The Super Bowl reached its largest digital audience ever. The Sochi Winter Olympics displayed innovative new technology at every hairpin, half-melted turn. And the FIFA World Cup set a precedent for the global sport of soccer by putting technology at the forefront of the game on its biggest stage.
But all of those developments are just skimming the surface of how technology continued its relentless march into the heart of sports.
Below are five of the most impactful ways that technology forever changed sports in 2014.
- Olympic Technology
Anytime the Olympics are held–either summer or winter–the best technology for those sports is released for the participants to utilize. The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics were no different—each sport was littered with new hi-tech equipment, to help improve the athletes’ performances. As each Olympic games builds on the past as the most technologically advanced Olympics thus far, the Sochi games paved the way for all of the future Olympics.
Some notable examples of the technology invented for the Sochi Olympics:
In speed skating, a sport in which a medal may be determined by a fraction of a second, the Slicker Skating Suits were created to give those athletes an edge. As a collaboration of Under Armour and Lockheed Martin, this suit installed “flow-molding” to cut the drag that may accumulate behind a high-velocity skater. Also, the suits were intended to reduce the friction that is generated between an athlete’s thighs by placing strategic textiles on the inner thigh of an athlete. However, this speed skating suit was not as successful as Under Armour anticipated—stirring quite the controversy. In fact, many athletes felt their performance was compromised due to their Under Armour equipment.
Bobsled data mining improved the statistics on the track by installing sensors directly onto bobsleds. These sensors— 3D gyro sensor, speed sensor, and 3D acceleration sensor—wirelessly transmitted a detailed feed for each race. All of the performance information was available in real-time, which is helpful to those viewing; and more importantly, to those participating who can view the recorded data and devise a plan to improve their next run.
Sochi’s temperatures were not ideal for all of the outdoor events, which are dependent on having a certain amount of snow. Due to the warmer temperatures, the Sochi Organizing Committee devised a plan to guarantee snow— with 400 snow cannons. These cannons created snow to cover slopes in order to conduct all of the Olympic events–regardless of the temperature.
- Goal-line Technology
Goal-line technology was used in the 2014 World Cup for the first time since FIFA decided to allow computer-assisted decisions in their tournaments.
The exact system selected by FIFA was GoalControl, who uses 14 cameras in their technology. Seven of those cameras are mounted on the roof of the stadium and trained on each goalmouth. Three-dimensional positioning of the ball can be captured from these cameras. Once a ball passes the goal-line, both a vibration and optical signal is sent to a watch worn by a referee. The referee receives the signal in less than one second. This signal indicates that the goal should be awarded.
The implementation of goal-line technology into soccer, a sport that has been extremely hesitant to adopt new technologies, is monumental for the sport. Many sports have been shifting from subjective and qualitative, to a quantitative and statistical approach. Soccer, is now joining those sports.
Analytics became a necessity in many sports in the year 2014. The NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB began experimenting with analytics to improve their teams. Analytics include recording data and running those metrics through a particular algorithm to create an advanced statistic.
Major League Baseball added Statcasts to games to record more in-depth data about their athletes. Statcasts involve Trackman software, as well as numerous cameras to track the movement of a player. The NBA has been exploring analytics by installing SportVU cameras throughout arenas, which allow the movements of the basketball and player to be tracked and recorded. Up to 25 data points are collected each second. More data is also becoming available for the NFL through Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. The NFL has partnered with Zebra Technologies to track player movements on the field by inserting these tags into players’ shoulder pads. Zebra Technologies did not need to implement their technology specifically for the NFL. Instead, the already established nine gram tag was placed in each shoulder pad for players to start the season.
Camera-based technology will be infused into NHL arenas, similar to the NBA, to record player statistics. And like the NFL, RFID tags may also be added to player jerseys and the puck for even more extensive and precise data.
The functionality and value in which the analytics provide coaches and front offices is growing ever more valuable as more data is collected each year. It is inevitable that analytics will continue to expand and remain a major tool in sports.
- Digital Media and Streaming
Olympic coverage was more extensive than ever before in 2014. If a viewer was unable to watch on the television, but had a cable provider, there was full coverage through NBC on both NBC.com and NBC Sports LiveExtra. These could be accessed on a number of platforms and devices to ensure viewers could watch coverage at all times.
The World Cup also had an array of digital coverage. ESPN provided extensive digital services, which attracted approximately 5 million fans. Due to the time-difference, much of the World Cup coincided with the average workday for Americans, but the live digital streaming allowed fans to partake in the action.
2014 saw a proliferation in digital coverage of sports. All available platforms were utilized to establish a successful system for all future digital sports coverage. As digital coverage and streaming expands, a substantial competition with television and cable coverage will be created—which may move to the forefront in 2015.
- Smart Helmets
In the NFL and NHL, in particular, concussions have begun eclipsing the sport. Both leagues have implemented new policies for diagnosis of concussions, as well as rules to alter play in an attempt to reduce head injuries. While both have assisted in reducing the amount, the concussions problems are still overshadowing the sport.
These current issues culminating with the filling of a class action lawsuit by former NFL players (regarding the league’s failure to protect the players properly and concealing of knowledge about the long-term effects from concussions) in have brought attention to concussions. These traumatic brain injuries have had fatal impacts on college football player Kosta Karageorge, along with NHL enforcers Derek Boogard and Bob Probert.
The helmet is the most important piece of equipment worn by players because of the provided protection. By weaving new sensor and magnet technology into this equipment, the risk of brain injury may be reduced in sports. Not only will these sensors be able to detect and disperse the force, the magnets will assist by displacing and absorbing the force.
Smart helmets have already been created by Riddell. The Riddell Insite has a five-zone sensor pad to measure the impact. Another helmet by Riddell is the SpeedFlex, which reduced frontal impact to the head. Once the impact is made to the helmet, the sideline staff receives a notification of the collision wirelessly. Not only can the magnitude of these injuries be reduced by this helmet, but it can allow the staff to perform the proper concussion diagnosis procedure immediately, rather than allowing the player to continue playing while suffering from a traumatic brain injury.
Smart helmets have the potential to revolutionize the sports world. Despite these helmets only being created for the NFL thus far, once the technology is finalized, it can be broadened for other sports that carry a high-risk of traumatic brain injuries: hockey, snowboarding, skiing, rugby, lacrosse, and so on. Not only could these helmets improve sports by keeping players in the game, but, ultimately, it could help save lives.