Sports stat geeks and fantasy league players love numbers. They can't get enough of them. They measure things that casual fans can't even begin to understand. In fact, their analytics work puts most marketers to shame.
But so far, the measurements have been confined to what one can see and record manually.
That's about to change: Embedded chips could transform the way sports teams evaluate players, if German firm RedFIR has its way and computerizes soccer (and possibly other sports, eventually).
The way it works is that RedFIR places a computer chip equipped with tiny transmitters inside a soccer ball and three more on the players -- one on each leg and one on the body (up to a total of 144 transmitters on the field at one time). In addition, they place up to 12 receivers strategically around the pitch.
The transmitters send information to receivers, which then communicate via software to a network where coaches and team stat geeks can monitor player performance in real-time at a granular level in ways that have never been possible before.
RedFIR presented this technology this week at CeBIT, the massive European technology conference and trade show.
Coincidentally, while I was flying to Germany over the weekend for the conference, I finally got to see Money Ball, the ode to Billy Beane, GM of the Oakland As, who transformed baseball by introducing statistical analysis to the game. Instead of intuition, Beane and his team changed player evaluation using a numbers-driven approach that transformed scouting and player analysis.
As RedFIR points out, the way Beane and his team, and sports teams in general, currently track this information is by shooting video, but cameras can be blocked by players being too densely packed and it's easy to miss important information. What's more, it's not really possible to capture key statistical information automatically without studying the game film and manually recording the statistical information that interests you.
This chip-based approach follows the players and the ball itself, making it simple to generate statistics automatically on virtually every aspect of the player, while eliminating possible issues related to using video.
This kind of technology could change the way teams choose and train players -- and the way broadcasters show games on television. Suddenly, you can see player positioning, strategy, and ball position in a way that was just never possible before, because the chips are tracking the players and the ball.
For instance, if you were watching on TV, you might see real-time statistics overlaid on the screen as a player interacts with the soccer ball, as this video demonstrates. Notice how his distance traveled goes up as he moves.
You can imagine how broadcasters looking for new ways to make the games entertaining and fun for viewers, especially in the age of fantasy sports, would see this as a huge advantage. Fans can update their fantasy teams in real time on the Internet or as they watch the game live on television. It's the kind of technology that could transform sports analysis in much the same way Billy Beane changed the way teams evaluate players.
For now, there is a showcase installation set up in the Nurenberg soccer stadium, but RedFIR hopes the technology will spread. I could certainly see American sports teams from baseball to American football to hockey and basketball -- all of which use a lot of film for analysis -- finding this approach extremely useful. It adds an element of technology and precision to the process that is currently missing.
What's more, it's possible to use this technology in business to track how goods move through a business process, for example.
As sports teams invest ever greater amounts of money in players and player development, sometimes paying exorbitant salaries, it makes sense that they take advantage of technology in any way they can to get the best information possible about each player, while delivering the optimal experience for fans in the stadium and watching on television.
To be honest, I'm surprised we haven't seen more of this.
Such games already exist in computers, but while entertaining, I very much enjoy watching my favorite teams play live. I don't think we will ever have a substitute for the human factors involved in competing at a high level.
I'm not sure I agree having seen too many times when an official just got it wrong and affected the outcome of an important game.
There is big money on the line here in many cases and the officials should use whatever technology they can to determine the proper outcome.
That said, I have little patience for the delays while they check. This could actually speed up the process because one of the features lets you follow the exact path of the ball and player. You could more easily see if the player landed in bounds or not, or if the home run went fair or foul and it would speed up the review process.
You're probably right that it will work both ways. Baseball agent Scott Boras creates huge books on his clients putting their stats in the best possible light to sell them to teams and try to get the highest possible salaries.
I expect at some point we will see technology like this applied to the negotiations process.
It can improve fan experience potentially by providing more information and being able to follow the action better. For teams, it provides them with better information with which to make decisions about player performance and evaluation. As for humanity, it's not going to make a huge difference, but for entertainment and evaluation purposes it has a lot of potential.
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