Why Some Sports Are Missing Out on the Industry’s Love Affair with Technology

artificial intelligence“Artificial Intelligence” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by theglobalpanorama

When it comes to sport and technology, there are some that do and there are some that don’t. While it might seem obvious to some that all sports could benefit greatly from the introduction of that latest technology, there are some governing bodies that just don’t seem too hot on the idea.

For example, the idea of goal-line technology in soccer has been talked about for years. With stinging shots liable to hit the crossbar, smash down somewhere close to the line and then out again, seeing whether or not it was a goal can be tough. However, despite the apparent failings of the human eye in this instance, certain ruling bodies have been slow to implement the technology.

In contrast, there are sports that have not only welcomed new technology, but practically revolutionised the way it works because of it. By far the most impressive example of sport and technology getting on like a house on fire is Aussie Rules. Arguably one of the toughest sports in the world, this high-octane rugby-style game has introduced a number of tech innovations over the years.

Covering everything from safety and scoring to statistics on betting odds and player form, Aussie Rules is now awash with ways both players and fans can get more out of the game. With this in mind, we’ve outlined some of the best tech innovations the Aussie Football League (AFL) has embraced in recent years.

Ball Tracking

aussie football
“Aussie Rules football” (CC BY 2.0) by Geoff Penaluna

One of the first tech innovations to be adopted by the AFL was ball tracking. Developed by Melbourne’s Sherrin and the UK’s Catapult Innovations, the SmartBall basically allowed AFL teams and coaches to track the movements of a ball using an e-tag.

By inserting a microchip into an Aussie Rules ball, users could track its movements in real-time and, more importantly, record a wealth of data, including:

  • How many moves it takes a forward player to get possession of the ball.
  • How the ball was won, i.e. in open or congested space.
  • Which positions on the pitch a team is attacking from.
  • Changes in work rate when a team has/doesn’t have the ball.

Having access to this information has allowed AFL teams to vastly improve their tactics to the point where strategy is almost a science.

Odds Tracking

“Numbers Everywhere” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by storyvillegirl

In the same way players and coaches have been able to compile significant stats using micro-chipped balls, AFL fans have been able to enhance their experience of the game through online aggregators. Designed both for entertainment and to improve a sports bettor’s ability to make the best picks, stats sites are now the go to place for AFL fans who want to learn more about a team or player.

For example, when a fan visits Oddschecker, the site will not only list the latest AFL odds for the Grand Final winner and other competitions from the industry’s top bookmakers, but a breakdown of where people are staking their money. At the bottom of the AFL page, users will see a pie chart that represents the number of bets placed on a particular team. Using this information in conjunction with the betting lines and Oddschecker’s market reports, bettors can get a much better insight into each team and their chances of winning.

Goal Tracking

afl international
“AFL International Cup 2011” (CC BY 2.0) by Flying Cloud

As vehemently as soccer has rejected goal-line technology, the AFL has welcomed it. The famous Hawk-Eye, which has helped transform professional tennis, now has a place in the AFL. Back in 2014, AFL operations boss Mark Evans told the Herald Sun that he was looking into the practical applications of a Hawk-Eye-style system that could improve goal tracking in the league.

One of the latest innovations he was interested in involved a vision-stacking solution which allowed the controller to zoom in on various parts of the goal. Unlike tennis where the ball isn’t typically obscured as it hits the line, a goal in Aussie Rules can often be scored under a pile of bodies. To counter this, multiple camera angles and the ability to zoom in was necessary.

Today, camera technology is even better than it was in 2014 and, as we move forward, it will be interesting to see what other developments take place. Indeed, with greater connectivity between Internet-enabled devices now possible, there isn’t any reason why fans and coaching staff alike couldn’t have access to real-time stats, data and even goal replays during a game.

Whatever happens, the relationship between sport and technology has already shown to be a fruitful one and, despite the reluctance of some, it appears as though it will remain that way for many years to come.

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