There’s an old adage that says “sports and politics should not mix”, mostly because sports are supposed to be a distraction from the world, existing in isolation. Well, sports and technology is arguably a more complex relationship – and potentially a controversial one.
Many industries help drive technology. Customer service researchers are propelling linguistic AI forward, agriculture is driving automated IoT and surveillance, video games are pushing boundaries in Virtual Reality, and sports is helping drive Data Science.
It may just seem that sports fans on Betway’s Rugby betting are the biggest players in the industry of predicting outcomes, but actually, it’s the sports teams themselves. For those that have seen the 2011 Moneyball film, John W. Henry was portrayed as using data and statistics to pick up the best value players at Boston Red Sox.
10 years later, John W. Henry’s Fenway Sports Group, who own Liverpool soccer club, have hired four intellectuals to drive the team forward: a nuclear Researcher (William Spearman), an astrophysicist (Tim Waskett), a chess champion (Dafydd Steele), and a PhD physicist (Ian Graham).
Between them, they had devised an incredibly powerful model, turning every action on the pitch into a goal probability. From this complex algorithm and the enormous amounts of data inputted, they can understand which players are playing the best, which ones are most valuable, which strategies work well, and was even the core reason behind hiring their now-successful manager, Klopp. Soon after, Liverpool went on to become the best team in the world winning the Champions League in 2019 along with dominating the Premier League in 2020.
Other Sports-Tech innovations
It’s not just Machine Learning and statistics that are being developed by sports teams, but a wide-range of things. NBA is doing a great deal, such as using tablets for in-game tactics, partnering with Twitter for enhanced consumption of the sport, and wearable technology such as smart glasses which can display heart rate and other biometrics.
Furthermore, SportsVU has changed the way basketball games are analyzed, providing an abundance of measurable insights.
UFC has also embraced on-demand viewing, switching entirely from cable TV to online streaming – something that soccer is experimenting with regarding Amazon Prime Video games. In fact, betting companies such as Betway are also becoming a provider of streamed live sporting events. This would profoundly change the pricing model for viewing rights, but also the way fans pay and experience the sport.
The controversy of tech in soccer
The UFC’s transition to streaming only wasn’t popular for those who experienced buffering during expensive PPV live events, which wouldn’t have happened on cable. Not only does it exclude those without good internet, but it serves as an opportunity for a monopoly to take hold.
Likewise, soccer fans are questioning if Video Assistance Referees (VAR) are ruining the flow of the game, which then jeopardizes the fans’ experience of watching the game. Atmospheres can become quickly depleted from a 2-minute long video check at a crucial point in the game with fans in attendance not being able to see what’s going on.
Likewise, with sports strategy and tactics, many are resisting the idea that you have to become a data scientist in order to be a sports coach. Whilst we’re not fully at that place yet, the two are quickly merging.
As a proponent of technological innovation, sports is serving as a powerful innovator due to it being incredibly lucrative. Whether or not it’s good for sports, it’s good for technology.