It is this time of the year again...time to discuss our 2017 sports and tech predictions. So what do we expect to happen in the world of sports and tech in 2017? In this post we are going to go over our predictions.
But before we get into our 2017 predictions, let’s do a quick recap on what happened in 2016.
1. NBA is rumored to be launching soon a wearable committee..that’s a big deal!
This month, the NBA has been rumored to be working on an NBA wearable committee. The goal? Allow NBA players to wear wearable devices during live games..That’s a big deal as it will be a game changer for injury prevention and help teams gain a competitive advantage. Some NBA teams are more tech savvy than others so if this goes through expect some NBA teams to take the lead there. According to our sources the NBA wearable committee has not been approved and finalized yet but it will happen in 2017.
2. Major teams (NBA, European soccer..) are jumping into the eSports bandwagon
In 2016, we saw many NBA teams (Warriors, Philadelphia Sixers, Celtics..) launching their eSports teams or announcing strategic investments in the space. In 2016, major European soccer teams (PSG, Valencia..West Ham..) have already made big moves in this space. The goal? Reach out to a new audience, drive their sales, and invest in the best eSports teams out there to get a nice ROI long term. We also saw current players (Jeremy Lin/Brooklyn Nets/NBA), former NBA players (Stephon Marbury, Magic Johnson, Shaq..) invest or launch their own eSports teams to take advantage of this fast-growing market and grow their brands.
3. Snap launched the Spectacles..but the product needs to mature and get better
Snap launched the Spectacles, its first hardware product, in 2016. Many pro teams (Minnesota Wild/NHL, Warriors/NBA, Cavs/NBA..) have since then adopted the connected glasses. While Snap did a good job with the design of the product, the product needs to mature. We also expect to see pro teams offering customized versions of the Snap in 2017. In addition, we expect Snap to launch new hardware products in 2017 starting with some true standalone AR glasses and a VR headset. Snap has a clear advantage here: It has a large install base (150M users), the right pricing strategy ($130 retail for the Spectacles..), very engaging demographics (e.g. teens), and a fast-growing community. With the IPO coming, valued at $25B, we expect Snap to make more strategic acquisitions in 2017..They just bought an AR startup from Israel and are already rumored to be looking for a drone startup to buy.
4. Social media channels bringing live sports to the masses
In 2016, many pro teams have started using social media channels like Facebook Live or Periscope (part of Twitter) to better engage with their fans and give instant access to games, sports events. We expect this trend to continue in 2017 with more robust ad revenue models emerging there.
5. Sports data analytics remains a core focus for injury prevention but there is still a way to go
In 2016 we saw more pro teams adopting sports data analytics platforms like Kinduct, Kitman Labs, SAP sports, or My Coach...to help them improve training, improve the health of players and prevent injuries..however there is still a way to go and we expect those platforms to become more capable, affordable and integrated with more wearables.
6. Major sports teams and leagues (NBA, NFL, MLS, NHL, European soccer..) are embracing VR for the sports fans experience and for sports training, but the experience needs to get better and content rights can sometimes be an obstacle for VR sports startups
In 2016, sports leagues (NBA, Premier league, NHL..) have started broadcasting live sports games via VR. For example NextVR forged a deal with the NBA to broadcast NBA games every week. In the Premier League, several top games (Arsenal FC Vs Chelsea FC) have been broadcasted live in VR. However we are hearing from VR sports startups that content rights are an issue and too expensive for them. Let’s face it! It is almost impossible for young VR sports startups to pay a lot of money for content rights ..this needs to be addressed. The VR sports experience also needs to improve as the quality is still not there, there are not enough VR headsets out there, and there is still not enough content..but we expect this to start changing in 2017.
With that.. it is now time to go over our 2017 sports and tech predictions.
A. 2017 AR/VR/MR/Video predictions
1. Live VR sports fans experience will start improving..with 12K VR camera with no stitching required..coming in 2017
In 2017 we expect the VR sports experience to improve dramatically. According to our sources we will see major sports events being broadcasted live in VR via 12K VR camera without any stitching required. This will bring the VR experience to the next level and help drive the adoption of VR in live sports.
2. VR content is about to get a lot better, with more major brands getting into the VR space
We expect to see a lot more brands, gaming companies launching dedicated VR divisions to produce made-for-VR sports content. We also expect them to partner with best in class VR camera companies and production companies to produce this VR content.
3. Emergence of viable business models with sponsorship at the core
We also expect new models to emerge such as ad supported models, product placements within a VR experience..Companies like Immersv, a VR ad platform, will play a key role there as they have relationships with leagues, and big brands. We also expect major pro teams (NBA, NHL, NFL..) to bring their sponsors on board to have them subsidize the cost of content to bring this VR content for free to the fans. This needs to happen and will happen in 2017. It will benefit the brands, startup and sponsors tremendously.
4. Intersection between VR and wearables will become a “must have” in 2017
We will also see the emergence of VR startups combining VR with biometric data from wearables to build true immersive VR coaching experiences with live biometric data. VR startups like Trinity VR are among the startups focusing on this area and we will see more startups entering this space in 2017.
5. VR for sports training likely to expand to new sports (Tennis, Volley ball, hockey, soccer..) in 2017
In addition to combining biometric data with VR sports training apps, we expect VR startups like STRIVR Labs, EON Sports labs..to expand to new sports..so far the NFL and baseball have been the key sports that have adopted VR sports training apps and the results have been very promising but we expect those startups to expand into new sports like tennis, volley ball, hockey. Granted there are already some startups that are starting to build training VR apps for some of these sports but we expect more startups to make apps for these other sports in 2017. This will help drive the adoption of VR training apps. We also expect sports leagues and major OEMs (Samsung..), apparel companies (Under Armour, adidas..) and sports tech companies to start embracing VR for sports training to expand their product line and grow their sports business.
6. Intersection between live data and AR will also become a key trend in 2017.
This is probably one of the biggest trends that we will see in 2017. Combining AR with live biometric data to provide metadata as an overlay to an AR app will become a must have. Companies like Zebra, which built an RFID chip used by NFL teams to track the location, speed, location, velocity, acceleration of players..will play a key role there. This will revolutionize the sports fans experience in a big way! We also expect many pro teams to launch their own AR apps as a new feature within their existing mobile app. They will do it in house or through 3rd party companies. Teams like the New England Patriots (NFL), Chelsea, PSG..will be out in front in this area..but other pro teams and leagues will follow their footsteps in 2017.
7. Consolidation will accelerate in the VR space in 2017
We already saw some signs of consolidations in 2016 with 90% of the 200-300 VR chinese startups shutting down in 2016. In 201, Intel also bought Voke VR a leading VR sports startup. We expect the phenomenon of consolidation in the VR sports space to accelerate in 2017 for many reasons: (1) Major tech companies will acquire leading VR sports startup to enter the market, acquire market share, engineering talent, and new technologies. (2) Some VR sports startups will run out of cash and shut down (3) Some VR sports startups will sell their business as a way to scale their business much faster.
8. Will Apple bring VR to the masses? Yes..
Futurist like Robert Scoble believes that Apple will make a big push in 2017. He expects them to sell 100M Mobile VR devices in one quarter alone in 2017. That’s a big deal and will bring the VR market to the masses. We are talking to a mobile VR device here, so the pricing will likely be sub $200 retail which is a good price point. Many pro teams will adopt Apple’s VR mobile device and bring it to their fans. Currently the volume of VR headset is still fairly low but if Apple indeed launches its VR mobile device and bundle it with its iPhone this will fly off the shelf and bring VR to the masses. Apple will also build sports oriented apps for the VR sports fans experience which will help drive the adoption of VR in pro sports. We also expect Apple to make strategic acquisitions in the VR space in 2017.
9. Wildcard: Will Magic Leap launch its product in 2017 to bring Mixed Reality (MR) to life?
This is probably the one million dollars question right now. No one really knows when Magic Leap will launch its MR glasses..will it be in 2017 or 2018? It is hard to say..But one thing is clear: Right now Magic Leap probably has the best optical engineering team in the world to build the best MR glasses with the best realism of 3D images. They have the resources, talent and money ($1.4B) to make that happen but given the recent PR issues they need to reset the expectation and be a bit more transparent in terms of communication. The MR race is a long race..and for Magic Leap to launch in 2018 would be perfectly fine, but Magic Leap has a few obstacles to overcome: They need to build a solid distribution, brand, and large install base..which they don’t have right now..To Robert Scoble’s point, companies like Apple, Samsung, or Snap, have large install base which is a key competitive advantage. Long term we expect Magic Leap to announce deals with major pro teams and offer sports oriented apps MR apps for the pro teams, fans...We also expect Magic Leap to announce major content deals with major brands, sports broadcasters...Magic Leap will also most likely open its API to MR/AR companies, brands to enable them to help create innovative MR experiences..this is coming! No doubt about it..
B. 2017 wearable sports and digital health predictions
1. Emergence of advanced sensors (Hydration, electrolyte, lactic acid..) with advanced algorithms set to bring injury prevention to the next level
This will be a major theme in 2017. Quite frankly it has been a long time coming..To be fair building advanced sensors beyond HR, steps, calories, HRV..is difficult..but we will start to see the emergence of advanced wearables capable of measuring new types of biometric data like hydration, electrolyte, lactic acid..in “real time”..this will be a game changer for the world of sports performance and science. Let’s face it: sports leagues have been impacted by injuries in a big way..it costs $500M to the NFL in 2015 and $700M for the MLB in 2017. This is where next generation wearables made by companies like Kenzen will become so valuable. Moving forward we expect this to become the norm and companies who cannot step up to the game to track these types of biometric data with advanced analytics will be left out.
2. NBA to kick off its wearable committee in 2017
As we mentioned earlier we expect the NBA to officially launch its NBA wearable committee in 2017 in order to allow some select wearables to be used during live NBA games. The NBA needs to carefully select the wearables that will be allowed during NBA games. They also need to set the bar in terms of experiences, the quality of the data collected and the requirements for those wearables. They also need to test those wearables ahead of time before allowing them to be used by teams during live NBA games. It will also become critical for the NBA to establish some guidelines in terms of data protections, player privacy, live data transmission..this is why the NBA player association is actively involved in this currently. It will only work if the NBA player association is fully on board and part of the negotiation but this is getting done as we speak.
3. NBA and MLB to start allowing wearables during live games..which will become a key strategic advantage and key vehicle for better injury prevention
Former NBA commissioner David Stern recently nailed it (see quote below) when it gave his vision of how NBA coaches will be able to use wearables during NBA games. Companies like Kenzen will be able to enable this in 2017.
We also expect the MLB to approve new types of wearables in 2017..the MLB recently discussed this during their winter meetings in early December 2016 and they should make some announcements soon.
Long term, we even envision a future where broadcasters will broadcast some of that data (acceleration, hydration level, elevation, speed..) on live TV..imagine combining that with live VR and this will bring the sports viewing experience to a whole new level. We also expect to see the emergence of VR sports experiences where fans could be capturing the winning shot of Steph curry in real time via VR cameras and sensors placed on the court and instantaneously practice that winning shot at home from their living room with a digital coaching system with wearables embedded into the experience..The system would say “Place your elbow inside..to get the perfect shot (..) ok now your shoot matches Steph Curry’s shot and motion..well done..now keep practicing”. In china where there are 500M basketball players the potential is enormous. This is not a technical issue but just a matter of time.
4. New form factors to become a “must have” in sports..starting with smart patches, smart sleeves..
For the past 24 months we have seen the emergence of new kind of form factors like smart patches, smart t-shirts, smart sleeves..in our view these new types of form factors are set to become the norm as they are less intrusive..fitness bands are just too visible on the court..while patches are not. In fact some research firms expect smart patches to capture a third of the wearable market by 2020, which would be 200M units. So this is coming in a big way! The same hold true for smart t-shirts, smart sleeves..especially as those products become more affordable and embedded with more advanced sensors (e.g. contactless biosensors) which won’t require direct contact to the skin.
5. Contactless biosensors to emerge but there is still a long way to go
In 2017, we expect to see companies introducing products using contactless biosensors capable of measuring things like hydration, HR, HRV..without any direct contact to the skin. This will start with fitness bands in 2017, then smart t-shirts in 2018. We know some companies currently working on this. The issue there is getting a reliable and stable RF signal during intense exercises..this is very difficult and pro teams won’t use those sensors if this is not ready for prime time. But contactless biosensors have tremendous potential for smart clothing as it would eliminate the need for compression shirts.
6. Wearables and sports data analytics will become a key area for scouting for major sports teams
Companies like Kitman Labs, Kinduct or My Coach have done a good job working with pro teams to build advanced dashboards to help those teams better monitor the health of players, improve the training sessions, and prevent injuries. That being said, the space is still fairly nascent. We expect those systems to improve in 2017 with more advanced algorithms, better injury prevention tools with advanced alert systems pulling biometric data from more capable wearables. At the end of the day, as David Stern pointed, we are moving into a world of sports where those teams will get live alerts during games saying “This NBA player is at 80% chance of injuries..he is dehydrated..his electrolyte level is too low..take him out of the game now before he gets injured”. This will happen sooner than most people think..starting in 2017.
7. M&As in the wearable space set to accelerate in 2017
In 2015/2016 we saw a series of M&As occurring in the wearable space. For example, Fitbit bought Pebble for $30M in 2016..Fossil bought Misfit for $250M in 2015. We expect the M&A phenomenon to accelerate in 2017 with major OEMs (Samsung, Apple, Huawei..), apparel companies (Nike, adidas, Under Armour..), tech companies (Google, Facebook..) making big moves in 2017..The goal? Acquiring talented engineering teams, gaining market share, mind share, acquiring customers and getting better traction in the fast growing wearable markets. Fitbit, now a public company, will continue to be a key player there. Snap, which will file for IPO in 2017, will also be among the most active buyers.
C. 2017 AI/analytics predictions
1. Major US pro teams to start using AI based scouts
Some European rugby pro teams have started using AI based scouts in 2016..AI in sports is an interesting area that could be useful for some pro teams looking to leverage AI to find new talents. However in 2017 we expect to see some pro teams starting using AI based scouts as a “complement” of their existing scouts. AI just cannot replace scouts’ talents, intuition, network, etc.at least not at the moment.
2. More teams to use AI based stress analysis to better prevent injuries
Understanding the stress level of an athlete is as important as understanding the physical condition of a player. A player who is under stress is more likely to not perform well, doubt himself, his capabilities..in sports, mental toughness is critical..which is why in 2017 we expect to see more pro teams focusing on stress analysis to better understand the psychological mindset of athletes and ultimately help them prevent injuries, improve the performance of their athletes. We know some startups currently working with pro teams on stress analysis.
D. 2017 eSports predictions
1. Literally every NBA and European soccer teams will get into eSports in 2017
As we know pro teams are extremely competitive..When major soccer teams in Europe like the PSG announced the launch of their eSports teams, other major pro teams took notice..this is why we expect major European soccer teams (Barca, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Juventus, Chelsea FC..) to jump on the bandwagon in 2017. This just makes sense. The same holds true for most NBA teams (LA Lakers, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, etc..)..Other leagues and pro teams in the NHL, NFL, MLS will follow their footsteps in 2017.
2. VR set to become a new vehicle for eSports to help pro teams reach out to a new audience
In 2016 major VR players like Jaunt VR have announced partnerships with major eSports players. In our view this trend will accelerate in 2017 with more VR players (NextVR, Voke VR/Intel, STRIVR Labs, Virtually Live, Laduma VR..) forging key strategic partnerships with leading players in the eSports space. This will be a win win situation for both parties. It will make the eSports experience more immersive, more scalable and global. It will also help VR startups reach ou to a new audience: The eSports world has grown significantly in the past 24 months and is backed by big teams, sponsors, gaming companies and big brands. For pro teams, combining VR with eSports make so much sense as it will help them reach out to a new audience and leverage the growing popularity of both worlds.
3. More analytics focused eSports startups to emerge to analyze the performance of gamers
In 2016, we saw the emergence of some analytics startups for eSports. Take for example Mobalytics, an eSports company creating a more robust way for competitive gamers to analyze and improve performance, they raised $2.6 million in 2016. We expect to see similar startups popping up in 2017. This will help improve the performance of pro gamers and elevate the game.
4. More eSports hackathons are coming in 2017..organized by pro teams and athletes
In 2016, four-time NBA champion and investor in NRG eSports Shaquille O’Neal organized an eSports hackathon broadcasted live from the White House on Twitch to raise awareness for a great cause. In 2017 we expect this phenomenon to continue. More precisely we expect major pro teams (NBA, NFL, European soccer..) to host eSports hackathons as a way to reach out to the gaming community and increase the popularity of their eSports initiatives, find new talents, attract new sponsors, etc.
5. Major tech companies and brands (Apple, Samsung, Facebook..) to make a big push into eSports in 2017
One thing that was quite striking in 2016 was the fact that large tech companies and brands were not very active if not totally involved in the eSports space. In our view, this is about to change in a big way in 2017. This is why we expect large tech companies like Samsung, Google, Facebook and some big sports brands to make major announcements in the eSports space in 2017. This will allow them to promote and sell their products to a new market, engage with a new audience, increase their global reach, and take advantage of the fast growing eSports market.
E. 2017 Sports Tech investment predictions
1. More teams owners, athletes, brands and large tech companies will invest in sports startups, especially in the AR, MR, VR, eSports and wearables
In 2016 we saw an increasing number of team owners, athletes, brands and large tech companies investing left and right in VR, eSports and wearable tech entities. We expect this phenomenon to further accelerate in 2017 with new investment areas like AR and MR to become prime investment areas for team owners and athletes. Let’s face it! These team owners, athletes, brands and tech companies have tremendous resources, money, and reach. They are looking at this as a pure strategic investment as well as a nice complement to their current efforts and a new way to drive more revenues and reach out to a new audience.
2. More athletes will launch their athlete VC funds
In 2015/2016 we saw many top pro athletes launching their own athlete VC funds..this is the case of Steph Curry, Carmelo Anthony, Joe Montana, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Shaq, just to name a few. We expect more athletes to follow this trend especially those who signed large contracts, are tech savvy, have large amount of followers and want to prepare their post careers. There is no doubt that areas like VR, R, MR, wearables, sports data analytics and eSports, will be among the key areas of focus for many of these athlete VC funds.
3. More sports teams will launch incubators
In 2015/2016 we saw several major teams launching their own sports startup accelerator programs in association with partners. For example, this was the case of the Philadelphia Sixers (NBA) or the LA Dodgers (MLB). We expect more teams to follow suit in 2017, in association with key strategic partners.
2017 is set to be another exciting year in the world of sports and tech..it is time to bring real innovation to sports.
Happy new year to all of you and all the best for 2017!