How is Technology Changing Sport?

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There are few areas of modern life that haven’t been touched, in some way, by technology. From the moment you wake up to the blaring alarm from your smartphone to the electric toothbrush you use right before you go to bed. 

We use technology like computers to help us work, planes to help us explore the world, and electricity to keep us warm and cook our food. These are all things we did without technology, but innovations made it each easier and more enjoyable. 

Sport is another area where technology is having a profound effect, changing the way we partake, officiate, and spectate in competitions. 

New Ways to Consume Sport

A century ago, the only way to watch a sporting event was to attend in person. But radio and TV changed that, helping to professionalise and commercialise the industry by creating opportunities for teams and athletes to sign sponsorship and advertising deals with brands that wanted to associate themselves with success. 

But in more recent years, the internet and smartphones have ushered in a new revolution. Instead of having to sit in front of a TV at home, fans can now follow games from wherever they are by streaming them over the airways to wherever they are.

After spending decades selling broadcast rights contracts to television companies, sports leagues are now starting to create their own streaming services to reach fans directly, offering convenience and a more feature-rich experience. 

In addition to making it easier to follow sporting events, smartphones have also made it easier for sports fans to find betting insights to help them choose what wagers to place. For example, those attending and/or betting on the Cheltenham Festival can use sites like oddschecker to get betting tips for each of the four days of racing. While football fans can place bets during games and cashout before the match has finished. 

Officiating and Managing Sport

When the English first started playing football, there were no referees. Team captains were entrusted with the responsibility of enforcing rules and being impartial. While today, it seems like a ludicrous idea, back then players were supposed to be “gentlemanly” and practice good sportsmanship.  

It didn’t take long for people to realise that their initial plan wasn’t workable. So, over time, they introduced the referee and more linespeople to provide extra pairs of eyes. 

However, it still wasn’t enough to prevent scenarios where the referee or his/her assistants couldn’t see what was going on, leading to poor decision-making. As a result, rule-makers turned to technology for yet another set of eyes and ears: video assistant referee (VAR).

VAR isn’t new or exclusive to football. Just about every professional-level sport in the world is either using or in the process of introducing a technical solution for officiating competition. In tennis, the Hawk-Eye system has been used for years to help umpires make the correct line calls. Similarly, the NHL is using tracking systems in the roofs of ice rinks to track players and the puck. 

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Improving Competition

Technology is also being used by athletes and their coaches to try and eke out every last ounce of performance. Some of the technologies used in official games have been repurposed for training. 

For example, baseball players use highspeed cameras and tracking devices to track their swings to find minor inconsistencies and errors in their technique. One of these is the Blast Baseball Swing Analyzer, a device that records videos of a player’s technique and connects to a mobile device to analyse the footage. 

In football, where there’s no roof above the pitch to attach sensors and cameras to, companies like Catapult have created tools to help coaches analyse how well their players implement formations. Its PlayerTek device is attached to each player and uses GPS to track their movements and feed it back to a computer. 

The coach can then view heatmaps and other data to influence decisions. In the US, Hartford Athletic, a team in the United Soccer League Championship uses PlayerTek to help players be more prepared for games and reduce their risk of injury from over-training. 

When you put all of this together, it’s clear that technology is helping to improve the sporting spectacle by boosting athletic performance, preventing poor refereeing decisions, and making it easier to follow along from home.

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