If the use of data analytics is boiled down to its most basic form - the collection and consideration of previous numbers to inform future decision making - then sports has been a pioneering industry. For decades, the world of sport has fascinated over the figures. Ask any MLB batter how their season’s going and they’ll cite their batting average. A soccer team might be judged on their possession stats. Michael Jordan is still lauded for his regular season scoring average.
Sports delighted in numbers long before the data analytics revolution properly began, it’s just now that sports organizations are questioning which metrics are important. Batting average might not be as crucial to the success of an MLB team as on base percentage, for example. As that fascination with the numbers is channeled into more effective analysis, sports teams will gain an edge over their competition. They also begin to break up those successful numbers into smaller KPIs that can then be improved individually. And, now that all teams worth their salt have an analytics program in place, many are increasingly looking to innovative startups for an edge. As 2017 gets into full swing, we took a look at the startups being adopted by major teams.
On the field or court, it’s now more important than ever that teams collect data on their performances. For those without the luxury of advanced analytics teams, though, the process can be time consuming and arduous. Coaches would have to break a game film down themselves, logging stats and spotting trends, ready to give reports to his players the following day.
Krossover - which at this point primarily works with smaller basketball teams - allows coaches to upload game films and have all the data from it logged and visualized in 24 hours. The self-professed ‘Uber of sports’ employs semi-skilled, tech-savvy freelancers to log the data, with teams signing up on a season-by-season basis. If a startup could develop AI software intelligent enough to do the same job, it would be able to offer far cheaper rates but, for now, Krossover is any smaller team’s best bet.
Just as important as analytics on the field, fan analytics can help teams both provide a better experience for their supporters and increase match day revenue. Since data analytics’ introduction into sports, commentators have envisaged sports stadiums in which the fan can order from their seat, be directed to the bathroom with the shortest line, and watch replays in real-time. In fact, every new stadium built is described in terms of its digital capabilities.
One of the companies making this vision a reality is Tap.in2. The mobile app - adopted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the LA Lakers, and the LA Clippers, among others - is a platform for fans to order food, merchandise, drinks, and promotions to their seats. ‘Now, I can sit down and watch a soccer player warm up and see how he prepares for the game,’ says Jordan Sums, Tap.in2’s director of sales and marketing. ‘Seeing the pregame rituals, that’s the kind of stuff that makes your experience.’ It’s a technology made possible by the connected stadium, and will be backed by analytics to bring each fan a personalized experience.
Hardware and software startup ShotTracker essentially offers the same information as Krossover but in real-time. Exclusively for basketball, the company offers smaller teams the ability to track complete stats as the action is happening. Comprised of three components - a shoe sensor, a ShotTracker enabled ball, and court sensors installed in the rafters - which work together to track player and ball in three dimensions.
The information is then compiled on a tablet app, including individual player stats, shot charts, and suggested lineups. ShotTracker’s strength lies in its data visualization, which is clear and intelligent. Players can check their personal and team stats as soon as they leave the court, something only startups like ShotTracker make possible for smaller teams.
Sports sponsorships are, as OpenSponsorship themselves point out, a drastically under-utilized social media marketing tool. According to Catalyst, an athlete mentioning a brand on Facebook or Twitter makes that athlete’s fans 55% more likely to purchase from it. Yet marketing budgets are still not being put toward it, something OpenSponsorship is looking to change.
The startup promises to bring brands and influencers together, with packages ranging from $399 per month to $2500 per month. The most basic allows brands to message athletes and create campaigns, and the most expensive allows direct access to athletes and a dedicated account manager. For athletes, the company simply takes commission. OpenSponsorship isn’t a tech startup, but it’s looking to solve a long-standing problem that athletes are undervalued as influencers.