2016 has been quite the year in sports. Going against any predictive model, and any betting company’s predictions, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series and Leicester City won the English Premier League. Both triumphs will go down in sporting history as anomalous underdog stories, freak accidents that will be studied and emulated by any would-be over-achieving team.
Interestingly, though, stories have come out since their wins suggesting that both teams used data in interesting and innovative ways to drive their success stories. Data can, to an extent, level the playing field at the highest level of sport and, though data didn’t win either team their respective leagues, its influence shouldn’t be underestimated.
As we draw near to the end of a dramatic sporting year, here are the five key technological trends to be aware of heading into 2017.
Wearable tech diversifies
A trend that has made an impact on 2016 but will see an explosion in 2017 is the growth of wearable technology on the training ground and in the world of personal fitness. Of course, fitness tracking devices are already ubiquitous, but next year will see wearable technology diversify.
One potential new growth area is performance enhancing wearables. Halo, a US startup, has developed a pair of headphones that claim to stimulate a part of the wearer’s brain, improving performance and making the wearer more able to learn through repetition. With the wearable tech market at large set to be worth $34 billion by 2020 (according to Forbes), each of the next few years will see huge growth. 2017, though, will see the foundations laid for a more diverse range of wearable devices that will not only record performance, but enhance it.
More connected stadiums
Again, something pioneered in 2016 and set to explode in 2017 is the connected arena or smart stadium. The expectations of the sports fan have changed - no longer are those in the stands satisfied with a pint and a pie at half time, stadiums will need full connectivity and digitization to provide an experience worth the growing ticket prices.
The stadium of the future will see fans ordering food to their seats, being directed to the toilet with the shortest line, watching replays and keeping up with statistics in real-time, all through a mobile app. Data collection in these stadiums will be a focus too, as teams look to manage crowd flow and stock items more intelligently. Some European soccer teams have built new stadiums from scratch, but digital renovations can be made to existing arenas with relative ease. As the necessity for full connectivity becomes clear and fans demand a better experience, expect 2017 to be the year that a wave of digital renovation projects are made a priority.
VR and AR to see real world applications
VR and AR has been making waves primarily in gaming and home entertainment. The nascent technology is making movements into the world of sports, though, and will only become more diverse and more present in the 12 months to come. Deals between the NBA, the NFL and VR companies have already been struck, with the former working to offer fans one game a week in VR. The NFL is, similarly, set to release match highlights for VR. The technology has the capacity to bring fans closer to the game, it’s perfectly poised to take off.
Also interesting is how VR and AR could influence athlete training. Some coaching teams are using technology from companies like Beyond Sport and Strivr to virtually put their athletes into decision-making situations as part of training. With no sports organization wanting to be left behind by the competition, 2017 could be the year that VR makes a real impact on training.
Streaming to become smarter
In October 2016, news broke that some of the US and Europe’s most high-profile broadcasters had seen their viewing figures drop drastically. Having paid out record fees for the rights to stream the likes of the NBA or the NFL, broadcasters have found their viewers courted by online-only streaming services, both illegal and legal.
2017 will see these over-the-top services proliferate further, and traditional sports streaming services will have to become smarter to counter the growing threat from illegal streams and social media sites. Providers like iTunes, Vimeo On Demand and Amazon Instant Video allow customers to pay for individual pieces of content, and many are suggesting that sports streaming go down a similar route, with packages specific to a user’s preferred team, for example, set to become available. The battle for viewers will only ramp up in 2017, and traditional providers may be forced to changed their models in the face of competition.
TUE Scrutiny Means Teams Need Tech
In late 2016, hackers revealed that British cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins had been granted the use of a powerful corticosteroid to mitigate his asthma before three important races. Given recent scandals involving tennis star Maria Sharapova and cycling legend Lance Armstrong, it’s unsurprising that athletes are questioning the use of TUEs - Therapeutic Use Exemptions - and their potential abuse.
Calls for transparency for TUE usage will likely be answered, and scrutiny over their use will increase across sports. This means that in 2017, more than ever before, athletes and teams will be forced to chase marginal gains as the playing field is further levelled. Very few of those using TUEs are abusing them, that should be noted, but if the option is removed or heavily scrutinized it’ll be through innovative use of tech solutions that coaching teams and athletes find their edge.