Football has yet to figure out how to effectively use video technology, introduced in the 2019/2020 season, to help referees make decisions – in fact, it makes their lives more difficult.
Thanks to VAR, it would be easy to assume that technology generally has a bad influence on sport. But scratch beneath the surface, and there’s a quiet technological revolution underway within the industry that benefits both pros and part-time gamers. And wherever silent business revolutions begin, investors tend to follow.
A few weeks ago my teenage son had a great 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 the TV and waiting for the phone to ring with news of his game.
A WhatsApp message from my wife appeared about 15 minutes before departure. “You can watch the game on the link here,” she said. Clicking on it took me to a live stream with a BBC quality wicket view, complete with the names of the opening batters, scores and a view of my wicket keeper son behind the stumps. Not bad for an Oxfordshire League U19 game on a Monday night in August.
The technology is called Frog. It’s a nifty piece of kit, allowing cricket at any level to become professional-grade broadcast. A single camera is mounted on the side of one of the aiming screens, and the video feed is integrated with the game scorer’s digital platform to provide on-screen graphics and automatic highlight marking. Not only could I spend a boring evening at the hotel watching my son play his big game, but I could also replay all of his best action moments.
Now in its second season, Frogbox is rapidly gaining fans across English club play. As well as providing a window into the game for grassroots parents who can’t be there in person, it’s also being used by coaches to help kids develop by watching their personal clips, and even identifying talent. Middlesex Cricket, for example, is using technology to keep tabs on young talent emerging through their partner county Berkshire’s system. He’s also responsible for some of the best viral social media of the season, including that poor guy in Halifax who smashes the windshield of his own car hitting a six.
London is at the heart of many of the most sought-after companies in this space. For example, based in North London Jock based at Stonex Stadium, home of the rugby team Saracensrecently closed a £5.5m funding round led by sports tech specialists XVth Capital. Sportable has worked closely with Saracens to gather critical feedback on new rugby performance analysis products and concepts, including, most intriguingly, chips in the rugby balls themselves. Saracens have provided and continue to provide critical feedback on new rugby performance analysis products and concepts that not only make television broadcasts more entertaining and insightful, but also help sports teams themselves understand how to refine their own games. Win-win.
The technological revolution is not only helping us to better understand what is happening on the ground. The winner of the Cutting Edge Awards at this year’s Sport Industry Awards 2022 was the English Institute of Sportpartnership with Mint Diagnostics. Together, these organizations have developed a technology called hormone which provides clear, fast and accurate information on hormone levels.
Samples are taken via a saliva sample, whereas traditionally this intelligence was only available via invasive blood sampling and extensive waiting for results. This means female athletes of all skill levels can easily track their hormone levels as they change during their menstrual cycle, helping them plan if, when and how to train.
Granted, it’s not for everyone – not all of us are about to become slaves to biorhythm, even though the latest Apple Watch can even take an ECG. But while many people want to give up data when jogging or taking to the field, this type of sports technology is a booming market. Judging by the city’s overwhelmingly positive response to Mint Diagnostics’ current funding round, it’s worth a closer look. So did some of those derby day VAR decisions.