In 2003, Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game offered the first concrete application of sports data to a major league sport. Lewis was covering the Oakland Athletics MLB team and studying how best to apply historical data to identify patterns that could offer key insight into how to win baseball games.
For decades already, diehard fans of major league sports had taken stats into their own hands with fantasy leagues. Even in 2003, the DFS scene in the US was already maturing. However, Lewis’ landmark work didn’t focus on how to win a fantasy league, but how to cause tangible effects on the field during a live game.
Since then, sporting executives have looked to technological advancements for an edge over the competition. In fact, most franchises today employ data scientists to improve team and player performance – but few have gone to the lengths that professional football has.
Even fans interact with hard stats in the NFL more often than they might think. Those who consult expert analysis on NFL picks like those at major sportsbooks are tangentially relying on hard data to make informed decisions. Fantasy football buffs know the importance of identifying likelihoods based on player stats, but the average fan relies on professional pundits to apply meaning to large series of numbers.
Beyond the world of fantasy football and moneylines, fans benefit from data analysis through the enhancement of the live experience at stadiums. For example, users of the NFL’s OnePass program can select augmented reality features for game highlights and replays. Through the OnePass app, viewers can control how a play is replayed in terms of angle and speed.
On the field itself, multiple variations of wearable technology and RFID (radio-frequency identification) tracking are used. However, none have changed the game of VR tech in sports quite like STRIVR, active in the major leagues since 2015.
Gathering & Applying Player Data
STRIVR’s mission is simple: enhance player capabilities and reduce injuries by training athletes in VR settings. Though it may sound simple, the process behind creating a specified VR environment for each team, with realistic movements from virtual teammates and opponents, is a massive undertaking.
First, STRIVR must gather massive groups of data in order to realistically replicate plays. Given the goal of the program is to help develop players, specifically quarterbacks and others at a high risk of injury, STRIVR first uses player tracking technology to recreate the field.
The program relies on wearable technology as well as 360-degree cameras in order to produce an immersive environment that feels familiar and realistic to players – no computer generation needed. Next, STRIVR will simulate plays that are relevant to specific teams, including real data from specific players and live footage.
By using stats to simulate a football field, teammates, and the plays created by the head coach, the program seamlessly creates an immersive world that feels real. From there, all that’s needed for teams to take full advantage of STRIVR is to dedicate space for practicing. Players pop on their VR headsets and get to work.
As mentioned above, the VR programs are designed to let players who benefit from repetitions get all the practice they need. For example, former quarterback Carson Palmer used STRIVR to practice everything in his playbook without requiring other players to line up and simulate the play again and again.
It saves other players energy, lessens the quarterback’s risk of accidental injury at practice, and helps build a repertoire of muscle memory. For newcomers to a team, it also helps them learn their new playbook in an immersive way.
Enhancing The Fan Experience
STRIVR first made waves in 2015 for evolving the way NFL teams (as well as NBA, NCAA, and NHL teams) practice. However, the company quickly shifted to provide unique and immersive fan experiences at certain stadiums.
In the recreation sector, STRIVR isn’t the first group to offer a fan experience at stadiums, allowing fans to try to hit a 99mph fastball or try to stop a slapshot as a goalie. Currently, franchises across North America are looking to improve entertainment in arenas and stadiums by creating AR and VR experiences for fans.
However, working in STRIVR’s favor is their usage of real video footage. With many VR experiences still relying heavily on digital graphics to enhance details, STRIVR may be able to edge ahead of the competition.
Other Uses Of Wearable Tech & Player Tracking
STRIVR isn’t the only company to make waves with technology that improves athlete health and performance. Though the company relies on player tracking technology and cameras to simulate the live experience, other companies are changing the way player health is monitored and information made available to fans.
The NFL itself uses an RFID tracking system, composed of tiny trackers tucked into shoulder pads, official tags, the ball itself, and more. Remote radio frequencies track the movement of each chip on the field (up to ten times per second) to chart how the game is going.
From there, the data is crunched and then distributed to multiple channels. At its most engaging, this data is used to entertain fans and enhance their knowledge of the players. At its most useful, this data helps broadcasters translate the action for fans watching at home.
GPS & LPS Technology
GPS (global positioning system) and LPS (local position system) can be used by football teams to track player health. While RFID chips help companies collect and crunch data, GPS and LPS technology (which is also wearable, usually in the form of a vest) helps coaches and staff track player metrics.
For example, the company Catapult has had great success in football, where vests can track up to 1,000 data points per second to let coaches know how fast each player accelerates. The devices can also track heart rate, and help medical staff prevent injuries by studying health stats collected by Catapult.
The technology also allows coaches to track where players are on the field, which helps them understand how their offense or defense takes formation. This information helps coaches correct players or revise their plays based on an enhanced understanding.