Game Changers: How New Technology Makes Sports Better (No, Not You, VAR)

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Football has not yet managed to efficiently use the video technology introduced during the 2019/2020 season to support referees in making decisions – at the very least it makes their lives more difficult.

Thanks to VAR, it would be easy to assume that technology in general has a bad influence on sports. But scratch beneath the surface, and there’s a quiet technology revolution underway within the industry benefiting professionals and part-time players alike. And where quiet business revolutions begin, investors tend to follow.

A few weeks ago my teenage son had a big cricket match. Frustratingly, I was traveling with work, stuck in a hotel in the middle of nowhere. I resigned myself to a long evening of dinner for one, surfing TV, and waiting for the phone to buzz with news of his game.

About 15 minutes before the start, a WhatsApp message appeared from my wife. “You can watch the match here at the link,” she said. Clicking on it took me to a live feed with a UKTN quality view of the wicket complete with lead-off hitters’ names, scores and a view of my wicket-holding son behind the stumps. Not bad for an Oxfordshire League U19 game on a Monday evening in August.

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The technology is called Frogbox. It’s a handy piece of equipment, enabling cricket at any level to become a professional quality broadcast. A single camera is mounted on the side of one of the viewing screens and the video stream is integrated with the gamescorer’s digital platform to provide on-screen graphics and automatic tagging of the big moments. Not only could I spend a boring hotel night watching my son play his big game, I was also able to re-enact all of his best bits of action.

Now in its second season, Frogbox is rapidly gaining fans in the English club game. As well as providing a peek into the game for basic parents who cannot attend in person, it is also used for coaches to help children develop by reviewing their personal clips and even talent identification. Middlesex Cricket, for example, uses the technology to monitor the young talent emerging through their partner County Berkshire’s system. It’s also responsible for some of the best viral social media of the season – including this poor fellow in Halifax who smashes his own car window hitting a six.

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Sports technology is now big business. Frogbox’s Australian parent company Interact Sport was acquired by Swiss sports data giant Sportradar last year.

London is at the heart of many of the most desirable businesses in this space. For example, North London-based Sportable, based at Stonex Stadium, home of the rugby union Saracens, recently closed a £5.5m funding round led by sports technology specialists XV Capital. Sportable has worked very closely with Saracens to gather critical feedback on new products and concepts for rugby performance analysis, including, most intriguingly, chips in the rugby balls themselves. Saracens have and continue to provide critical feedback on new rugby performance analysis products and concepts that not only make TV broadcasts more fun and insightful, but also help the sports teams themselves understand how to improve their own games. Win win.

The technological revolution is not only helping us to better understand what is happening in the field. The Cutting Edge Award winner at this year’s Sport Industry Awards 2022 was the English Institute of Sport’s partnership with UKTN Diagnostics. Together, these organizations have developed Hormonix technology that provides clear, fast and accurate information about hormone levels.

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Sports technology: Hormonix provides clear, fast and accurate information about hormone levels

Samples are taken through a saliva sample, where this intelligence has traditionally only been available through invasive blood draw and a significant wait time for results. This means female athletes of all levels can easily monitor their hormone levels as they change during their menstrual cycle, which in turn helps them plan if, when and how to exercise.

Admittedly, this isn’t for everyone — we’re not all about to become a slave to the biorhythm, even if the latest Apple Watch can even take an EKG. But while there are plenty of people who want to throw out the data when they go for a jog or hit the field, this kind of sports technology is a boom market. Judging by the city’s overwhelmingly positive response to UKTN Diagnostics’ current funding round, it’s worth checking out. Just like some of those derby day VAR decisions.

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