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Professional Sports and Wearable Technology

To the uninitiated or casual sports fan, a revolution in wearable tech may have gone unnoticed over the last several years. As top level sport becomes an increasingly large and valuable business, the dividends to be found at the margins of talent acquisition and development as management teams get smarter and more innovative become more difficult to find. The advent of data-driven analytical decision making in sports was first exposed to the general public by the movie Moneyball, which was based on the advantages found in data and analytics by the Oakland A’s of Major League Baseball--but was really only the very beginning of the sports analytics revolution that has since forced teams to search granularly for tiny advantages over their rivals as more and more brainpower is dedicated to innovating within the acquisition and development of talent in professional sports leagues.

As the easy edges gained by early adopters fade with ubiquity of analytics departments within sports organizations, the natural progression has been towards more, and better, data acquisition. The traditional number crunching of results within games has become merely expected, and teams have sought to measure the actual results of individual player skills as well, and here is where the revolution in wearable technology has occurred. Consumers are familiar with devices like the Fitbit or smartwatches where simple results about heartrate, steps taken, and other basic data are generated and recorded, but within the highly specialized sports world an entirely new industry has sprung up dedicated to measuring the specific set of skills required for individual sport excellence.

Major League Baseball is a good example, for with its mostly static style of gameplay and extremely specific skillset, it has seen a number of wearable tech devices become popular over the last several years. Devices such as the Catapult harness are worn under uniforms to track how players swing, run, and throw, and use accelerometers and gyroscopes to generate information previously only guessed at and in conjunction with monitors embedded in equipment can paint a complete picture of a given player’s strengths and weaknesses allowing critical decisions to be made in skills development. Companies like Blast Motion and Diamond Kinetics have sensors planted in baseball bats and can measure swing paths and bat speed, and with external tracking using high speed cameras the quality and scale of data being generated is at a level unimaginable a decade ago. MLB has seen the wearable tech revolution explode to a degree that now requires a collectively bargained agreement on use to be part of the labour contract for the league. Other professional leagues are on different points of the wearable technology timeline, but all are seeing increased use depending on the nature of the sport. The NBA, NHL, and Premier football leagues all have players monitored to varying degrees during training and exhibition games, although currently most are reluctant to allow in-game data collection.

With lucrative sports franchises worth billions of dollars, the struggle for on-field success becomes more and more difficult as teams try to seek the tiniest of advantages over their competitors and the race to find an edge has wearable technology at the forefront of the industry. Finding quality players that others didn’t value as much, or identifying skills that may just need to be tweaked to be unlocked is the last frontier for management looking to acquire from the same pool of candidates as their peers--and the best way to do so is to have the smartest people making the most informed decisions. Having as much quality data available as possible is the key to making judgement calls with confidence, and with its unique capabilities in the world of sport wearable technology is proving to be indispensable in the unending pursuit of success.

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