IoT to Take Fan Engagement to the Next Level

This blog was written by Brian Pitstick, a 17+ year marketing executive in the Fortune 500 technology market. He is currently a guest analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy where he writes about his passion for the emerging wearables market leveraging his strong background building innovative product solutions.  Brian was recently executive director at Dell corporation, where he headed up innovative and award winning consumer products like the Dell XPS 12/13/18,  Dell Inspiron Duo, and the Dell Streak 5.  You can find Brian’s biography here.

Fans love being engaged in their sports and becoming more active participants.  This is why things like Fantasy Football and NCAA brackets are so big.  Increasingly, technology is entering to increase fan engagement and aid entertainment value of watching sports.  Bringing technology in the form of connected smart sensors to professional sports (as part of the Internet of Things) will be next frontier in sports fan engagement.

One of the biggest advances in sport watching over the past 20 years, in my opinion, was adding the yellow line on the screen in football to help identify where the team needed to go for first down.  While simple, it was great way to better involve fan base in the game.  Since then, networks have added more overlays like showing golf ball flight, where pitches hit in the strike zone, green line for field goal range, etc.  New camera angles and higher definition has provided more direct access as well.  Of late, social media is becoming an integral part of sport watching.  Companies like Mass Relevance are providing tools to companies like FoxSports1 that aggregate social comments on the game, providing quick polling, and display content in rich views.  Even game consoles like the new Xbox One are getting into the space by partnering with the NFL to integrate fantasy football updates & tracking alongside broadcasts of the game.  s to professional sports (as part of the Internet of Things) will be next frontier in sports fan engagement.

The next wave of this will be providing even deeper engagement through sensors embedded in balls and in player’s uniforms or shoes to track players in more detail and provide new stats.  Recently, a company called STATS has partnered with the NBA to install a motion tracking system in each arena for all 30 teams to track player position on the court for 2013 season.  This solution provides better data to aid broadcasts and with Big Data analytics provides new stats on player performance.  HoopTracker has a smartwatch and sensored rim solution that provides tracking of player shots.  I could easily see this solution be adapted for professional or college games built into existing hoops and uniforms.  What is next?  Golf balls with sensors could show ball speed, ball spin, etc.  Sensors in football jersey could show how hard a hit was.  Potential is unlimited.  Even the NFL has a video out showing this potential vision for what they call NFL in 2020.

Sensor technologies could even aid officiating or player safety.  Most sports have adopted instant replay in the spirit of getting it right.  If a football had a sensor you could be sure it crossed the goal line or first down line.   Sensored shoes could determine if player was in bounds or not.  They could also determine a hit was a homerun or foul ball.  Finally, player safety could supported by doing things like concussion detection.  As an example, Reebok recently introduced a beanie called Checklight working with health sensor company mc10 that can be worn under a helmet and determine impact.   This can provide early detection of concussion.

There will be some resistance and concern on these impacting the purity of the game or privacy of players, but ultimately this is the entertainment business and big money is at stake.  Fans will demand it.  The size of TV contracts and the leverage these media companies will have as a result will help propel new levels of access and intimacy through sensored technology.  The result for fans is deeper engagement and intimacy with the game.  This is what fans want and media companies that innovate here will attract more fans to watch.  Getting you up off the couch and to game might be harder as well.  As result, franchises will need to consider how they provide added access at the game to incent attendance.

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