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The hyperquantified athlete: Technology, measurement, and the business of sports 2021

The hyperquantified athlete: Technology, measurement, and the business of sports

TMT Predictions 2021

Technologies for measuring athletes’ health and performance are transforming how they train, compete, and manage their careers. But this explosion of athlete data is raising new questions about how best to use it—and how to do so ethically.

From cricket to hockey, baseball to basketball, the digital transformation of sports is in full swing. Clubs, teams, leagues, broadcasters, venue operators, and athletes increasingly see the value in analytics and are working to realize that value. Technologies such as computer vision, machine learning, advanced wireless connectivity, and wearable sensors are transforming how athletes train, compete, and manage their careers. This explosion of data, however, is raising new questions about how best to use it—and how to do so ethically. To begin to address such concerns, we predict that by the end of 2021, multiple professional sports leagues will establish new formal policies around the collection, use, and commercialization of player data

Data is fundamentally changing sports

If measuring something in sports is conceivable, chances are that someone, somewhere is already measuring it. Hundreds of different metrics can be analyzed today through video analytics and wearables such as harnesses, sleeves, bands, straps, rings, and smart fabrics. Over the past decade, the use of analytics in sports has slowly transformed everything from how talent is identified and assessed to how athletes are trained and managed to how games are played on the field, court, and pitch.1 The data and analytics revolution has begun to blur the boundaries between many disparate areas of sports, including esports, virtual sports, gaming, broadcasting, fantasy sports, betting, and the live-venue experience. As the use of data and analytics in sports matures, the industry will likely have to address issues about not just the enabling technology, but also increasingly about data rights management, privacy, regulations, monetization, and new ways to experience sports.

Almost all of the world’s major professional sports teams have one or more analytics experts on staff with the mandate to find any advantage that can improve the team’s chances of winning. In basketball, video capture and analysis have yielded insights that have led to more three-point shots and a greater emphasis on player-load management. In baseball, intensive statistical analysis of what works and what doesn’t has dramatically changed pitcher management, increased the use of the “shift,” and replaced small ball with swinging for the fences. Similar analyses now inform how American football teams approach fourth downs and the way soccer teams select shots.

The difference today is that data collection and analysis are becoming increasingly real-time, and it is happening not just on the field and in the gym but around the clock. Further, it is now possible to measure indicators inside as well as outside the body; new layers of positional, biometric, and biomechanical data are creating hundreds of new metrics to feed into decision-making. Finally, advancements in computing power, cloud technology, machine learning algorithms, and high-speed video capabilities are enabling ever more powerful ways to collect and crunch the numbers. In this era of the hyperquantified athlete, the increasingly urgent question is how to get from data collection (which is easy) to actionable insight (which is hard) to potential monetization (which is really hard)—all the while protecting athletes’ rights, ensuring fair play and competitiveness, and meeting the financial needs of leagues, players, and owners.

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