Is Microchipping Athletes The Future of Sport Tech?

Mark Cuban Promotes Tech  with Dallas Mavericks Athletes

Mark Cuban Promotes Tech with Dallas Mavericks Athletes

One would think that an athlete would have problems being “microchipped”, but professional athletes are all for it — partially because of the Persuasiveness of their boss, Mark Cuban. Cuban, best known as a Shark Tank investor and Dallas Mavericks’ owner, is also a tech lover. Combine that with his Drive to take his team into the 22nd century using tech, and the innovation of athlete-tracking through microchipping has become a reality.

To Cuban, information is king. Using the innovation in tech (and many of the 24 Characteristics of Genius), the self-made billionaire is employing data to enhance player aptitude, safety and performance.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff that we do that’s a little bit different, but if it helps us get better, I don’t think anyone will object to it,” remarked Mavericks’ guard Devin Harris.

This practice is old hat to athletes who work for Mark Cuban, as this is the second season the Mavs are using the device. Catapult Sports, an Australian-based tech company, conceived the tech which monitors the effects on tissue, muscle, ligaments and tendons as they accelerate and decelerate during training. The ‘accessory’ sends and receives real time GPS and accelerometer signals and fits under jerseys in a pouch by the top of the player’s spine.

The device not only aids in player performance, it helps with the prevention of injuries as it tracks an athlete’s movements. According to Cuban, “Data acquisition is critical to being proactive with every element of player health and performance, and Catapult is a key product for us in that area.”

Other sports teams are catching on to the benefits of ‘bio monitoring’. Just 3 years ago, Catapult had approximately 5 American clients whereas now, they have 70. Catapult’s senior applied sports scientist, Gary McCoy thinks that the technology will gain more American clients with its invaluable “most-used secret” movement technology, “We’re able to see ‘movement deficits’ on an athlete,” he says. “We had an NFL team last year that had a center that had 78 percent of his ability to move to his right — and only 22 percent to his left.

Professional teams aren’t the only ones who have benefitted from Catapult’s ingenuity. The Florida State Seminoles’ coach cited an 88 percent drop in injuries after using the tech for a year, “Catapult allows us to monitor volumes during practice and competition.”

Though Catapult’s device is yet to be approved, the tech has already been installed in many NBA arenas as of last season.

VC Investments Rise in Sports Tech

Robert Duggan Sports TechThe LA Dodgers partnered with R/GA recently to launch the Dodgers Accelerator, a 12-week program that will sponsor 10 start-up ventures for 3 months. The program is a bid to combine audience engagement and technological advances into the sports realm. The Dodgers and R/GA will invest $20K in each startup in exchange for 6% stake in the company.

When looking for an investment, Stephen Plumlee, Managing Partner of R/GA Ventures says they’re looking for innovation “[…] at the intersection of sports, technology and entertainment.”

“That includes everything from fan engagement, to smart venues, to sports performance, to youth sports. And things like VR content and virtual season tickets, too,” continues Plumlee.

Though R/GA and the Dodgers are touting the program as the first of its kind, the momentum of VC funding moving into the sports ‘arena’ has been prevalent for some time. For instance, VC funding for sports tech startups hit $927 million last year – up almost 30% since 2012.

This trend of investments has also caught the attention of another contingent: celebrities. Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony are just two of the many celebrities who are throwing their hats into the venture capital ring.

A lot of the growing interest in sports tech is “digital disruption.” The combined innovation of technology and sports is necessary to keep up with growing online fantasy sports operations, ticket distributors, and the like.

“The advent of new technology allows entrepreneurs to create new ways to create a closer connection with fans and give them more access to the teams, leagues and sports they love. That makes for a very compelling situation,” said Chief executive of Mandalay Sports Media.

The digital disruption is interesting in that it does not just allow for big businesses to gain visibility; it also allows small enterprises and startups to gain exposure through these deals.

Chief executive of Capital Sports Ventures, Greg Bibb, said, “[…] there’s a huge marketplace out there for underserved properties and sports, and investors are now seeing that and actively working to grow those areas. And we’re particularly focused ourselves on the intersection between participatory sports and technology that we think is now very vibrant.”

This vibrancy and increasing competitiveness to secure entrepreneurs has caused a bidding war between venture firms angling to close investment deals with startups, forcing investors to be as inventive as the startups they hope to secure.

Says Kliavkoff of Hearst Ventures, “Because we’re obviously a large media outfit, we can have a very long investment horizon. And our operating role gives us access to market information that we think makes us better investors.”

The takeaway from this increase in sports tech/VC involvement may be that venture investor roles are shifting, and they — not the startups — will be the ones pitching to close the deal.

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