I am always interested in where technology is making a difference in our jobs and in our lives. Lately my thoughts have turned to how technology has changed professional sports. In the U.S., we are heavy into football season and just winding down with baseball. Major league soccer and basketball will start within the next couple of months.
There have been many innovations in how sports are played, watched and officiated, some welcomed and some controversial. Some feel that innovations like instant replay slow down play on the field or court, but others tout the additional fairness and accuracy of officiating. Whatever your position, I think that technology in sports is here to stay and will increase in the future.
That Yellow Line
This is what originally caused me to ponder technology in sports. The trademarked “First and Ten Line” system by SportVision, launched in 1998, displayed a virtual line on a professional football broadcast to indicate the location of a first down. Over the years, other colored lines have been added to represent other things, such as the line of scrimmage. I turned to the very cool website HowStuffWorks.com to find out how it really works. It turns out that it takes four people, six computers, and a tractor trailer full of gear to paint one virtual line. They have to consider the position of all of the on-field cameras and track the movement (pan, zoom, fade) of each so that the line is in synch with the broadcast. The camera view can change at any moment and the virtual line needs to also change. The size of the field and the slight curvature of the field (for rainwater run off) are factored in and the on-screen color pallet must be constantly recalculated so it is not painted over the top of a player or official and to adjust for changing weather and light conditions, like snow or darkness. These are very sophisticated algorithms that should make any technologist proud.
Hawk-Eye is a ball tracking system first created by engineers in the UK in 2001 and used originally for cricket. It spread to tennis and European football and was used recently at Wimbledon to aid line judges in making calls. This product is mainly used in officiating but can also aid commentating and coaching. It employs sophisticated monitoring to track ball trajectory, impact, and landing.
Keeping Players Healthy
Technology in sports is increasingly being used to keep players healthy. Professional football and basketball teams, including the Dallas Cowboys and Mavericks, are using microchips worn under the jersey during practice to understand and limit injuries to muscles, ligaments, and tendons. They also help to refine performance by emitting real-time data on accelerations, decelerations, changes of direction, and jumping. This information can help a player understand whether they are favoring one side or the other and can be used to monitor a player in rehabilitation. Using GPS and accelerometers, teams can protect their players as well as seek a competitive edge through data collection and analysis.
These are just some of the ways that technology is being used in sports to enhance performance and entertainment. Many other professional and amateur athletes are using existing technology to track their personal statistics in the hope that the data will yield insights that will help them become the next champion.
Do you personally benefit from technology and data collection? How has it helped enhance your experience of participating in or watching sports? Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and professor of practice for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.