The New Sixth Man: Additive Tech & The Changing Face of Sports at CES

January 15 2016 Technology

When thinking about technology and innovation, sports might not be the first industry that comes to mind. Sure, the gear and equipment have gotten a few updates along the way, but the games more or less follow the same rules. Even so, the sports industry is busy embracing major changes. That embrace was apparent at this year’s CES, where our Technology Director, Gareth Price, attended a number of panels and events hosted by some of the biggest names in sports.

Looking at the past year as a temperature reading, it’s safe to say that sports are truly thriving in the digital age: season ticket sales are at an all-time high, and some of the most most recognized household names happen to be those that we see on the rinks, courts and fields. Even though we may live increasingly digital lives, “People still crave real experiences and being around other people,” Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner, said in CES’ Sports Business Forum. “As social institutions like churches get weaker, sports bonds have gotten stronger, so it’s really one of the communal town halls we have left.” Put simply by Silver, “You remember that time your dad took you to your first ball game, not the first time you watched it on TV.”

While the methods of viewing sports have more or less stayed the same, technology has augmented the entire experience itself. “New technology hasn’t replaced old technology, it’s all been additive,” Price said. “It’s not like the cellphone has replaced the TV, or the TV has replaced going to the bar, or going to the bar has replaced going to the stadium. People are still traditional sports fans, but they get content in a lot of different ways. And it’s additional content. You might be streaming a game, but you’re also checking the the stats site on your iPad at the same time.”

As fans are taking to social media and this new layer of content,  many leagues and teams have started to bring new metrics into their equations. According to Price, “Engagement across platforms is a new metric in how well sports are doing. So it’s not necessarily viewers or attendees, but engagement in general.” That means brands have a huge opportunity to figure out new and better ways of measuring that engagement.

As a natural result of growing social engagement, specifically at stadiums and arenas themselves, many franchises have rushed to prevent the digital gridlock that ensues with each touchdown or three-pointer. “The sports and entertainment industries were caught off guard by technology and smartphones, so initially the mobile experience in sports stadiums was pretty poor,” Price said. So teams have been spending a lot of time and money to improve bandwidth and network congestion. “In the future, there’ll be hundreds of gigabits of connectivity to these stadiums that can be used in various ways: people streaming stuff, posting social media updates and more.”

Posts, streams and pictures, yes, but is in-venue virtual reality something that could soon be relying on stadiums’ updated bandwidth? Perhaps. As VR was one of this year’s hottest topics, many are quick to bring it into the athletics fold. “There is some talk of having opera-glasses-type devices to tune into the game from a different perspective,” Price said “It’s in a very experimental place right now. A lot of ideas are being put into practice with a minimally viable product. If it works, they’ll expand on it. If not, they’ll throw it away.”

While the game itself has not changed, it seems as though the nature of the game has. Sport has always been a connected experience, but the volume of connections is growing exponentially, promising an even richer spectatorship for fans far and wide.

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