Sports clubs scoring goals with technology

Australian and New Zealand rugby league and rugby union clubs are turning to technology to give them a competitive edge against rival teams and forms of entertainment, Hamish Barwick writes

The Wests Tigers are planning to develop stadium-only mobile content for fans.

The Wests Tigers are planning to develop stadium-only mobile content for fans.

Stadium Tech

Thanks to the recent rollout of faster mobile networks and 4G-compatible devices, Wests Tigers is now in the planning stages of a new project to entice more fans to attend the games by offering mobile content which would be restricted to a 3G or 4G network within the stadium.

“We’re working behind the scenes to develop platforms which would allow fans to access different camera angles or behind the scenes footage in the changing rooms,” Clarke says. “With a 4G network and its download speeds these videos will become quite accessible.”

Clarke says the fan content will be rolled out in time for the NRL season in 2013, possibly with a partner such as NRL sponsor, Telstra, which has recently begun offering a 4G service.

“The challenge is that we have to be careful because the broadcast is our biggest source of revenue but also the biggest deterrent for people coming to games,” he says.

According to Clarke, Wests Tigers matches, on average, attract 1.2 million viewers every weekend.

“The revenue we do generate needs to be poured in to make the stadium experience better,” he says.

For example, the club is introducing a food and alcohol billing system for smartphones so people can pay for purchases while they are still enjoying the game and collect the food and drink at half time.

Clarke says this should lead to lessened wait times and contribute to an improved atmosphere at the stadium.

Because the team has three stadiums within Sydney it plays at, each one offers different technology capabilities. At the Allianz stadium, there are a number of IP cameras monitoring crowds for any unruly behaviour while turnstiles at both the Sydney Football Stadium (SFS) and Campbelltown are now fully integrated with ticket operator, Ticketet.

“People can download tickets to their mobile phone and use their phone as a ticket rather than having to search for a paper one,” he says. “We’re moving more and more towards a paperless ticketing system.”

When it comes to game time at the stadium, the Waratahs work closely with ticketing partner, Ticketet, to ensure crowd queues are minimised through the use of electronic ticketing online.

“The electronic ticketing is linked through the mobile website so fans can buy tickets for the next game,” she says.

In addition, the Waratah's home stadium will be renovated over the next two years to install IP cameras for security and crowd control purposes.

Player Performance

Wests Tigers players are also getting on board with technology. During training sessions, each player is fitted out with a global positioning system (GPS) device which monitors speed, heart rate and velocity.

“That plays a pivotal role in managing work flows of players,” Wests Tigers’ Clarke says. “The old days of running around the oval doing 40 laps are gone because each individual is now monitored by our sports scientists.”

Like the Wests Tigers, Warriors team members are fitted with portable GPS units during training sessions. These units track movements on the field and how many miles the players have run.

In addition, there are no excuses for team members to miss or be late for a training session since a training schedule application was developed for the iPhones provided to the Warriors. The app includes what time the session is being held, the location and what exercises each player will be doing.

Players are also been watched via video which pick up every angle during training so coaching staff can go back and analyse it later. Every second of test matches is also examined to pick up where players might be going wrong with their performance.

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Technology isn’t regulated to entertaining fans either. In 2012, the Waratahs started working with a company called Motion Centre which uses tablets to record training sessions. These videos enable the coaching staff to review player performance while they are in the field.

“We also have a statistician who wants to get more live data and transfer that immediately to coaching staff,” Warratah’s Aust-Howlett says.

“On game days he will be in the coaches’ box and feeding that back to the sideline so we can make decisions on the spot about changing the strategy for the game.”

“From a commercial perspective, it’s making sure we get information such as player injuries, how they are recovering and where people are,” she says.

Since entertainment is a “massive part” of the club’s focus it is working with partners on technology that will support that. While the Waratahs haven’t revealed any plans for stadium exclusive content yet, it will be working with sponsor, Volvo, on a mobile application for the iOS and Android operating systems within the next six months.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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