The Internet of Things (IoT) is beginning to revolutionize aspects of sports, from enhancing gameplay itself to creating a more engaging fan experience.
IoT concepts become ingrained in sports very quickly. While the most traditional sports can be slow to embrace significant technological change, once they have been accepted, then they quickly become an integral part of the game.
Using video technology to support referees and using Wi-Fi analytics to improve customer experience may have sounded ludicrous at one point, but it is now their absence that would invite outrage.
Deloitte identifies three key ways in which sporting organizations are utilizing IoT to improve the experience for both players and fans.
That third method is exclusively directed at the fans, with IoT being deployed to improve the stadium experience for crowds. Yet, there is a fear that increased use of technology in the game itself actually makes the fans more detached from the action.
Helpful for referees but bad for fans?
This is one of the fears that has made soccer reticent to wholeheartedly embrace VAR, a Video Assistant Referee review system that seeks to significantly reduce the number of incorrect decisions and ensure that all on-field misdemeanors are punished in real time.
The Premier League has recently announced that it will follow in the footsteps of top-flight soccer leagues in Italy and Germany by introducing VAR for the 2019/20 season.
Two recent glaring referee errors involving English clubs have created a more receptive audience to VAR. Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling was awarded a penalty in a Champions League clash against Shakhtar Donetsk despite having unwittingly tripped himself up.
The 52,000 fans present for City’s 6-0 win could likely see what had happened, yet the referee elected to give a penalty.
Southampton’s Charlie Austin then unleashed a passionate tirade against the referee who denied his relegation-threatened club a crucial goal. His animated interview inevitably attracted the attention of meme makers, but for Southampton that erroneous decision could be the difference between relegation and survival.
Teams like Manchester City can mostly survive if key decisions don’t go in their favour. Their status as 7/2 favorites for the Champions League reflects how they can afford to ride out any refereeing errors in the competition’s early stages, although so far the referees have helped the balance of power to swing even further in City’s favour with the Sterling decision.
For a club like Southampton that is desperately trying to accumulate enough points to avoid relegation, a refereeing error can be far more damaging. The hope is that VAR will eradicate almost all of the contentious decisions by officials.
The Guardian has reported how VAR seeks to create a 2% reduction in errors in order to ensure a fair result is achieved, but fans in the stadium are kept in the dark during the review process.
Using analytics to get to know the crowd
This undermines the euphoric moment of celebrating a goal, although there are other less obtrusive ways in which IoT is enhancing the in-stadium experience for fans.
A growing number of NFL stadiums are providing Wi-Fi to allow crowds to remain connected. Those teams can then analyze fans’ Wi-Fi usage in the stadium in order to understand their crowds and tailor promotional campaigns and incentives accordingly.
Extreme Networks reported how fans in the stadium for the Super Bowl in 2017 worked through a record-breaking 11.8 TB of mobile data, while Tech Republic detailed how data usage rose by a further 48% for this year’s match.
That Wi-Fi is essential to cater for the plethora of fans using their smartphones to post photos. Other uses of IoT in the stadium that engage crowds include letting fans requesting additions to the arena’s music playlist, with Boston Bruins facilitating this through a hashtag in 2015 to the joy of Justin Bieber fans.
AT&T explicate the practical uses of IoT in stadiums, suggesting that arenas can become smart venues that guide fans to their seats and make purchasing food and merchandise a more efficient experience.
Making sport safer
While technology is usually associated with adding bells and whistles to an existing experience, IoT can also prove instrumental in safeguarding that most fundamental quality: health.
Digital Trends have compiled some of the leading smart helmets, with features ranging from a safer music experience when cycling to augmented reality creating a better understanding of the environment.
Technology is also protecting football players. The debate over concussion is inevitable given the nature of the sport, but the helmets developed by the Columbia University Irving Medical Center can detect concussion as it happens and will alleviate some of the health risks.
Wearable IoT has benefits for cognitive sporting development as a whole, with IBM acknowledging how new technology is enabling professional and casual athletes alike to monitor their training and recovery with greater depth.
The IoT continues to revolutionize sports, as well as other aspects of life. While some changes may be jarring at first, there is no doubt that IoT’s influence will continue to grow. From making athletes safer to making fans more engaged, technology is now an integral part of sports.