The Future, This Week is still on semester break but we have pre-recorded this segment where we revisit the business of sports on the back of some recent news about cricket. Part of this segment was featured earlier this month on The Conversation’s Business Briefing podcast “Following the money in cricket”. Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.
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Introduction: The Future, This Week. Sydney Business Insights. Do we introduce ourselves? I'm Sandra Peter and I'm Kai Riemer. Once a week we're going to get together and talk about the business news of the week. There's a whole lot I can talk about. OK let's do this.
Sandra: The Future, This Week is still on break but we have pre-recorded this segment where we revisit the business of sports on the back of some recent news about cricket. Part of this segment was featured earlier this month on The Conversation's Business Briefing podcast "Following the money in cricket".
Sandra: I'm Sandra Peter. I'm the director of Sydney Business Insights.
Kai: I'm Kai Riemer. I'm a professor here at the business school. I'm also the leader of the Digital Disruption Research Group.
Sandra: So what happened in the future this week?
Kai: Today we're looking at technology in sports. Today's article is from the Australian Business Review, it's titled "Cricket goes high tech with drones and bat sensors".
Sandra: Technology has kind of become indispensible to most games played today and most sports and cricket is no exception.
Kai: We are now able to use data analytics to analyse how the game is being played. There's all kinds of sensors and visual technologies to analyse the game to provide real time stats during the game but also to analyse how the game is played to improve training regimes and the competitiveness of a team.
Sandra: And the interesting thing is that technology has not only changed the way the game is played and the way people train but it's also changed the business of most games played today.
Kai: So we see this play out on three different levels. The first is team strategy. The second is the entertainment value of the sport. And the third is what it means for the players.
Sandra: We've seen this play out in Europe in the Bundesliga.
Kai: There was an article the other day which talked about how certain teams have used data analytics to figure out how they get an advantage in the game and they adjusted their playing style accordingly. And everyone else basically did the same it led to an arms race and the result was that no team really gained an advantage but it led to a more boring style of game which then had a negative effect on the entertainment value of the game.
Sandra: Strategically this is a very short lived competitive advantage in any competitive sport because whilst in business these sort of strategies are addressed by cooperating. In sport there can only be one winner.
Kai: No you can't co-operate. That would be collusion right. So what might be beneficial at the team level might not be beneficial at the collective level where a brand of sport might suffer when teams try to gain an advantage over their competitors by say adopting a very defensive brand of football as we've seen in the Bundesliga.
Sandra: So there is real value in some of these technologies at the individual player level. In the US for instance we've seen Major League Baseball allowing since 2016 a range of devices including specially fitted sleeves like the ones that we've seen in cricket from Cricflex in Pakistan or microchips in players' jerseys, and we've also seen that in the National Football League in the US and they track a player's heart rate, they track skin temperature and a whole range of other data around player performance.
Kai: So the ICC has just unveiled Intel as a technology partner. They're putting little sensors on bats to analyse cricket players' stroke play so they will gather a lot of data to know how players are doing, how well they're playing and how their performance is.
Sandra: So on the one hand this could be great because we could understand how players rest and how players recover and we could help fight off fatigue and prevent injuries during game play.
Kai: It's great for the training regime, less injuries for the players, more professionalism, better skills development.
Sandra: But there is also a very dark side to this.
Kai: This can be used in negotiations to measure performance and then translate that into contracts and pay.
Sandra: So think about this. If I see that your heart rate is not going up quickly enough I could say well you're really not putting a whole lot of effort into this. Conversely if your heart rate goes up too quickly once you're in the game I could say...
Kai:...I'm not training hard enough.
Sandra: Exactly. And that could really influence how we pay our players.
Kai: So will we see data based KPIs for players that are based on these sorts of stats?
Sandra: And then what happens if the data contradicts the actual performance - so let's say your heart rate doesn't go up or you are too tired but you're still scoring really really well.
Kai: So your stats are shitty but your performance is stellar. How do we reconcile this?
Sandra: Yep and are you now fatigued and should you be left off the field or should you be let in because you're still doing great?
Kai: So this is only the beginning of something and while in cricket we're going to be inundated with even more stats while watching telly, the same happens behind the scenes and it's still up for grabs what the effects will be on how the game is played and also how players are being measured and whether this will translate into better skills, less injuries, or whether this will lead to a whole new surveillance and monitoring regime.
Sandra: But there is also an issue of equality and that is beyond the players actually losing out a lot of bargaining or negotiation power but the inequality between the teams that are on the field. So will teams with more money with deeper pockets afford to play better games?
Kai: We see this in Europe - the European soccer leagues, they have huge issues with inequality. They have a handful of teams per league which are filthy rich which basically can afford to buy up the best players and they will always win the competition. There's always only a battle between very few teams. It's very rare to have a team like Leicester come up and win the Premier League like what happened last year in England. That's a very rare occasion. So will the problem of inequality only get worse once we have access to sophisticated data analytics and technologies and sensors and all the kind of deep pocket investments that can go into measuring your player's performance and find...
Sandra:...and the ability of keeping them safe and keeping them injury free and so on and so forth.
Kai: Oh absolutely. So some teams might be able to afford the latest innovation and therefore build even further their advantage while these smaller teams will fall further behind.
Sandra: And whilst regulation could address this we are very far off. We can't even agree on how to adopt wearables. What wearables to adopt. We're seeing differences between something like the major league baseball and cricket and football and soccer. We're seeing huge differences in what devices are allowed - so some of them will allow Fitbit type devices. Others will allow wearable devices or sleeves or t shirts or heart rate monitors. Some of them allow them during play like we see with baseball some keep them off the field altogether.
Kai: Yeah but at the same time we have certain regulations in the sports in Australia for example like in AFL or the NRL with salary cap and certain provisions around how much money teams can spend which actually works to balance out the competition. So while you have generally some richer clubs and some clubs which are less rich the gap is far far smaller than in the leagues in Europe and so maybe those leagues are far better able to absorb those technologies without any negative effects by and large, so maybe the salary cap and the draft and the idea that every team gets a shot at being at the top over a 10 year period is something that will allow innovation to prosper.
Sandra: So in order to make sure that the business of sports also remains profitable, there will be a clear need to respond very quickly to some of this potentially transformative technologies to make sure that it's still a fair game.
Kai: And even though this is pre-recorded we still have this...
Audio: "Robot of the week”.
Kai: Behold the Tertill.
Sandra: A kickstarter project: the robotic weed destroyer, your Roomba for the backyard.
Kai: So this is a little machine that will roam around your backyard, will keep your backyard weed free by obliterating what is sticking out the ground.
Sandra: So it's really not like the Bosch robot we discussed earlier that will punch weeds back into the ground. Tertill will not attend to the roots.
Kai: But hey this little guy will be there to attack the weed over and over again.
Sandra: So it kind of works.
Kai: Tertill will keep your backyard weed free provided it's not steep, it's not muddy, there are no big rocks or other obstacles.
Sandra: That's all we have time for today.
Kai: Thanks for listening.
Sandra: Thanks for listening.
Outro: This was The Future, This Week brought to you by Sydney Business Insights and the Digital Disruption Research Group. You can subscribe to this podcast on SoundCloud, itunes or wherever you get your podcast. You can follow us online on Twitter and on Flipboard. If you have any news you want to discuss please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.