Technology is a gamechanger for sport

By Darren Watkins, managing director for VIRTUS Data Centres.

So it feels like autumn has come over night and the premier league has started with a flourish. But let’s not forget what a fantastic summer of sport we have had! From Wimbledon, to the Tour de France, to the Lion’s tour, to Formula One - sport lovers around the world were spoilt for choice. And behind the scenes is a great tech story.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is widely used by almost all professional sports. It is used to collect big data for analysis to optimise training, improve performance and reduce injury. Sports clubs have started to link information from their cameras and video screens with other sources of data - especially information from GPS (global positioning system) satellites and accelerometers worn by players.

Fans are also seeing the benefit, using technology to engage more with the sport that they love. Social media traffic spikes during sporting events (we tracked two million searches for basketball star Kyrie Irving during just one NBA game in July) show that fans want to share, engage with each other and soak up information about every aspect of a game.

Football is using technology so fans can immerse themselves in the game and get even more passionate about the trials and tribulations of clubs and their players. In 2016, BT Sport re-launched their app for mobile and tablet devices offering a greater in-depth experience for fans watching live sport. Thanks to real-time data tracking, viewers can easily see just who’s making the most passes and covering the most ground, and where all the action is taking place on the pitch. And if that isn’t enough, they can delve even deeper and instantly access a whole host of season statistics for any player they chose.

However, whilst the opportunities are expansive for these innovative technologies, the possibilities are limited by issues of complexity and capacity. Extreme spikes in data traffic challenge backend infrastructures and the benefits of IoT and Big Data will be felt with the right processing, power and storage capabilities behind it.

Technology is the driving force

Tech experts know that IoT and big data puts intense pressure on the security, servers, storage and network of any organisation - and that impact of these demands is being felt across the entire technological supply chain. Sporting organisations, just like any other commercial business, need to deploy more forward-looking capacity management to be able to proactively meet the priorities associated with IoT connections. It all requires a vast amount of storage and computing requirements, which many organisations can’t handle alone.

Progressive technology used in Formula One racing makes the sport a good case study to demonstrate the capacity challenge. Since the late 1908s F1 cars have been kept under close scrutiny with telemetry technology, which has developed significantly over the years and now measures everything from oil, water, exhaust and tyre temperatures to speed, engine revs per minute (RPM), clutch fluid pressure, G-force and even the driver’s heartbeat. The data it creates, when analysed effectively, can bring significant competitive advantage.

There are a huge number of considerations for an effective telemetry data journey. Intense pressure for real time analysis and response, huge data rates, available frequencies and acceptable latency - and system reliability in hostile environments - all require extensive and sophisticated infrastructure. For some teams, this means high-performance computing (HPC).

The strategic importance of data in sports, means that ultimately, data centre providers like VIRTUS, are centre stage in this sporting evolution. Apart from being able to store IT generated data, the ability to access and interpret it as meaningful actionable information - very quickly - is vitally important and gives huge competitive advantages to those who do it well.

For sports organisations, getting their data centre strategy right means that they have an intelligent and scalable asset that enables choice, growth and improved performance. But - get it wrong and it becomes a fundamental constraint for innovation.

Choosing a partner

So how do sporting organisations choose a technology partner to help them capitalise on the data capture and analysis opportunities? Building their own data storage infrastructure isn’t just costly and time consuming, it ignores the expertise which resides in the data centre industry, which can be crucial in helping them to innovate faster.

Partnering with the right organisation means not having to invest in building systems, saving time and money. Trusted technology partners can also offer security assurance. It’s crucial, of course, that sensitive information that can make or break a team or player, is held in a secure and reliable facility. But, of course, caution must be exercised when selecting a technology provider. Lengthy contracts mean clubs may find themselves bound to technology which can’t scale, and has the potential to hamper innovation. Other clubs could have more flexibility to adapt to newer systems to give themselves a competitive edge. So, the right technology partner, not just ‘a technology partner’ is critical.

The answer for teams and event organisers must be to partner with technology providers with a commitment to being transparent, and who have a track record for flexibility and innovation. It is vital that competitors and clubs ask tricky questions of providers - about infrastructure, scalability and energy consumption - before they sign on the dotted line.

The sporting industry has already been radically changed by the application of digital technologies, and the pace of change means that no club can afford to be complacent. The marketing opportunities to engage with fans, and the performance enhancing opportunities to better players’ outcomes, are enormous.

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