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Sport Innovations in 2020

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New normal’, unprecedented’, ‘fluid situation’ and ‘you’re on mute’ are the undeniable catch phrases of 2020! 

 The ‘unprecedented’ shock waves that have ripped through the world this year have hit many (and most) industries extremely hard.

The sporting industry certainly hasn’t been spared. Sporting bodies have had to be relentless in their pursuit to ensure events and season fixtures can be played out, with or without fans. Codes that fail to (two more 2020 catch phrases coming your way…) ‘pivot’ or ‘adapt’ are at risk of being left behind or being completely untenable in the post COVID age.

For the show to go on, we’re watching creativity, innovation and cutting-edge technology being implemented around the world and across sporting codes everywhere.

After-all, necessity is the mother of invention! 

Here are some of our favourite sporting innovations born from the “New Normal” in 2020.

Live Virtual Crowds

The day has arrived where live virtual crowds are filling the once physical seats of a sporting arena.

The NBA has been the biggest exponent of new age virtuality, taking it to the next level throughout the Playoffs. Normally fans would be cheering court-side, with the latest technology fans still are cheering court-side, just not physically.

The NBA are using software Microsoft Teams’ ‘Together Mode’ combined with 17-foot tall LED screens that wrap around basketball arenas to generate as close to the real thing.

Fans react in real time, and players can feed off crowd reactions and see their fans cheering on from home.

This new experience—the first to go live as a result of the NBA / Microsoft partnership — gives participating fans the feeling of sitting next to one another at a live game without leaving the comfort and safety of their homes,” Jared Spataro the head of Microsoft 365 has stated.

What’s more, foul play from the screens can simply be removed with the NBA having members participating in the calls and ready to replace anyone behaving inappropriately and disrupting the experience.

Social Distancing Wristbands/Tags

Social Distancing Wristbands are one of the latest forms of COVID-19 technology introduced to the sporting world.

Incorporated through sporting training camps to fan zones, the whole mechanism of the Social Distancing Wristband is to ensure 1.5 metre distancing is being adhered to.

Sporting environments like the NBA and NFL have implemented Kinexon SafeZone Tag technology amongst training camps and staff, not only to monitor social distancing but to provide contact tracing in the event of a player or staff testing positive.

The investment made is a representation of the reality of ensuring the return to action is safe, monitored and potentially the new normal of future sporting events.

The social distancing devices work in a simple manner, containing a proximity sensor.

When your proximity has been breached, a red light will appear as a warning symbol, if the proximity remains to be breached an audible alarm will be emitted from the device as a stronger signal distancing needs to occur.

For fans, attending sports events was once a shoulder to shoulder, hug your fellow supporter after a win type of affair. In 2020 it’s now a completely different landscape and sporting bodies are not the only ones who have to adapt…

The Giro d’Italia is one of the first events to enforce the new technology as an essential piece of equipment to be worn by fans.

Sound alerts will immediately emit when social distancing barriers are breached at the event. While the alert is in place, tournament organisers admit they must instil trust that fans will be cautious of doing the right thing.

The Giro d’Italia could be the perfect case study moving forward to what we can expect sporting event crowds to look like in the immediate future, until we’re hopefully one day back to celebratory hugs and hi-fives…

Sports Branded Face Masks & Coverings

In 2020, face coverings have not only been protocol but have opened up opportunities as a fashion accessory.

Prior to the evolution of face coverings, showing our team colours would be in the traditional form of jerseys, hats, t-shirts and even socks…

Right now, there’s no better way to show love for your team and make a public statement.

Walking down the street you’re a good chance to learn who Steve walking towards you follows in the NBA or Jess across the street supports in the AFL.

Sport team face coverings have surfaced in popularity as a face covering option, because let’s face it – there’s no limit to showing off your team colours if you’re a true supporter!

Hubs & Bubbles

Hubs & Bubbles have been among the most common solutions to sport seasons continuing.

Organisations have had to implement solutions to keep a season running while also keeping players and the public safe from COVID-19 spread.

In Australia, AFL & NRL teams have relocated to hubs in QLD and WA with all fixtures played outside of Victoria.

In the USA the NBA Playoffs are being played in a bubble located in Disney World.

International events such as the US Open where players are coming from all over the globe are strictly kept within competition hubs and can only leave to compete.

Hubs & Bubbles haven’t been without scrutiny with players not always adhering to hub policies, resulting in hefty financial sanctions and differing public opinions.

Aside from the occasional slip up and odd request, Hubs & Bubbles have proven effective and have allowed seasons to operate in a ‘whatever it takes’ fashion.

Zwift

Virtual exercise isn’t the newest form of technology on the block, but with Zwift there’s a point of difference and its popularity has exploded through COVID-19, wondering why?

Zwift is a cycling game, programmed for indoor trainers with capability to allow you to ride with or against other Zwift users from across the globe in different locations virtually from your lounge tv. The setup is simple, connecting your bike’s rear to a provided trainer which connects to your choice device.

Through connection, the cycling experience is very real – the technology will acknowledge your virtual location and apply the resistance you would feel when riding in the same physical location.

What’s cooler is the accessibility to professional cyclists, with many using the technology to join in on virtual rides and as an opportunity test amongst the best.

With the Tour De France being delayed in 2020, a virtual Le Tour was implemented through Zwift on the traditional dates.

Non-professional cyclists could also experience the Le Tour and compete in select stages with professionals.

Rolling Fixtures

It’s safe to say the job of a Tournament Director right now isn’t a desirable one.

Creating tournament fixtures is usually a job that is planned well ahead of schedule and is cement once published.

The life of the Tournament Director was seemingly pretty good, until COVID-19 surfaced.

COVID-19 has made sure absolutely nothing is set in stone in the sporting world and facilitators must work around to clock to adapt fixtures to the current environment.

With rolling fixtures in play, as sport lovers we’ve been lucky to not only have sport back on our screens but to have sport to watch basically every night of the week.

The likes of the AFL and NRL have had to introduce rolling fixtures from Monday-Sunday with starting times we’ve never experienced.

The AFL even had a period of a 20-day straight fixture. Credit must also be given to the players, adapting to different schedules to recovery periods.

Supercars have also experienced an incredible rolling fixture, with several different changes being made to the season schedule, which now has the Bathurst 1000 as the season finale and scheduled a week later than the traditional date.

It’s been fascinating to see how different sporting bodies have operated to ensure seasons/tournaments haven’t been completely cancelled and continued providing us with the sporting entertainment we all love and rely on.

As sport fans we should commend sporting bodies on their ability to pivot and adapt throughout the unpredictable year of 2020.

The work that has gone in to ensuring we aren’t starved of live sports really has been a shining light through 2020, because let’s be honest, we need to give Netflix a rest at times.

For now, adhering to policies at sporting events and accepting ‘the now’ in sport is a small sacrifice to one day being back in the stands amongst a sea of fans and celebrating our team’s success together!

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