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How Data and IoT are Changing Sports

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June 09 2016

It’s no secret that 2016 is the year of Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics and related technologies including smart devices. And it’s nothing new that this is impacting our lives in ways we didn’t think possible just a few years ago. This summer it will be interesting to see these technologies unfold when some of the world’s biggest sporting events take place.

From June 10th - July 11th, football (soccer) fever spreads all across Europe when the European Football Championship (UEFA EURO 2016) is held in France. In July (2nd - 24th) Europeans switch from football shirts to yellow jerseys when the annual Tour de France cycling race unfolds. Then from August 5th - 21st, all of the world will be watching Brazil as the world's biggest sporting event, The 2016 Olympic Summer Games, takes place.

Nowadays, virtually all professional sports and athletes are optimized using IoT technology. It will be exciting to see how this data is captured, analyzed, and harnessed during these huge events.

Data breaks down the athletes’ every movement
Analysis has always been an integral part of sports. In the past, video analysis was used to watch and evaluate performance. Unfortunately, video analysis was limited because the analysis always occurred in retrospect. But today's technology captures what’s happening here and now (live) and can often predict what will happen in real-time, enabling a much more forward-looking analysis.

Today, most professional sports athletes are carrying some sort of device, be it a smart watch, an embedded sensor in their clothing, or sports gear that captures their performance. The power of the IoT is that it offers exact and real-time data about all kinds of measurements such as speed, distance, movements, and acceleration.

New technologies offer real-time data about sports that bring us closer to the atheletes than ever

In Tour de France, GPS sensors implanted in the riders’ bikes measure their precise position in the race, on the road, and how close they are to competitors1. In volleyball, wearable monitors can measure the athlete’s jump height, average jump height, and amount of jumps while court monitoring systems can track both the players’ and the ball’s position.

IoT isn't limited to cycling and volleyball. Professional swimming suits can be equipped with accelerometers and gyroscopes to measure the time, speed, acceleration, and velocity of swimmers2. Attaching small devices to the swimmer can even capture micro-sensor data that via 3-D analysis of a swimmer’s movement deliver information about actual displacement of water with each stroke3. I'm sorry for sounding so excited, but this type of live data analysis is simply amazing!

All of this IoT data is delivered in real-time to coaches and trainers, who can use it to plan the athlete’s next move on the spot and change tactics if the current one isn’t effective.

Information management reduces injuries by 50 percent
The data collected during the actual event is also used to optimise training and performance. Not long ago, performance analysis of athletes took place in fixed settings such as on a treadmill or exercise bike. Now, technology captures their performance in their natural environment.

With technology, coaches can customise workouts to be more personalized and efficient for each individual player. Entire teams can be monitored in order to optimize the game. In the NFL, more than 1.7 billion sets of player coordinates were recently measured with RFID tags, then analyzed for the coaches to “pinpoint player positions and distances covered and subsequently identify missed openings, unexplored routes and unforeseen mismatches”1.

Most professional athletes also wear monitors that feed biological data such as heart rate, pulse, and calorie burn in real-time. This in-depth body analysis enables them to connect with their bodies more than ever before. And being competitive by nature – getting measured like that gives these athletes an extra motivation to perform even better.

Data analytics make it possible for the athletes to perform at their very best
Image from http://lat.ms/1RW2KWe

This biological data can also prevent injuries. The Norwegian football club Rosenborg BK has reduced injuries by 50 percent since investing in an information management system. Another successful team, AC Milan and its scientific research center MilanLab, uses data analysis to manage players’ well-being and health4. Smart devices for athletes are providing a "safety net" as healthcare professionals are able to monitor heart rates and hydration levels, hopefully leading to less cardiac deaths in young athletes5.

Data collection is not limited to the athletes and their equipment. Even the facilities where they practice are equipped with devices enabling data analysis. During water sports, data from the swimmer’s embedded sensors are combined with video footage taken from cameras both above and below the waterline. Afterward, that data is analyzed using software tools to determine the swimmer's performance. This allows coaches to find out where the competitor is excelling or where they can improve their technique6.

In football (soccer) matches, goal-line technology can determine whether the ball has crossed the line or not. The sensors are linked up to a smartwatch worn by the match referee, who instantly can tell whether to award a goal or not. Player-tracking software that utilizes multiple cameras around a pitch and outputs a two-dimensional map and animation offers deep analysis of matches, giving insights into player movements and efficiency1.

Enrichened fan experience takes us even closer
So far we have seen how technology is transforming the way coaches coach and players play. But what about the fans? Thankfully, the fan experience is richer and more interactive than ever. Fans are always one click away from knowing everything there is to know about their favorite sport, team or athlete since much of the data available to coaches is increasingly being made available to fans via apps and websites7.

Technology changes the way athletes and coaches perform as well as the fan experience
Image from http://bit.ly/1suSnUO

But the real fan experience happens when you’re physically present at any of these events. Social analytics and platform-agnostic technology allow audiences at a stadium to see which lines for the bathroom are the shortest or allows them to order a slice of pizza and have it delivered to their seat. I’m sure we will see many more exciting examples that make it more fun to be at the event, for instance, a technology that measures the power and number of claps or cheers? Roger Wood, founder of the San-Francisco think tank Art+Data has a great suggestion:

“Instead of simply quantifying the force of a football hit, what about seats that vibrate based on that force or, say, the heart rate of the quarterback? "Man, oh man, you could actually feel the quarterback’s pulse. That will transform everything. I think audience technologies are the most viscerally exciting applications of design and analytics."

While the idea of capturing data during sports is not new, the richness of the data now available, the speed at which it is gathered, and the ways in which it is used is reaching new heights. In sports, wins are obviously not determined by data and technology, but more by how skilled and agile athletes and coaches are. However, in the world of sports where small margins have a huge impact, wearable devices, monitoring systems, and sophisticated data analysis tools provide that extra edge that so often delivers triumph.

Stibo Systems' Customers, do you love sports and analytics?
Attend Connect 2016, featuring a Keynote by Ari Kaplan, "The Real Money Ball Guy".
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[1] http://www.orange-business.com/en/magazine/faster-fitter-better-the-impact-of-technology-on-the-world-of-sport
[2] http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240158837/Underwater-wireless-helps-swimmers-prepare-for-the-Olympics
[3] http://www.fastcodesign.com/1671570/10-companies-on-the-cutting-edge-of-sports-data
[4] http://kennethcortsen.com/data-management-is-the-new-winning-approach-in-the-business-of-sports/
[5] https://www.technologyreview.com/s/425551/the-latest-sports-stat-players-vital-signs/
[6] http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240158837/Underwater-wireless-helps-swimmers-prepare-for-the-Olympics
[7] All three mentioned events have their own app: Tour de France here, Olympics here, UEFA here.




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