On March 2nd, 2017, SportsCouncil had their first Los Angeles Sports and Tech event at the StubHub Center, hosted by the Los Angeles Galaxy. At the event, over 70 technology leaders along with executive representation from professional sports teams, such as Los Angeles Lakers (NBA), U.S. Paralympics Soccer, US Soccer, and LA Galaxy (MLS) converged together to discuss how technology will change the game of professional sports.
To set the primer for the panel discussion, SportsCouncil SV’s CEO Julien Blin shared a few key data points that were vital to know before discussing. The first point acknowledged was from the professional sports world that the cost of injuries is skyrocketing with wearables, artificial intelligence solutions and analytics becoming a must have for injury prevention. As an example, it is estimated that the NFL has to pay $450M in salaries to injured players every year, leading to the necessity of focusing on technological solutions to improving injury prevention.
As for cerebral training for athletes and enhanced viewing for audiences, the VR market has been growing in adoption levels. According to Digi-Capital, the VR market is expected to generate $30B in revenue in 2020. Recent strong sales performances by Oculus/Facebook, Samsung, HTC and Sony are showing great promise in consumer use, most notably with Sony beating their sales forecasts, selling 915K PlayStation VR devices within the first four months since its launch.
As for a global embrace of watching sports through VR, according to eMarketer’s 2015 report, approximately 26% of U.S. and Western European internet users are interested in watching these sporting competitions through headsets, desiring the feeling of being there but unable to because of location, schedule or financial constraints. It is expected that the current adoption levels will continue to increase as the price of headsets are reduced and both the user experience and technology improves.
The final data point discussed was the financial investments going into the AR/VR industries with venture capitalists investing $2.6B in the year 2016, an increase of 269% YOY from the previous $703M investment during 2015. Mergers and acquisitions within the VR/AR space are accelerating, both within the North American market, Europe and Asia markets.
Next was the keynote panel discussion, moderated by Dan Isaacson, a renowned Hollywood Fitness Trainer who trained celebrities like Tom Hanks, John Travolta, Johnny Depp for movies. Dan moderated the panel and discussed with the panelists how technologies such as wearables, VR/AR, sensors, artificial intelligence and analytics will change the game of professional sports. Joining Isaacson on the stage was Ivan Pierra, Head Athetic Trainer for the LA Galaxy, Stuart Sharp, serving as Coach for the US Paralympics, Hendrik Van Der Mer, President of Vilynx, Dr. Lee Handcock, Olympic Sports Psychologist for Major League Soccer and Mike Santiago, VP of Business Development for Laduma VR.
The discussion began with a question on current VR use and what does the panel foresee of it in the next five years. While each panel member’s answer varied in use, Dr. Lee Handcock summarized the consensus belief through his quotation, “In my perspective, in terms of psychological use, it’s a tool that becomes utilized to practice mentally instead of physiologically as you can’t put that kind of time in. Like anything it is a skill set to master imagery and mentally practice without physical exertion or exhaustion. Overexertion can lead to injuries and this technology can lead to extended practice times as it is not as necessary to undergo physical repetitions.” Ivan Pierra added, “These kinds of tools can help especially younger not inexperienced players at the professional level read and adapt to given scenarios.”
Finally, Stuart Sharp saw a great opportunity with bridging a level of understanding between the Paralympic athletes and the audience mentioning his desire to use VR to help people understand what it’s like to play with a disability.
While the panel was optimistic over the value of virtual reality, there were still obstacles to its adoption with players. One major concern mentioned was the willingness of players to engage in any wearable technology that is not. Biggest challenge for wearables in professional sports is that many athletes don’t like wearing them. One of the important things is to keep things simple and help them understand that the tools or technologies will help them get better in a way that is quantifiable. Especially as a coach, you want players to perform at optimal levels but with such technology and understanding performance data, it can be done much more safely. The line between health and injury can be a teetering balance.
The conversation moved on to the topic of GPS systems and noted have also been useful, especially with measuring fatigue levels and these sort of measurements, like how they move, hydration, strength, speed, exertion levels, etc. needs to be closely monitored. Both Hendrik Van Der Meer from Vilynx and Mike Santiago from Laduma were quick to point out that in addition to analyzing all sorts of data provided from wearables, studying the video footage is equally important and things like body form, positioning, and physical reactions are a factor in assessing performance and injury prevention.
Left: Tom (Vitually Live / 2nd place), Center (Alex, RecoverX / 1st place), Right (Janne / Myontec / 3rd place)
After the panel discussion concluded, the startup competition began with nine companies, each pitching their technology to the judging panel consisting of professional sports executives like Marco Nunez, the head athletic trainer for the LA Lakers (NBA), Ivan Pierra (LA Galaxy), Dr Lee Hancock (MLS) and Stuart Sharp (US Soccer), along with and a couple of revered venture capital investors and angel investors. Competing companies vying for the title of SportsCouncil Startup Company Champion included The Coaching Manual, A-Champs, Virtually Live, RecoverX, ActivBody, Vufine, Myontec, Hoverfly and Vilynx. At the end of the presentations, RecoverX was declared the victor with Virtually Live in second place and Myontec taking third.
If you were unable to join us, please visit www.sportscouncilsv.com to sign up for our next show which will take place on April 25th in San Jose at Zebra Technologies HQ and focus on AR and sensors in sports.