On Jan. 24, the Sacramento Kings of the NBA will become the first professional sports team ever to record and stream a live game using Google Glass. While players won’t actually wear Google Glass on the court, team members, cheerleaders, announcers and even the mascot will from the sidelines. The Sacramento Kings are billing this as the ultimate fan experience – being able to see live in-game action through the eyes of their favorite players – but there’s another question that’s perhaps more relevant: Can this new generation of wearable technology actually help teams win games?
In other words, is wearable technology the new home-field advantage?
Consider for a minute how other wearable technology innovations are improving the performance of professional athletes in sports such as running and soccer. New Adidas wearable tech unveiled last fall can measure a runner’s heart rate through the wrist and track distance using GPS technology, potentially enabling a coach to monitor a runner’s vital signs throughout a race and turn any run into a “smart run.” And in soccer, shirts and shin guards with sensors can be used to track important data throughout a game – like how far a player has run, or the average speed of a player in motion. As we know from books like Soccernomics, that type of data can be incredibly useful for coaches and owners – instead of relying on gut instincts, they will know which players are overvalued or undervalued based on cold, hard data.
So, let’s extend that wearable tech example to baseball, which has already been revolutionized by Billy Beane and his “Moneyball” acolytes. In baseball, pitch count is one metric for determining how tired a starting pitcher is. These days, any time a pitcher gets close to 100 pitches, he’s likely headed for the showers, no matter how “strong” he feels. But what if a pitching coach or manager had access to all kinds of other information, thanks to sensors implanted in the player’s cap or jersey? Instead of asking a pitcher whether or not he still had gas left in the tank, you could simply check the stats from all the wearable sensors and make the tactical decision of when to bring in a reliever.
Or, how about football? There are so many intangibles involved in being a great quarterback, things like “the ability to spot the open receiver.” With Google Glass, coaches would have a first-person view of the quarterback’s field of vision, and by studying the data they could quickly determine a quarterback’s ability to scan the field for the open receiver. They would literally see what the quarterback was seeing. Over time, you could make strategic decisions of who should be your starting quarterback based on factors beyond just passing percentage or average yards per completion.
Which brings us back to the Sacramento Kings and their innovative use of Google Glass. Just wearing the latest technology and producing a lot of data doesn’t produce W’s in the win-loss column. You have to make sense of all that data, and apply it in a way that gives you a strategic advantage – the way the creators of “Moneyball” used their sophisticated analysis of baseball data to come up with a whole new way of scouting and analyzing players.
What the Sacramento Kings appear to be doing is something bigger than just creating a superior fan experience – they are starting to think about technology as a valuable new dimension for creating value for a professional sports franchise. The Kings, after all, recently became the first pro sports team to accept Bitcoin for payment. And, before that, the Kings’ majority owner (Vivek Randadive, the founder and CEO of TIBCO Software) talked about viewing the sports franchise as a social network. As a result, it’s easy to see how these early innovations could have long-range strategic implications for the way you coach a basketball game or the way you draft and trade players. (Not surprisingly, Google Glass has not yet been approved for use at the NBA draft).
So, when the Kings Go Glass on Jan. 24, you can view it just the next stage of fan experience, similar to the novelty experience of bringing 3D glasses to the movie theater. Or, you can think about the Kings Go Glass experiment as the next logical evolution of home-field advantage, in which it’s not the fan or stadium that acts as the 12th man, but rather, the latest wearable technology out of Silicon Valley.