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The global sports industry is big business. In 2018, the estimated valuation of the worldwide sports world was roughly $471 billion. That’s an impressive figure, and one that was notably impacted by the COVID pandemic. Major sports leagues accustomed to sizable incomes from lucrative ticket sales and broadcast partnerships saw revenue streams shrink overnight. Amidst season shutdowns and empty arenas, the sports industry had to get creative and do so fast. Fortunately, trends in sports technology were there to help with virtual sports and other solutions available. And sports may never be the same as a result. (Read more about the rise of virtual sports in this Bold Business story.)

Instead of sports leveraging technology as a temporary tool, it appears technology is changing sports in major ways. Technologies meant to provide an immediate solution to a pandemic have demonstrated their value in normal times as well. Not only will this continue to affect the way fans experience the games and matches. Trends in sports technology will also impact broadcasting, production and even in-game procedures. In fact, it already has. Technology is changing sports right before our very eyes, even before COVID has made its exit.

“Before we can get to building, let’s just say, like a new augmented-reality app that fans can use in arena to pull up real-time stats and puck and player tracking feedback while they’re sitting and watching the game, there’s a lot of infrastructure that needs to be in place. There’s a tremendous amount that we’ll be able to do.” – Dave Lehanski, Executive VP of Business Development and Innovation, NHL

Trends in Sports Technology for Fans

Through the course of the pandemic, there is one thing all major sports industries focused on…fan connections. Without live games to attend, or even to watch for a long period of time, sports leagues risked losing customer engagement. As a result, many turned to the latest trends in sports technology. Initially, this involved boosting streaming services of classic games and archived materials. But soon, it also led to increased social media engagement and even e-sports entertainment solutions. Though not as lucrative as live games with spectators, these strategies did help. And it changed the way fans wanted to experience their sports.

These initial remedies have now led to more lasting effects. Technology is changing sports of the future because fans have come to expect new services. For this reason, many sports leagues are partnering with cloud and AI solutions like Amazon Web Services. The NFL, Formula One Racing, and Six Nations Rugby already do. But recently, the NHL also signed up for these new trends in sports technology. The NHL loaded all its video and data into the cloud for better integration. Ultimately, they expect to offer augmented-reality apps, real-time stats, and puck-and-player tracking. All of this is being pursued in an effort to boost the fan experience.

“Bringing professional video tools to youth sports will enable coaches to improve team and player performance, help players build their highlight reels and democratize the production of millions of youth sports events.” – David Shapiro, President of North America, Pixellot

Technology Is Changing Sports Broadcasting Too

In addition to maintaining fan engagement, cutting production costs was also important for sports leagues. It wasn’t feasible to have large production crews not only from a monetary perspective but from a safety one also. As a result, sports leagues began exploring new trends in sports technology streaming services. Such services are much less expensive and offer seamless streaming of games with multiple camera angles. Through their COVID experience, they realized this approach made much more sense. It’s yet another way technology is changing sports for the future.

One of the most notable businesses in this area is Pixellot, an AI-automated sports production solution. Its streaming services are affordable and portable, and they offer addition advantages. Specifically, they include automated AI-drive camera operations as well as video analysis tools. These additions to broadcast production represent growing trends in sports technology that go beyond professional leagues. In fact, Pixellot recently partnered with Sports Engine, Inc. to broadcast youth sports leagues. Given that youth sports have never had such a broad outreach, this is a major way technology is changing sports.

“[Electronic line judge technology is] interesting. It’s definitely different…I just needed to adapt, and now I’m adapted to it. I think it’s for the best.” – Serena Williams, Professional Tennis Champion

How Technology Is Changing Sports In-Game

Certainly, technology is changing sports from the outside looking in. But it is also making waves within sports games as well. The use of robotic umpires has already been reported in Major League Baseball. Likewise, most everyone is familiar with instant replay and the exponential increase in camera angles. (Read more about the use of robotic umpires in baseball in this Bold Business story.) Now, professional tennis is embracing these trends in sports technology as well. Recently, in the Australian Open, electronic line judges were introduced for the first time. And for the most part, most professional tennis players readily accepted the change.

A robotic camera watching a sports game because it bet on it
Technology is changing sports, especially within the realm of officiating and play mechanics.

For most tennis players, there was a perception that technology may actually be better than human line judges. Trends in sports technology have advanced so far that they seem to be equal if not better in some areas. Plus, technology eliminates the human emotional element of a disgruntled judge tired of being “John McEnroe’d” to death. As a result, players are less distracted with aspects of the game that they shouldn’t worry about. In this way, technology is changing sports for the better.

The Post-COVID Evolution of Sports and Technology

As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. When it comes to COVID and adjustments made by the sports world, this has certainly been the case. In this regard, sports turned to technology when looking for solutions, and technology answered. But now, the tail is wagging the dog, and technology is changing sports in numerous ways. Trends in sports technology that began during the pandemic will continue in its aftermath. As a result, fan experience, broadcasting norms, and in-game activities will never be the same. But all in all, these changes will be for the better. It’s simply one more thing we can look forward to when the pandemic is finally over.

 

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