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Wondo on the cover of SVBJ's Business of Sports edition

07 August 1:04 pm

Wondo on the cover of SVBJ's Business of Sports edition

By Frank Stranzl

Do you like numbers, sports and Chris Wondolowski cover shots?

If yes, keep an eye out for Friday's special edition of the Silicon Valley Business Journal: Business of Sports. And, in the meantime, we have a preview of the cover below as well as a brief Q&A with Lauren Hepler, an economic development reporter with SVBJ.

Lauren dropped by Earthquakes practice a couple weeks ago to check out the adidas miCoach system and its use within the soccer-scape. Here's what she had to say about the Business of Sports edition, technology in soccer and new stadium innovation:

SJEarthquakes.com: What do readers have to look forward to in the Business of Sports special edition?
Lauren Hepler (SVBJ): We really covered the whole gamut when it comes to Silicon Valley sports. The cover story focuses on wearable technology being used by pro sports teams to track player performance, which gets really interesting when it comes to how that data could maybe one day be used for things like injury prevention, salary negotiations or TV broadcasts. Other articles look at the technology powering smartphones at Levi’s Stadium, fantasy sports betting, startups offering sports coaching through videoconferencing and a how Stanford football alums have transitioned into the Silicon Valley business world. There’s tons more to come tomorrow.

SJEQ: Chris Wondolowski made the cover, which means there must be some soccer in this edition. What areas of the sport did you look at?
LH: Soccer really pervades the issue, from an up-close look at how the Quakes use wearable sensors to a Q&A with the architect designing the team’s new San Jose stadium. I thought it was interesting that one of my sources in the tech world corrected me when I asked about the big four sports leagues — NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL — and said that for his company it’s now about the big five, including Major League Soccer. It’s a potentially lucrative market that a lot of businesses are circling right now and sort of trying to make sense of where the financial opportunities are.

SJEQ: Many would say that soccer is a sport that's unquantifiable. What's your take on the use of big data in the sport?
LH: That’s a fascinating area, especially when it comes to wearable sensors. When you think about biometric data from an athlete — how far they’re running in a game or how long their heart rate is elevated in practice, for instance — the people I interviewed stressed that it’s all about context. Raw numbers don’t necessarily do you much good, especially in a real game. You have to consider things like individual athlete’s medical histories, how a player should function within a given formation or how a player’s strategy might shift if he or she is looking to exploit a particular weakness on an opposing team.

SJEQ: If you had to make one bold prediction about the use of technology in soccer, what would it be?
LH: Data-driven soccer is already here, from scouting software that allows teams to check out young players around the world to wearable sensors that capture physical data from training sessions. The next frontier is how this all moves from the front office or the training facility to an actual game. My guess is that you’ll see wearable technology in MLS games within the next few years — but the big question is how players’ unions help hammer out the specifics, like what data is considered private medical information or whether biometric data can be used in salary negotiations.

SJEQ: What's the coolest innovation you've seen in a new stadium project?
LH: There’s a lot going on with super advanced cameras and other sensors in sports venues. I hear a lot of it started in NASCAR, but it’s things like using sensors strategically positioned around a stadium or a race track to clock how fast or how far a player or a car is traveling. I understand that they used that sort of technology at the World Cup to show how much ground individual players covered, versus the average distance covered by the whole team. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how those technologies designed to increase entertainment value overlap with the data being collected by teams themselves, since most of the latter is kept private by teams or leagues right now.