SPORTS-TECH INNOVATION – What to expect in 2018

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The world of sport is continually changing over the years, and the use of technology is just one of those areas that has made an impact on many sports in the modern day. Technological development is rapidly changing almost every facet of the sports industry – from the way sports are played and the equipment players use, to the way sports are governed, and, of course, the ways that we, spectators, watch and enjoy the on-field action.

Gibraltar has an opportunity to ride the wave of implementing the latest sports technologies as it prepares to host the 2019 Island Games, invest in new sporting facilities as well as continue to develop the local football league and other types of sports.

As we draw near to the end of another year, here are the five key sports-tech trends to be aware of heading into 2018:

Wearable tech diversifies

A trend that has made an impact on 2017 but will see an explosion in 2018 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.

More connected stadiums

Again, something pioneered in 2017 and set to explode in 2018 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 digitisation 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 2018 to be the year that a wave of digital renovation projects are made a priority.

Such technological developments should be considered locally by the government and sporting bodies as part of their plans for upgrading the Victoria Stadium as well as for the new sports facilities planned at Europa Point and Lathbury Barracks.

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (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 twelve months to come. In the USA, 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 organisation wanting to be left behind by the competition, 2018 could be the year that VR makes a real impact on training.

Streaming to become smarter

Some of the US and Europe’s most high-profile broadcasters had seen their viewing figures drop drastically over the past year. Having paid out record fees for the rights to stream the likes of the Premier League, NBA or the NFL, broadcasters have found their viewers courted by online-only streaming services, both illegal and legal.

2018 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, Netflix, 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 2018, and traditional providers may be forced to change their models in the face of competition.

The connected player

Players of all kinds are facing a future in which tech will increasingly monitor all their moves. This will have a big impact on how these players live, practice, prepare, interact with fans and management, and perform. Increasing data will be generated and analysed to offer useful insights: from nutritional consumption and sleeping pattern to breathing, heart rate and pace while participating.

The sports industry has always been a front runner in innovation. In a field where a split second could be the difference between remarkable success and a colossal failure, disruption is constantly present.

Deeply rooted in the Gibraltar ecosystem and oriented towards identifying cutting-edge technologies, Benefit Business Solutions develops unique methodologies to nurture local innovation, fuel entrepreneurship and assist global power-houses with matchmaking services in the sports industry and beyond.