Technology, Data, and The Changing Sports Ecosystem

Do you want to understand technological development in the sports industry? Start by considering the evolution of digitally-enabled sneakers.

Over the past decade the sport sector is progressively becoming a more sophisticated environment accounting for 1.5-2% of the global GDP

In 1983, there was no such thing as a digitally-enabled sneaker.

In 1984, Adidas released its “Micropacer” sneaker. A sensor under the left toe monitored running distance and speed. The resulting data was displayed on a small screen atop the shoe.

In 1986, Puma launched the RS-Computer running shoe. A runner with the right computer and special software could literally plug her shoe into her computer and upload her stats.

Today, runners can buy a variety of shoes that wirelessly beam even more data to smartphones and computers in real time. Stride length, steps per minute, the percentage of steps that land on the heel – all are available at the click of a button.

Such data is being used not only by athletes, but also by manufacturers. At an Adidas “Speedfactory,” shoe manufacture begins with the collection of data from gear worn by athletes in cities like London, Paris, New York and Shanghai. Each resulting pair of shoes is adapted to the characteristics of its particular destination – its terrain, climate, etc. In short, Adidas has developed a performance-based design process to enhance its products with the help of data collection and analysis.

Data collection and analysis – those are the watchwords in the field of sports technology today. Consumers, both amateurs and professionals, are increasingly demanding technologies in their sports accessories (their shoes, their shirts, and even their adhesive tapes) that can collect data and produce personalized analyses.

Data collection and analysis is also revolutionizing the way that coaches and scouts engage with athletes. A coach can monitor his players’ performance data. He can use that data to understand their shortcomings and strengths, and to make informed decisions about how to better train or deploy them. Scouts can use that same data to inform hiring choices.

Technology is also changing how fans watch sports and sports-related programming. An increasing proportion of fans are consuming content digitally, through their smartphones and computers. Between 2016 and 2017, on YouTube, the watch-time of sports interviews rose 60%, the number of searches for sports-related “how to” videos doubled, and the number of searches for sports “highlight” videos grew over 80%.

The rise of digital consumption, in turn, enables sports marketing teams to conduct big data analysis in new ways and on a new scale. Sports broadcasters are using data collected by sensors in players’ gear to engage their viewers and validate their stories. Sports franchises are using data collected by websites to monitor and better understand their fans. Sports apparel vendors can do the same thing to better understand their customer base. It can’t hurt that some athletes, like runners, are joining specialized social networks, which they use to organize amateur competitions around the world, to record their participation, and to share their performance data.

Evidently, technology – especially data collection and analysis technology – is thoroughly altering the sports ecosystem. It is changing how sportswear is manufactured, how athletes train, and how sports are played, marketed, and viewed. As the sports ecosystem changes, old theories about it are becoming obsolete.

Executive Master in Global Sports Management

ESADE Business School in partnership with FC Barça Innovation Hub presents the Executive Master in Global Sports Management, designed to equip participants with the knowledge and skills needed to manage organizations in the sports business industry.