The sports tech industry is producing some of the hottest investment opportunities today, ranging from performance enhancers and wearables to diagnosis and treatment of sports injuries.
Q1: In 2015, over $1B was poured into sports tech investments (up from 2014). As we close the year, what excites you about the industry as the market matures?
First of all, thanks for having me participate in what should be an invigorating discussion on the sports tech industry.
I am most excited to see this overwhelming influx of cash being put to work. We have seen many interesting concepts and campaigns to raise money, but many such companies are still in their infancy. The goods and/or services that come out of the raises excite me, as well as the individuals behind many of the companies that are pushing the envelope -- many of whom happen to be former athletes like Curtis Martin.
Off the top of my head, I think of a former athlete in Mark Clayton, who decided to start a new brand of headphones -- LIVV Headphones -- after retirement. Then there are companies like Athos, which just announced a major Series C raise to continue to build out its next-generation fitness apparel and wearable technology - http://www.forbes.com/sites....
It is certainly an exciting time to be in sports tech.
Sorry about the delay!
Sports is an area where technology is thriving! It advances all sports in so many fascinating ways to make it better.
The way athletes train, the way a coach prepares, even the way the fans view the game is dramatically different, all because of technological advancement. Those are just some of the things that excite me!
Q2: Are there specific technologies that you are excited about and feel have the potential to change the way the game is played and viewed? How do you think the adoption of recent tech has changed the game in the last 15 years?
I'll take the "viewed" angle. A company that I represent as legal counsel has completely changed the "second screen" experience by aggregating news from local beat writers of sports teams you care about and pushing you only the relevant content you wish to consume.
The company is called SportsManias. It has recently added the ability for the user to input his/her fantasy football roster (via an automatic integration...touch of the button) and get news related to those players pushed to him/her.
It is really about bringing the information that the consumer craves to him/her instead of forcing that consumer to go out searching for it. SportsManias also gets rid of all the clutter that none of us care about.
The viewing of the games themselves also may change in coming years. Look at an industry like eSports (competitive video gaming). Its vehicle for distribution is largely an online company Twitch. Traditional networks want to get into the game...2016 will prove whether they can battle Twitch and others.
Something that stands out to me about the adoption of tech in sports is the information that we now have access to as opposed to 15 years ago.
That information has made the game safer, more accurate, more efficient and more entertaining. It has also prolonged careers, what used to be a career-ending injury is now a season-ending injury.
Sports as a whole has also benefited from social media. It has made the game more popular and insightful. The gap between the fan and the athlete has diminished which gives a more personal fan experience.
Q3: Anyone developing sports tech wants to deliver to professional sports leagues, but this is such a niche market that reach is often limited. What kind of technologies do you see impacting the everyday amateur athlete to improve their game and experience?
Advancements to apparel is an important area where we will see a lot of growth in 2016. I mentioned a newcomer in Athos, above. There is also a company called POINT 3 that has a proprietary technology, which could especially assist athletes on the basketball court. See: http://www.forbes.com/sites....
Then there are the "traditional" competitors: Nike, adidas and Under Armour. They all spend an exorbitant amount of money on sponsorship of universities' athletic programs. They are also shelling out money to further develop their lines of apparel.
In fact, Nike is getting ready to launch new innovative products in the middle of December. I look forward to heading out to its World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon in the next month.
New tech in professional sports is definitely a limited space, so it is important for a developer to look elsewhere first. Use little league, high school, and collegiate leagues for proof of concept first, if possible, then attract the professional leagues later.
It's rare that a new development goes straight into the pros. In professional sports, the brand and the integrity of the league are too valuable to risk for unproven concepts or ideas.
Agree Curtis that new tech often needs to go to the playground or smaller leagues for validation. That being said, one place where the tech is more advanced is video imaging. We just got involved in a company - Replay Technologies - that is developing a VR (virtual reality) experience for fans to interact with sports teams, taking game-viewing from a 2D to 4D experience.
Q4: With all of the hype around VR (the Golden State Warriors broadcasted their first game this season with a virtual reality view option), how do you see AR/VR altering the future of sports viewing?
The stadium can't keep up with the at-home experience. First it was HD, then curved TVs, followed by 4K and now virtual reality experiences. Why deal with the hassle of driving to a game, paying for parking, being uncomfortable (or at least not as comfortable as on your couch), paying high prices for lackluster concessions and then getting stuck in traffic on the way home?
With the idea that more people will be staying home, the content providers need to keep enhancing the product that reaches the consumer. Perhaps that is through developing a virtual reality experience.
3D was largely a failure, but that doesn't mean that changing the way that the product is consumed cannot be successful. There is a future if the consumer is interested and the price point isn't overwhelming.
Changing gears. Medical issues have become a hot topic relevant to young athletes on up to the pros, and ranging from concussion awareness to new surgeries improving career longevity.
Q5: How do you see the medical industry complementing the world of sports?
I had a career ending injury 10 years ago, with the medical advances of today, I may have been able to continue playing. Besides medical advances, injury prevention is also a major component in prolonging careers. The only problem with technological advancement is that it's also creating bigger, stronger, faster athletes, which is leading to more injuries.
Q6: Finally, digging a little deeper into the direct role of today's athletes and sports tech: In the past, athletes have served an added role of brand ambassadors and product promoters. The new ‘millennial’ athlete is actually more public about his/her involvement in startup investing and venture capital. What do you think is leading to this new athlete-persona and how can athletes assist in their ventures outside of investing capital?
I apologize for my absence concerning Q5. I was actually at a meeting with an athlete's manager concerning potential involvement in investing in a startup, which makes Q6 even more relevant. I can't say who the athlete is or the startup, unfortunately.
Athletes seem to be getting wiser with their money. They and those they hire are conducting due diligence on opportunities to build on their wealth. In the past, many would throw money away on restaurants and the like, which have a low likelihood of success. These days, athletes seem to want to be a part of the products and services they enjoy, and are not afraid to put their money where their mouths are.
The best is when an athlete really takes ownership of the product and/or service. Nothing beats a strategic partnership, and there are plenty of options where sports meets tech.
The horror stories of retired, broke, athletes are piling up. It's forcing players to take a real look in the mirror and think beyond their playing careers. The successful start-up stories are also piling up. It's inspiring athletes to take more of an ownership role in hopes of someday replacing their playing career salary. Even though it's extremely rare, players want to find that one start-up that allows them to keep their lifestyle after retirement. Professional athletes are coming to the realization that there's a lot of life left after their playing careers are over.
It sounds like athletes have gotten smarter and savvier about their investment options, which can benefit both the athlete and the future of sports tech where relevant.
Well, that wraps up our conversation on the future of sports tech. Thank you for sharing your perspectives, insights and answers, Curtis and Darren.
For the audience out there, if you have any other questions about sports tech, startup investing, or the other topics we discussed, feel free to get in touch. Leave a comment below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.