The first in a new weekly series that will highlight innovation and draw inspiration from sport around the world as it emerges post-pandemic.

Our hope is that we will provide a means by which Sport for Business members will stay up to date with the latest developments in health, broadcast and fan engagement. Times of great change are also times of the greatest opportunity so let’s see what’s going on.

 

HEALTH

The most important innovations cropping up in the world of sport are those that assist our athletes, staff and fans to return to action in as safe a manner as possible.

NBA players and coaches will have the option to wear a smart-ring when the season resumes next month.

The rings, developed by Oura, will help to detect symptoms of COVID-19 by measuring body temperature, heart rate and respiratory functions.

The league is also reportedly investigating the gadget’s capacity to signal if a player has come into contact with a confirmed case.

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Premiership Rugby side Wasps RFC have linked up with club partner Vodafone to install a heat detection camera at their training ground.

The technology will measure all players, staff and visitors that enter the facility on a daily basis.

The camera, which combines thermal imaging and Vodafone’s Internet of Things (IoT) technology, can screen up to one hundred people per minute and is accurate to within .03 degrees Celsius.

Should an individual have a raised temperature, they are instantly provided with a discreet alert. The camera is part of Vodafone UK’s Enhanced Smart Vision Portfolio and retails on a 12-month term at £1,711 (excl. VAT) per month.

It would be a very positive way of highlighting the relationship between Vodafone and the IRFU if it was to be made available at the Aviva Stadium, Sport Ireland Campus and the provincial facilities.

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From a fan’s perspective, it might seem like packing into stadiums is still a distant dream, but Premier League partner Prenetics are currently developing a digital health passport that might enable stadium attendance sooner than originally anticipated.

The web-based system would produce a QR code for each fan to display on their phone, which could be scanned upon entry to the stadium. It would verify that they have completed a recent and valid COVID-19 test and, most importantly, that the result was negative.

 

BROADCAST

While we wait to attend sporting events in person once again, we rely on the broadcasters, clubs and independent media to help us feel closer to the action than ever before. This will be a particularly interesting space to monitor over the coming months, as COVID-19 has forced content providers to realign their focus, priorities and delivery mechanisms.

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NASCAR has joined the long list of rights-holders aiming to make their events more interactive for fans while they take place behind closed doors, entering into a partnership with Facebook to avail of their new app: Venue. The app will act as a message board during live races, enabling fans to browse between different chats and engage with a variety of assigned commentators and other fans from around the world. Venue will allow the commentators, ranging from journalists to retired athletes, to “provide interactive questions, polls and open up short chats all around the specific moments” that arise during a live race.

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For all of Liverpool Football Club’s remaining league games, official club sponsor Standard Chartered will be streaming chants and songs straight from the Kop to fans’ living rooms via their YouTube channel.

The ‘Stand Red Soundboard’ will recreate the Anfield atmosphere and adapt it to the events of the game in real-time, with fans able to make chant requests.

While thousands of Liverpool supporters will be missing out on seeing their side lift its first league title in thirty years in the flesh, this might go some way towards helping them feel part of the action.

 

FAN ENGAGEMENT

In a similar vein to adapting their broadcast strategies, sporting organisations are also having to alter how they manage fan relationships. They must overcome the hurdles of COVID-19 and ensure that supporters remain engaged and satisfied with the service they receive.

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Swansea City have put together one of the most innovative plans to cope with season ticket refund requests, finding themselves in a similar predicament to many clubs on Irish shores.

In a bid to keep funds in the club, the Swans have offered a host of packages for supporters to choose from instead of a full refund, with discounts on next year’s season ticket, access to live streams, merchandise discounts and entry to competitions all on offer.

Perhaps the most thoughtful gesture of all is the option to receive a signed thank you card from the players, manager and chairperson, for standing by the club in its hour of need. This is the kind of innovation that many organisations will not only need to keep fans happy but, indeed, to cope with the financial repercussions of this pandemic and stay afloat post-COVID-19.

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Finally, in light of the fact that a return to full training is still some way off for certain sports, the National Basketball Players Association has recently signed an intriguing partnership with mobile sports coaching platform Famer. The deal will enable players to share custom training sessions with children around the world for free: a cool concept but perhaps not revolutionary, as we have seen many organisations produce something similar over the last few months.

What’s particularly special about this platform is that, for an additional cost, users will be able to upload videos and receive direct feedback from players on their technique.

If ventures like this are successful, perhaps in-house e-learning platforms won’t just be seen as an effective plaster to use during a global crisis, but an asset that can bring great value to fans worldwide, regardless of circumstances.

 

Beyond the Lines is a weekly feature brought to us by our new columnist, Vito Moloney Burke. Vito is a graduate in Business Studies from DCU and was 2018/19 Students’ Union President. He recently completed an internship with Liverpool Football Club’s Strategy team, and is currently undertaking the MSc in Sport Management at University College Dublin.

 

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