Monday, October 10, 2022

The Future of Sports Integrity, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series we discussed the future of sports integrity, its meaning, and what makes sports entertaining and compelling to watch and participate in.  We covered the economics of integrity, and how a loss of integrity has a direct impact on the bottomline of sports' ecosystems.  We then identified some of the significant scientific and medical advances that will likely help humans improve their athletic performances, health, injury rehabilitations and prolong their athletic careers in the future.  Many of these advances will need to be studied, evaluated and ultimately absorbed into sports in a manner that preserves the integrity of the sport.

Growth and Innovation:

In Part 2, we explore technologies and innovations that will impact sports, sports integrity and sports ecosystems in the future.  The global sports technology market was valued at US $ 17.9 billion in 2021, and is projected to reach US $40.2 billion by 2026. Growth is forecasted in data-driven decision-making, operations, increased audience engagement, and an increase in online and offline sporting events.

A World Economic Forum report recently found that 76% of consumers today prefer to spend on experiences in the form of live sports or music concerts over material possessions.  These findings represent a positive signal for sports technology innovators that are working on improving the digital experiences for sports fans.

Investors are well aware of the emerging opportunities in the sports ecosystem, in fact, TechCrunch quoted Gayatri Sarkar, Managing Partner at Hype Capital as predicting, “The sports market has the opportunity to be a multi-trillion-dollar ecosystem with technological advances such as 5G, digital collectible trading and the rise of esports, which will fuel new market and social behavior."


More Games Streamed:

Increasingly, even lower level club and school sports, that were rarely captured on video, can be cost-effectively produced for streaming video platforms.  As a result, these games will increasingly be available to be bet on by both legal and illegal organizations.  This development will make lower level games increasingly the target of match fixing and influence by nefarious organizations.

Physical and Digital Game Integration:

In the future real games will have digital twin versions.  The digital twin version will include the action from the live game, but on a platform that will allow gamers to insert themselves digitally and compete as if they were there. In real-time, viewers and gamers will be able to switch back and forth between the real and the digital version of the games.  Lively debates about different offensive and defensive strategies, can be proved or disproved by playing simulations on digital gaming platforms in 3D.  

Imagine your favorite player in a live game.  Now imagine inserting yourself digitally into your favorite player's shoes and playing the game from their perspective.  Would you think the same, make the same moves, defend the same way or score as they do?  Streaming the data from a real/live game into a gaming platform creates a compelling participatory experience never before possible. 

Game Officials:

Let's consider the role of the game official.  In the 2018 FIFA World Cup, we first saw the use of a Video Assistant Referee (VAR).  The VAR system uses a video control room that communicates with referees on the field - a simple first step on a long digital transformation journey. Being a game official is an increasingly difficult role, because every play is likely to be captured on video, and then replayed and reviewed by fans, teams, artificial intelligence powered analysts and pundits, and then shared on social media.  Sports officials are in the spotlight and under the microscope as never before.  

In the near future it will become common for games to have persistent 3D streaming videos from networks of video cameras, augmented and enhanced with data collected from wearables and drones, and reviewed by artificial intelligence powered virtual game officials?  Will human officials still play a role in the future?  Will they be augmented by real-time AI powered analysis? Will AI powered game officials improve the integrity of games, or will it create new kinds of integrity issues?  

Broadcaster Content:

Artificial intelligence and automation are already being packed into solutions used to produce content for broadcasters.  The automated solutions, record games, automatically create highlight reels of the key plays, compare statistics, automate the creation of personalized highlight reels, review calls, and analyzes plays.  All of these technology advances produce massive amounts of content that all kinds of different users can enjoy and subscribe to.

Stadiums and Venues:

Emerging technologies will soon enable us to change the way sports stadiums are designed.  In the future, when most of us ride in autonomous self-driving cars or other forms of autonomous mass transit, there will be less need for parking spaces next to the stadium.  We will simply request our cars to meet us wherever is convenient before and after the game.  Since less space will be needed, stadiums can be built closer to central downtown locations where there are more hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues.

As we have learned, new and future innovations in automobile designs will impact our sports stadium requirements and designs.  Likewise, our ability to record and stream live games in 3D, and with object-based sound will influence our need to physically travel to distant cities to feel the inperson gameday experience.  Imagine your ability to digitally walk onto the field and feel the energy of the crowds. What if smaller satellite stadiums enabled you to have similar experiences as the giant stadiums without the travel, cost and inconvenience?  What if there were satellite stadiums spread all across a region providing exceptional game day experiences using digital technologies?  What if these satellite stadiums someday held more fans than the original stadiums?  What if you were in a stadium located in the metaverse with millions of fans cheering around you?  All of these are already under development.

Athletes:

Major league baseball players have been using different kinds of contact lenses and benefiting from them for some time.  For example, in 2019, Bryce Harper, used photochromic contact lenses which use technology to minimizes the effects of bright lights on the eye.  Other baseball players are using contacts that improve their sight and batting averages.  What if the visors, goggles, glasses and contact lenses athletes are wearing today were connected in real-time to artificial intelligence engines providing game strategy and visual instructions based on the unique situation?  All of these will soon be possible.

Will the impact of emerging technology diminish the human struggle so compelling in today's sports?  Will AI soon instruct coaches, players and game officials?  All of these questions will need to be answered soon. In the future, it is likely that all of us will increasingly take advantages of technologies that enhance the quality of our life.  It will be intriguing to watch how various sports decide to absorb and utilize these technologies in a manner that will protect the integrity of the sport, and preserve our desire to watch the human struggle.

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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.