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Wearable Tech Is on Its Way to Pro Sports

Front office execs from the 49ers and Warriors weigh in on the future of sports tech.

San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York isn’t just intrigued by wearable technology, he’s ready to throw it into the starting lineup.

York thinks that wearable tech — and the data that comes with it — will help athletes perform better, sure. But he thinks it can extend player careers, as well.

Players are already using wearable devices to prepare for their NFL careers, but York thinks safety and injury prevention are areas with the most to gain from the adoption of wearables.

“How do you get a guy to play 18 years in the league?” York said Thursday night. “Or keep someone healthy for 16 games or an entire basketball season? I think you’re going to see analytics work for health and safety more so than calling better plays or drafting better players.”

Player safety has been a major issue in the NFL, where the average career lasts just over three seasons. Retired players are dealing with major health issues later in life, and the prevalence of concussions is literally causing rule changes across the league.

But the NFL isn’t the only league taking notice. Chip Bowers, CMO for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, agrees with York on benefits to player safety, and says wearables like jerseys, sleeves and even pants are coming quickly.

“I think it’s the next big opportunity in sports,” he said. “All you need to know is that companies like Under Armour and Nike are spending hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, to better understand this space.”

York and Bowers spoke alongside other Bay Area sports executives Thursday night in San Francisco at a panel hosted by sports news curation startup Chat Sports. The panel was wide ranging, and in true Silicon Valley fashion the panelists touched on a number of other ways that technology is infusing itself into the world of sports.

Here are the panelist’s thoughts on a few other tech themes.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality has already established itself as a disruptor of the gaming industry, and Bowers sees that trend moving forward, especially with sports video games.

“Who wouldn’t want to take Kobe Bryant one-on-one? I think virtual reality is going to change the way we view, and literally participate with sports.”

York thinks the technology might be able to impact game outcomes, too, specifically around film sessions which all professional athletes use to understand game strategy and improvements.

“To have a player be able to put that on and literally step into the film and see what happened on this play,” York said, “I think that’s just going to continue to enhance our game [of football].”

Facial Recognition Software

The Warriors are building a new arena, and Bowers envisions a point in the future where walking into the stadium will be like walking into the bar “where everybody knows your name.”

How, exactly, might this happen? Facial recognition software, of course.

“I want somebody to walk in the building and for someone to say, ‘Welcome, Mr. Woodsen,'” he said. “It’s already happening, we’re just not applying it to our business yet.”

Identifying who each fan is would allow the team to personalize the experience, Bowers continued, from anticipating your concession order to giving discounts at the team store.

“You gotta put the right parameters around it, because you don’t want people to fear that everybody knows your name,” he added. “You gotta be careful, but that said, it could be pretty exciting as well.”

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