybrid engines. They drove up costs and dispelled potential investors from the sport. 

Evolution of Formula 1 engines

The widespread criticism concerning the expanding use of technology in all facets of life has not spared sports. Different stakeholders feel using advanced technology would slow down the game. Some are against the idea of smart clothing and watches collecting every data point of an athlete’s performance stating that it is an invasion of privacy. Another major problem lies in the unnecessary direction that sports development takes. Critics embody the philosophy of if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Despite the censure, development in sports technology is inevitable. There are a variety of cutting-edge  technologies to look forward to in the future which will change the nature and dynamics of sports, hopefully for the better. Unsurprisingly, AI technology is the most intriguing development to watch out for and deservedly so. 

-Vaishnavi Ganpule
F.Y B.Sc

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