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The Revolution In Sportstech Is Just Beginning

By Will Lopes

It’s an exciting time to be in the business of sports, and investors have an opportunity to get in on the action.

Leagues and federations have a newfound resilience to better manage COVID interruptions, there are record-breaking feats of athleticism every day, and we continue to see sports play a pivotal role in cultural progress around the world. 

But the real opportunity for investors lies in what they cannot see.

In the front offices, on the sidelines and in weight rooms, sport is changing. Digital transformation impacted everything from the way coaches planned their next game to how athletes were trained when facilities closed. 

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At my company Catapult, where we provide more than 3,400 elite-level teams around the world with extremely comprehensive performance data and analytics, we saw this firsthand.

Those that had the ability to guide players remotely, measure their work loads, and optimize training schedules based on objective data were able to rise to the challenges that the pandemic created. 

The sports industry has evolved in parallel with traditional enterprises, and it’s no exception to the boom in what has become a VC darling: vertical SaaS. In 2020, a record $1.4 billion was invested in sports tech, according to Crunchbase data. In the first eight months of 2021, more than $700 million was invested.

Will Lopes, CEO of Catapult Sports

Two years into the COVID era, simply having access to athlete data is table stakes for elite teams. Today, it’s about the quality of insights and how they improve a team’s ability to make decisions. 

Teams and athletes that embrace this new way of working are uncovering a new competitive advantage. They use data to hone athletes for peak performance instead of grinding them through practices and drills that risk costly injuries. Software is helping teams work efficiently, and we’re still in the early days of sport’s digital transformation.

Coaches no longer rely on singular metrics like time, speed, or minutes played to train their athletes. For example, we provide thousands of data points a second to describe a player’s workload, a critical measurement for understanding exertion. This new level of insight helps inform training regimens and return-to-play strategies for injured players that are data-backed and objective. 

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When an athlete was injured 20 years ago, they could face years of recovery, often relying on methods that were by and large the same for every athlete. Now, coaches can use individual performance data to tailor a training plan that is customized to an athlete’s injury, capabilities and position, all based on objective data. 

Just like its business counterpart, the digital data transformation in sports is powered by SaaS-based solutions enabling new ways of handling critical workflows.

As a result, the global professional sports technology market is projected to grow at a rate of 17.5 percent to reach $40.2 billion by 2026, up $17.9 billion in 2021 alone. We also see the rapid evolution of sports technology go from wearable devices to SaaS platforms that provide data, analytics and insights based on machine learning and artificial intelligence. 

This digital transformation is delivering a greater level of sport-specific, team-specific and athlete-specific intelligence that vastly increases understanding of performance. 

In the future, machine learning will allow us to go beyond descriptive data and into real-time prescriptive insights for coaches and athletes. At Catapult, we consider descriptive data to be the enhanced analytics that tell coaches and athletes what happened during a game or practice. 

What was an athlete’s top speed? Are the player loads in line with historical benchmarks? Who covered the most ground on the field or pitch? Those are all incredibly helpful, but applying machine learning to these data sets unlocks the next wave of digital transformation for sports teams. 

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Advances in AI, the increase of computing power for cloud applications, and the accumulation of ever-richer sets of data, are enabling applications of sports technology that were not on anyone’s radar a decade ago. We envision a future where coaches and athletes have predictive data informing their workouts and game strategies. Coaches will have personalized performance blueprints for every athlete on their team that uses predictive modeling to prescribe the best strategy for success.

In terms of  the total addressable market, the digital transformation will not stop at elite teams. It’s going to eventually impact all levels of competition, and performance data ultimately will be democratized. We are building a future where personalized insights about an athlete’s performance—their potential top speed, their likelihood to complete a play, their ability to return from injury—are available to every athlete and team on Earth. High schools and sports academies will have access to the same predictive and prescriptive analysis as the pros. Coaches will be able to rely on SaaS technologies powered by machine learning to hone their players and keep them healthier than ever before. 

Making the varsity team will not only be an exercise in grit and determination, but supported by performance blueprints customized to the athlete’s unique abilities, informed by a powerful data set and insights from athletes around the world.

Make no mistake, the digital transformation of sports is fully underway. As teams find ways to automate critical workflows and develop more data-backed insights to unleash the potential of their athletes, we’ll continue to see them push boundaries and break records. While data and SaaS solutions are not a replacement for hard work, determination and talent, they will help teams and athletes work smarter. And the real revolution in sports tech is just beginning.

Will Lopes is CEO Catapult Sports, a global performance technology company focused on elite sports, based in Boston. Prior to Catapult, Lopes was the CRO of Audible, an Amazon company.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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