When discussing his company’s new multimillion dollar partnership with Real Madrid FC earlier this month, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made quite the statement.
“There isn’t another industry that is being so fundamentally transformed with data and digital technology like sports,” Nadella said.
It certainly seemed that way on Wednesday evening, as GeekWire hosted a private dinner in Seattle that included team owners, an Olympic medalist, an NFL linebacker, startup CEOs, engineering gurus, and veteran journalists who came together for a discussion of what’s happening at the intersection of sports and technology.
The group touched on a number of topics, from how wearable trackers are helping prevent injuries and improve on-field performance, to how teams can do a better job of using technology to engage with fans — both in and out of the stadium.
We caught up with our guests after the dinner and asked them what they’re most excited about with sports technology — see their answers below. Thanks to J.P. Morgan and Davis Wright Tremaine for sponsoring the private dinner, and to our great host Sullivan’s Steakhouse.
“For me, I think because it’s so untapped in our organization, it’s actually more of the data capture on our consumers and ticket holders — their interests, their pain points in coming to the game or watching games on TV and how we can structure our business to make their experiences better both in the stadium and watching on TV.” — Adrian Hanauer, Seattle Sounders owner.
“The thing I’m most excited about is technology helping out with recovery. Talking to veterans, the biggest thing they said that allowed them to play ‘X’ amount of years is their body. Technology is an avenue that can help so many athletes with prepping the body better, having better recovery, and seeing what they’re doing on field or what movements they should be doing better or where they are weak, and turning those weak points into strong points. Technology is a great avenue to use to see what we can improve on.” — Kevin Pierre-Louis, Seattle Seahawks linebacker.
“I’m most excited about being able to protect the kids from head injury and try to, in essence, save the game of football. It’s a concern for NFL and it’s a concern for anybody that likes football. It’s a national health problem.” — Per Reinhall, Mechanical Engineering Department Chair at the University of Washington and CTO of VICIS.
“I think what I’m most excited about with technology is that it allows people to really individualize anything from their health to their training to their daily health routine and not get drawn into the stereotypical routines of how they think their bodies should react or how society’s stereotypes say you should go about something a certain way. The technology just really helps people learn about themselves at a deeper level. A lot of times, people are told how their body should be based on the majority, but everyone is so different.
It also really helps democratize sports. If you don’t have funding or resources, a lot of these big data devices you can pick up for economical prices. Countries can now play on the same field as other countries with huge resources. That’s exciting.” — Jennie Reed, three-time Olympic cyclist and 2012 silver medal winner.
“As a fan of sports, I’m really excited about the whole new level of statistics we can start to measure. How fast did that runner accelerate or decelerate, how did they run? Or what about real-time tracking with the ball? That stuff is super cool, and it’s just a whole new level of stats.” — Jesse Harper, CEO of i1 Biometrics.
“Giant screens — giant, interactive screens. Think of the whole wall. That’s the thing that people are underestimating the impact of. Go watch Star Trek Next Generation. That’s what it will be like. They use their hands to do stuff. You’ll be like the producers in the TV trucks.” — Mike Slade, Second Avenue Partners co-founder and former CEO of Starwave.
“I’m really looking forward to technology’s ability to help sports clubs expand beyond their local community. Sports have traditionally and intrinsically been based on local community, but the fact of the matter is people move out and might be attracted to another sports club when they are outside of their home area.
Clubs haven’t really broken through with the ability to connect with fans outside of their general vicinity. For me, being raised in a digital age, I’m super excited to bring new technologies to these traditional businesses who haven’t embraced technology to connect with their global and international fan bases.” — Samara Donald, Director of Business Strategy and Management at Microsoft.
“I’m in the self-propelled sports business, i.e. fitness — people investing in themselves. The quantified-self movement is massive. It’s going to come in so many forms for people with their sports and fitness regime, whether it’s wearables devices within and out of garments and shoes, etc. Bottom line, quantified self is huge, and so is the social accountability you get with that, and the community you get with that. There will be a community that comes out of some of these quantified-self type of devices. The community side of it is the bigger benefit and the outcome has a lot more stickiness. I’d rather be building a community than selling devices.” — Jim Weber, CEO of Brooks Sports.
“Fan engagement is the thing I’m most interested in. It’s the idea that at a live sporting event, teams can focus more on building the community and engaging fans in the content creation with a participatory role.
It’s weird, but I think there is currently a lot of disengagement that happens at live sporting events. There is not a lot of reaching out to fans to get them to be more participatory. If you are a sports team owner, why wouldn’t you fertilize that more and cultivate that, because at the end of the day, a huge reason why people come to sporting events is the community you feel. It’s the excitement, it’s the unknown, it’s the guy next to you cheering. With all the stuff available for binge watching and all the DVR and non real-time stuff, live sporting events are one of the few things anymore where that uncertainty and the outcome isn’t quite known.” — Alan McGinnis, CEO of Enthrall Sports.
“The thing that intrigues me most is how spectator sports retain the in-house audience when the home experience with every passing year, with each technological improvement, becomes better and better. When does paying 50 bucks to park, only to have beer spilled down your wife’s back, cease to be an amusing evening?
I can’t begin to predict where individuals lie, because everybody has their tolerance for these activities, but I do think sports teams have a big investment in the gate, even as the gate as a percentage of their revenue pie diminishes. They need that livelihood, that intense passionate in-house experience that translates through the screen to get people to show up, buy season tickets and suites and sponsored products.” — Art Thiel, longtime sports columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and co-founder of SportsPressNW.com.
“I would say improvements in fan engagement. The ability now for fans to follow their teams and be engaged one on one with a brand, the teams, the players — it’s just phenomenal. It all cascades down into participation and creates that entire ecosystem. The brands that do it well will be big winners in this space. Sports has this unique movement right now with rights fees and the idea that it is one of the few forms of entertainment that people still want to engage with in either live or near-live context.
You just look at the 12s around Seattle, or how people wear their favorite team colors on Friday — it’s become engrained in culture. When you are in a foreign country and run into someone else wearing a Sounders jersey, there is that sense of camaraderie and tribal identification. Sports has really created that tribal identification and that connection in so many different ways. When you layer technology on to that, people can get deeper and richer experiences.” — Kraig Baker, partner at Davis Wright Tremaine.
“As an avid sports fan, I’m excited to see how technology can improve the in-stadium live watching experience — everything from helping me find a better seat to seeing the stats and information of whoever is up to bat. It’s also just improving the once-you’re-there experience. If I know there’s a restaurant I really like somewhere in the stadium, but I don’t know how to get there and I don’t want to walk all around the stadium — things like that. And then the obvious, like how long is bathroom line, and all of those things. Right now, watching sports on TV beats being in the stadium in some ways.” — Meeka Charles, banker at J.P. Morgan.
“I want to see the best players play the best players at their best. When we talk about concussions, the more they can prevent anyone from getting injured, the more we can see our best guys go out and play, the better. That’s why I pay to go to a game — I want to see the stars play and not on the sidelines. Any way that technology can help with injury prevention, that’s what I want to see.” — Justin Rammer, general manager at Sullivan’s Steakhouse.