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How tech is transforming sports 

Make no mistake, technology has as significant an impact on sports as it does on anything else in life, and there are even more dramatic times ahead. 

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It’s a given that technology has changed many aspects of the world around us and the way we live our lives almost beyond recognition. Traditional offices are heading for obsolescence, replaced by networking spaces for times when we need to collaborate with others, and with working from the sofa at home when we don’t. Social media is our primary way of keeping up with friends. We do all our banking from a smartphone app. The list goes on and on.

When it comes to sport, however, it’s easy to make the mistake of seeing it as something a little outside the technological revolution. People talk about playing or watching sport as an alternative to, for example, streaming a movie or playing FIFA or eSport on a console. It is as if sport is part of the pre-digital world that we need to either work to conserve or figuratively speaking, mothball up and consign to a museum.

When you really think about it, however, that preconception simply doesn’t hold water. Sports is evolving with the times like everything else, and technology is bringing about some genuine game-changers. 

It’s all about the data

Sports and statistics – it’s a partnership made in heaven, and the die-hard fans love nothing more than poring over the numbers. It’s a phenomenon you see across every sport imaginable from football to baseball to horse racing to golf. This is the age of big data analytics, so those sports statisticians can go to town like never before. 

That’s one thing from the perspective of a fan who will lap up data on how Tom Brady’s completion stats stack up when he has had lasagna the night before compared to steak. But from a team perspective, there is more to it than fun facts and drawing trends out of nowhere. 

Combining data analytics software with IoT tech such as tracking devices in shoes and helmets opens up a world of information, and with that comes opportunity. Insights show where performance gains can be made, or perhaps where talent is being underutilized. 

But does all this data crunching really make a difference? To answer that question, just look at the Golden State Warriors. They have gone from the whipping boys of the NBA to the team everyone wants to beat. Their transformation is one that has astonished the sports media world, but at heart, it all comes down to not only building a great team but using data to make it even better.

It all began with owner Joe Lacob’s son Kirk Lacob trialing data analytics with the G-league farm team, the Santa Cruz Warriors. The results were so impressive that he was soon on the staff at Golden State, working his tech magic, and the results have been plain for all to see.

Changing the way we watch

It doesn’t seem so long ago that we would routinely gather around the TV to watch games. Of course, we still do so to a certain extent, but increasingly, this is for major events, such as the Super Bowl or the Ryder Cup. The advent of live sports streaming has provided complete flexibility as to how, when and where we catch up with the action.

It’s not just a case of being able to watch on our PCs or mobile devices, however. New and alternative outlets are cropping up every day, with different websites adding live streams of games, as well as pre- and post-match interviews, highlights, analysis and so on. This is an area on which the online sportsbooks have been particularly quick to capitalize. Those who enjoy betting on sports will naturally be keen to choose an online bookmaker that offers live streams when placing a bet on the Champions League soccer, the NFL or whatever is their sport of choice. 

Team and league websites are also joining the fray. Just a few short years ago, the ability to listen to, for example, an NFL game on Cleveland Browns Radio from anywhere on the planet seemed a miracle of modern science. Now, that already seems a little old-hat when you can as easily stream the game on your laptop or smartphone.

Better on-field decisions

Nobody, with the possible exception of the TV executives, would argue that the above innovations are anything other than positive. However, when the technology starts to interfere with the game itself, there will be inevitable controversy. The use of technology for video replays when it comes to line calls and the like is nothing new – we’ve been seeing it in the NFL since the late 80s and in tennis for even longer.

However, as technology has improved, so has the potential for its applications. In the UK, VAR technology has just been introduced in the Premier League, and it has met with what can at best be described as a mixed reception.

Traditionalists argue that technology takes the human element out of the game. Sure, umpires and referees make the occasional mistake, but it all evens out in the end, they say. Hand the decisions to the machines and why even have match officials on the field of play? The problem with this argument is that if the technology exists, somebody will use it. When a bad call is made, the replays on the big screen will make it immediately obvious to everyone, players, officials, and spectators. If nothing can be done to correct it, it makes a mockery of the whole game. 

Using VR to get closer to the action 

There has been plenty of debate about the rise of eSport and how leagues like NBA2K could be damaging to the physical sport as the gulf between the real and virtual worlds gets smaller. Instead of worrying about it, sports teams and franchises can use the same technology in reverse, making real sports more appealing to a virtual audience. VR technology is still in its infancy, but the potential for enjoying the action from inside a racecar or a quarterback’s helmet is genuinely exciting. 

Make no mistake, technology has as significant an impact on sports as it does on anything else in life, and there are even more dramatic times ahead. 

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