Technology and Sport Round Table

The Sport for Business Round Table programme took to the waves on Thursday as we gathered in the splendid surroundings of the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire.  This month’s event was on Technology and Sport and concluded with a tour for those present of the MOD70 racing trimaran boats in the harbour as part of the European Racing Tour.

More than 100,000 visitors are expected to watch the boats race off the east pier this weekend but the private tour was something that few will get a chance to experience on boats sponsored by the Sultanate of Oman and the Rothschild family among others.

We were joined for the morning by representatives of Sports Revolution, Ulster Bank, the Irish Sailing Association, the Global Physical Literacy Project, Call Centre Solutions, The Irish Institute of Sport, Teamer, the UCD Smurfit Business School and the Guinness Enterprise Centre.

Our focus this month was on the issues, opportunities and challenges presented by the increasing importance of technology in sport.  The conversation ranged across fan experience, sponsor satisfaction, technological ‘doping’ and the bridge that needs to exist between elite and grassroots sport’s access to assisting technology.

We came away with a list of ten take away points as well as an action list of initiatives in the area we would like to progress.

The take away points

1. Technology around major sporting events is not intended to change but rather to understand the ritual of the sports fans engagement; to digitise that using the facilities available now and in the future; and to enhance the experience so that ‘being there’ is as rich an activity as it can be.  The concept that the crowd needs to funnel its energy to the pitch in support of performance is beginning to change in that activity on the pitch, through data, images and a ‘close up view’ also needs to funnel back to the crowd.

2. Connectivity is seen as a major driver of the fan experience. Livestrong Park, the home of Kansas City was held up as a model of the way in which teams engage with supporters. It operates an integrated system deployed by Cisco which links data from ticketing systems, concession sales, purchases at stadium stores and social media activity. The stadium features 200 routers and 30 miles of fibre optic cable and a QR code on each seat so that fans can log immediately into the social ‘buzz’ around a game.

3. This model of providing the network which fans can access from their own devices was seen as an advance on the model deployed at venues like the home of the Miami Dolphins where 25,000 handsets are in place offering fans access to up to ten different camera angles on the game, immediate replays, stats and trivia games and competitions.

4. The one key element of the fan experience is connectivity.  BT built 80 masts at the Olympic Park this summer to enable sharing and data transfer.  Vodafone estimated that data equivalent to 400,000 hi res images were broadcast from the stadium on the night of the opening ceremony, without any noticeable delay or loss of connection.

5. With many communications companies now involved in sporting partnership it was felt that high speed connectivity was essential at Irish stadia.  Sponsors need to demand more if their own services cannot be seen in an optimum environment and that if this meant more sponsorship is diverted towards infrastructure rather than cash that this would yield a significant longer term dividend for sporting bodies, stadium operators and sponsors.

6. Sports bodies and players need to embrace and take care with the demand for ‘always on’ access through video and audio links to fans.  The Olympic Medal race featuring Annalise Murphy was watched by 500,000 viewers in Ireland this summer.  It was the first time a live sailing event was broadcast live in its entirety on the national broadcaster but the MOD70’s arrival to Dun Laoghaire after midnight was covered live online and watched by many thousands around the world through on board digital cameras that reveal (almost) everything of the action taking place.

7. Coaching performance at the elite level of sport is increasingly focusing on the tiny incremental improvements that can be brought about through technology.  Analysis of movement, stride patterns, passing and movement is now recorded, broken down and analysed with athletes in the search for a 1% lift that can make all the difference.  15 year old players are now asking for ways in which they can improve their five metre burst acceleration rather than merely how they can run faster.  Data is increasingly available through apps on mobile phone technology.  The challenge will be how to harness and utilise the vast volume of information which can be produced so that Ireland can keep pace with other nations where coaching standards at all levels are being stepped up.

8. Organisations that develop technology are increasingly looking to sport as a testing ground and a connecting force for wider deployment through society. McLaren formula one team have built a successful business through McLaren Applied Technologies that collaborates with other sports and major businesses on bringing the lessons learned through its investment in sport to other areas.  They have also been open to collaboration with other bodies and improved their own processes as a result.

9. The analysis of performance on the field of play filters back and forward to performance metrics applied through customer relations management software being developed across all sectors of business.  The acceptance of sport as a medium makes it easier for IT specialists to use examples from this area to explain and encourage adoption of similar technologies that can be used to improve sales, sentiment and overall business development. Ireland’s focus on the knowledge economy needs to be harnessed to enable small local companies such as Zig Software and Huggity develop technical solutions that could be adopted by major organisations and drive economic benefit and employment here.

10. Finally a word of caution that while technology can enhance, enrich and improve sporting experience we must not allow it to overtake the human and emotional level on which sport’s spirit rests.

What do we want to make progress on?

Elite sport technology ought to be used as the basis for education programmes in schools where sport can be used as the base for learning across a range of technical subjects.  A previous model on road safety might present a base from which to start.  Sport for Business will raise this with regard to sport’s role in the national curriculum.

New personal mobile access to data needs to be tapped into to encourage a greater participation in sport for reasons of fitness and wellbeing.  Sport for Business will raise the possibility of research into how young players are using technology on mobiles and how this could prevent some of the drop off points in participation.

We will investigate ways in which sport can be used as a showcase for Irish based technology, perhaps starting with a sports zone at an event like the BT Young Scientist exhibition in January.

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