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TAYLOR’S TAKE ON THE WEEK IN SPORTS TECH: Vicis, the high-tech football helmet maker based in Seattle, had several key developments this week.
The company announced an additional $7 million in funding, and has now raised nearly $50 million since spinning out of the University of Washington in 2014. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson participated in the funding round — Wilson, who also just launched his own media startup, is among a group of players from more than 15 NFL teams and 20 NCAA programs who are wearing the helmet this season.
The $1,500 ZERO1 helmet, which finished first in the NFL’s 2017 Helmet Laboratory Testing Performance Results, is designed to mitigate the forces thought to cause concussions. Unlike traditional helmets, the outer shell on the ZERO1 is deformable and yields much like a car bumper upon impact. There is also a layer of flexible columns in the helmet that can absorb impact before it reaches a head.
It’s too early to assess the impact of Vicis’ helmet in regard to helping reduce the amount of concussions suffered by NFL players. The technology certainly doesn’t prevent head injuries completely — Falcons lineman Ryan Schraeder, who is wearing the helmet, sat out two games because of a concussion in September, though he noted that “it would have happened with any helmet,” ESPN reported.
Still, investors and players themselves are putting their support behind Vicis.
“My experience wearing the ZERO1 this season has been exceptional,” Wilson said in a statement. “The custom fit and wide field of vision have allowed me to perform at my best. I invested in VICIS because I believe in our mission and I want to help all the kids playing sports have access to the best available technology.”
Another big announcement: Notre Dame said it will equip a “majority” of its team with the Vicis helmet next season.
“We already have some guys wearing the ZERO1 this year and, based on the positive feedback, we’re looking forward to near-full adoption next season,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement.
Vicis also announced the general availability of its helmet to any football players at the high school level and above. Athletes can pre-order the helmet, with an expected delivery by July 31 of next year for orders placed by March 31 — in time for the 2018 football season.
While the company is starting with NFL and college athletes, it’s always been Vicis’ mission to get its helmet into the high school ranks and other youth leagues.
Highlights from the week in sports tech
- For the first time in team history, the Seattle Mariners have hired a director of high performance. Lorena Martin joined the MLB squad this offseason after spending a year as the director of sports performance analytics with the Los Angeles Lakers. She’ll be in charge of all aspects of physical and mental training for the team’s players, incorporating data from various trainers, coaches and physicians to improve performance. We spoke with Martin for our latest Geek of the Week feature.
- Speaking at an EY event in Palm Springs, tennis legend Billie Jean King offered a few insights on her unlikely rise to tennis stardom — lessons that certainly can be applied to entrepreneurship, business and family life.
- The New York Times has a solid report on the growth and success of sports apparel giant Fanatics, which is thriving by inking licensing deals and capitalizing on sports moments, “carving out a lucrative niche in a fiercely competitive online-retail industry largely dominated by Amazon,” as the Times noted.
- Twitter and The Players Tribune this week debuted #Verified, a live show on Twitter that features athletes answering questions in real-time. NFL star wide receiver A.J. Green hosted a session on Monday. The dynamic is similar to what injured Seahawks star cornerback Richard Sherman did on YouTube last week from his hospital bed.
- Facebook, meanwhile, continues to add sports content to its Facebook Watch platform, with NBA veteran Dwyane Wade recently launching his own show.
- Nike is envisioning the basketball court of the future. The shoe giant unveiled its new “Hyper Courts” in Manila this week. It worked with Google to let players unlock content on their smartphone, data-free, as they step onto the smart court.
- Fox Sports radio host Colin Cowherd doesn’t like how much replay technology is being used in today’s sports. He can have pretty ridiculous opinions but I tend to agree on this one — too much replay interrupts the flow of the game.
- SeatGeek continues to make big moves in the ticketing space, as it announced that it will be the primary ticketing platform for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans and the NFL’s New Orleans Saints — the first NFL team to pick SeatGeek for primary ticketing. I met with SeatGeek co-founder Russ D’Souza in Seattle earlier this month — this is a company to watch.
- Top venture capital firm Sapphire Ventures is raising a $100 million fund for sports tech.
- FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles is leaving the fantasy sports giant and will start an esports company.
- Amazon announced that it is sponsoring the Special Olympics, the largest sporting event to come to Seattle in 25 years.
- The Pac-12 announced a partnership with SyncThink, which has developed technology that assesses eye tracking on the sidelines to evaluate symptoms of a concussion.
- SportTechie found six sports tech-related Black Friday deals.
What to watch this weekend: Lots of good college football Saturday, starting with “The Game” at 9 a.m. PT on FOX when Ohio State visits Michigan; the Iron Bowl is set for 12:30 p.m. on CBS as No. 1 Alabama takes on No. 6 Auburn … Notre Dame battles Stanford at 5 p.m on ABC while Washington hosts rival Washington State for The Apple Cup at the same time on FOX … Saints at Rams at 1:25 p.m. on CBS Sunday is the NFL’s best matchup.