We have been told that data management is going to change sport. Data collection via sensors, cameras, drones, analytics platforms and big data will give to players and coaches a set of new tools to enhance the way they train and perform. There is another fundamental technology which is going to change everything from the perspective of the player (and the fans) during the match, and it’s augmented reality. Augmented reality is when information is overlaid onto a clear visor or communicated to the sportsman with sounds and other stimuli.
In the future both the player and the equipment, whatever is a baseball bat, a tennis racket, a golf or soccer ball might have built in cameras and devices for measurement. And those devices will be interconnected each other to create a layer of additional information available both for the player and the fan.
When I was a kid I was amazed at the first camera-cars mounted on the F1 vehicles. Staring at the acceleration, the speed and the hands of the driver on the steering wheel, was a fantastic technology gift from the point of view of the fan. Now we have the possibility to watch the same sport event from different angles and with a high definition quality that allows you to perfectly distinguish a sweat on the face of your favorite athlete. But it’s nothing compared to what is coming. Fans want to be on the field and have the same perceptions of the athlete. Have you have wondered how it’s like to be on the other side when Federer serves at about 190 km/h? Would it be curious to watch from the goalkeeper perspective a Ronaldo free kick that can reach an acceleration of 32g (while a Ferrari stops a less than 5g)? Ever imagined how a quarterback can feel when a 250lb opposing player wants to invest him like a runaway train? We could do hundreds of examples, just think about your favorite sport and what it would be like to be in the shoes of your favorite athlete, but on your sofa. And they will probably exit from your TV screen and appear in 3-d perfectly human like miniatures on your table or floor. The TV set will project them or simply a pair of glasses will allow it. It will be like sitting in the front row or directly on the green.
It’s clear that we will have to pay a price for this. Probably the advertising on the screen or even on the shirt of the athlete will be targeted to each single user based on your past shopping behavior. The can of your favorite beer, which the internet of things knows it’s in your fridge, will appear in your living room and as it is irresistible, it will simply increase your consumption. But you will also be able to post, on your preferred social network, a picture of the event taken from your highly personalized and unique angle. This is not a revolution, in reality, it’s about increasing the number of possibilities and it’s about the “immediate satisfaction” that technology is promoting (and that people want).
If it’s clear there something here for the fans, will there be any real benefit for the athlete? I think so. When we think about the direct competition between players and teams, it’s quite obvious that we don’t like one of them having a technology that allows for an unfair benefit, because the opponent does not have the same solution. But this issue has an easy answer. Allow both to use the same technology. The real reason we can’t accept this approach is because it changes the fundamental nature of sport. If Messi would have glasses and software telling him what to do, where to pass, his style would become just reactive; the player would just be an actor playing a script written by a software. This is why I think augmented reality would be limited to individual competitions.
When the competition is not against an opponent, but against you, the usage of augmented reality will be progressively allowed for safety reasons. It’s for similar reasons that sport and health wearables have captured the market. If I’m climbing a rock, it would be acceptable to have an augmented view of the rock face. If I’m sailing, it would be ok to check the winds or the distances from other boats or dangerous areas. If I’m driving, I expect it would be safe to be informed in advance of potential obstacles on the road. The problem here is that while wearables are based on a relatively cheap technology, augmented reality software will be pretty expensive, so the adoption won’t be so fast.