By: Freddy Lopez
During this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Zepp Labs’s Chief Executive Officer, Jason Fass, projected the trends that loom ahead in the category of sports technology.
He informed SportTechie that, thus far, there has been a “lack” of data that’s particularly actionable to the end-user, as it pertains to the devices and its respective software in the market aimed to propel athletic performance. A “guided experience” on the software-side is imperative to assist athletes in their comprehension of the analytics displayed to them. The hardware, itself, doesn’t impede the adoption for these tools, especially when the production of them is rather minimal from the outset for manufacturers.
The fundamental premise for its use case remains the same, regardless of skill level: coaches or trainers prefer the standalone data, while athletes would instead want some sort of plan or recommendation.
The way in which this data is delivered and presented, though, should be modified according to the specific user.
The products that will likely succeed in this space are those that, indeed, synthesize the litany of data points, then seamlessly distill unique media modules, where there’s specialization on performance tips to improve tailored to the kind of coach or player utilizing it.
Fass, also, predicted that partnerships will take form to complement and integrate with established companies, with the underlying emphasis to maintain consumer’s interest and engagement.
Subsequently, two startups, Diamond Kinetics and SportsBoard, have teamed-up. The former’s hitting analytics will morph into the latter’s cloud-based player management platform, which, in turn, streamline processeses for evaluation by the coaches or combine operators. It’s a swifter, compact solution for the parties involved–eliminating the need from the startups to independently build this facet, being an integrator instead.
Leading up to the MLB’s spring training season, a couple other companies have partnered as well.
SmartSports, the Boston-based parent company of SmartKage, and Sportvision, a known leader in data capturing and broadcast visuals, have installed 40 SmartKage units in what will be an 160 total rollout across the country’s best indoor training facilities. They are bringing the same analytics and technology that MLB players have used since 2007 to the masses of amateurs. Not focusing on a mobile interface, but, rather, a kiosk form factor that’s present inside physical locations.
At its core, SmartKage subsists as a thoroughly automated, patented technological system that can be dubbed as a “physical SAT”, with the reports it yields for baseball and softball players.
SmartSports’ Chief Executive Officer, Corrine Vitolo, elaborates further to SportTechie: “The SAT is the perfect analogy to SmartKage: our technologies measure athletic performance on a standard. The system captures up to 75 measurements on each athlete in a completely controlled environment. We’ve removed every possible variable in performance evaluation; thus, providing the athlete–and related stakeholders–with an objective assessment of their abilities, as well as the context to understand, rank, and act on them.”
“By standardizing metrics and scores, SmartKage provides athletes with a quantitative baseline to track performance progress, injury rehabilitation, etc., while providing a direct conduit to our network of roughly 3,200 collegiate programs. Now, we’re reversing the existing recruiting and scouting models by sheer efficiency…identical to the SAT,” continued Vitolo.
The synergy, accordingly, between SmartSports and Sportvision can be attributed to the former’s distinct product vision coupled with broad distribution within the amateur sports arena, while the latter’s primary focus pertains to the pro ranks–making it a mutually beneficial relationship.
From Sportvision’s standpoint, Ryan Zander, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Baseball at Sportvision, mentions to SportTechie that SmartKage’s extensive lengths of research in order to comprehend this market–with regards to youth baseball athletes’ preferences on certain metrics coinciding with player development and its analysis–proves to be invaluable for a joint endeavor that can further penetrate it.
Over the last three years, they have previously integrated their respective technologies, with SmartKage’s sensor technologies and test workflow combining with Sportvision’s tracking components. These proprietary products have come together in a fashion that’s a totally invisible, automated system. Unlike some of the existing consumer-facing products available, there are no markers or sensors on the player or their equipment. The data-capturing technologies work in unison with PITCHf/x and HITf/x to provide the “most” comprehensive player evaluation out there.
In this case, Sportvision offers the following metrics as part of the pitch and hit-tracking software and hardware components that capture the data: pitch speed, pitch break, pitch location, hit speed, hit direction, hit launch angle, and hit projected landing position.
The first phase, consisting of the 40 locations where the SmartKage units will be featured, should be completed by the middle of this year. They have contracted a network of 160 indoor sports facilities that host SmartKage across the country. Their vetting process contains strict physical and business-related prerequisites, including location, appearance and spatial criteria, along with business history and athlete base. They consider their host venues as partners, where the quality assurance spurs the best experience for the athletes, their families, and vested parties.
Once inside the site, the baseball players first interact with the kiosk outside cage, submitting some information and selecting either a pitcher or an infield routine. Both player-types will engage in similar speed, agility, and fielding drills, which are tracked by both Sportvision and the other technologies. Pitchers then go through a pitching routine, while infielders partake in a hitting routine.
Moreover, they have centralized all the business processes; users register and schedule via SmartKage’s website. When the athlete does specify the routine of his or her choosing, a confirmation code is issued to them; that’s keyed to a personalized test at any of the pertinent facilities. Each initial evaluation is an hour long–this is when the ballplayer completes the various skill tests related to their sport and position. They capture the performance data in real-time; the athlete receives the results and rankings on their device at the completion of their respective routine. Thereafter, they can share the metrics with their instructor, coach, or SmartKage’s college recruiting and professional scouting network.
Going back to 2007 for the launch of Sportvision’s PITCHf/x pitch-tracking system, it’s worth noting that this program has recorded over 8 million pitches. Gathering and analyzing this volume of data through these years have, undoubtedly, gleaned valuable insights, which can serve as a reference point for users of the new SmartKage.
For instance, the harder you hit the ball, the more likely you are to reach base. As hit ball speed increases, you’re also more likely to gain extra bases.
Zander confirms that that this correlation is consistent at the pro level. All of facets concerning pitching can be translated to success, too.
Conversely, data visualization–a part of the “guided experience”–will be significantly important during the evolution of the SmartKage product.
“For example, pitchers could greatly benefit from a virtual strike-zone displaying cross-plate locations of the pitches in his or her session,” says Zander. “As pitchers modify their mechanics, such visualizations help convey the result of their changes.”
At the moment, SmartKage delivers a clean, unobstructed report depicting the athlete’s performance. Coaches and scouts will be the ultimate judges, with regards to a player’s achievement in a given routine.
Still, baseball players are encouraged to go through the process more than just once, allowing them to gauge their performance over time. In turn, they can quantify their success by how much they’ve improved in any given area, be it hitting, throwing the ball harder, or developing their pitching or fielding control.
Again, arguably the best aspect of these technologies merging into one is the context on a wealth of performance data.
“The days of a coach simply instructing a player to swing harder have resulted in scores of unnecessary injuries…SmartKage helps athletes train smarter,” Vitolo believes.
“Whether the athlete’s goal is to increase performance, regression, or performance analysis, we now have sufficient incremental and contextual data for players and their instructors to develop responsibly, and efficiently,” explains Vitolo.
Ultimately, an athlete can quantify individual triumph as follows with SmartKage: “Objective data is key to subjective success.”
Another 40 to 80 SmartKages will follow the initial installation as online booking is now available to reserve a session among the eight launch facilities, with football, lacrosse, and soccer as new verticals on the horizon for scalability.
“Our value proposition is quite simple: standardization and scale,” affirms Vitolo.
“We standardize by calibrating our equipment and environments down to the millimeter across the nation, and extend Sportvision’s F/X technologies used by every MLB team throughout the amateur and collegiate market into one invisible channel. Little League through Major League will have the same dialect of data. This standardized, scalable platform creates unprecedented efficiencies across the industry,” Vitolo continued.
This model presents an approach that’s frictionless and fair to the end-user. Baseball players don’t have to purchase external, analytical-based gear or constantly check their devices for intel, provided they regularly attend one of the batting cages where SmartKage is housed. Sportvision’s PITCHf/x and HITf/x tracking systems were originally developed in conjunction with Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) and besides being readily operational in all of the MLB clubs, 40 minor league teams, the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan, and the Korean Baseball Organization possess it at its disposal as well. The virtual unilateral positioning from SmartSports and Sportvision in this space places a premium on adoption and continued conversion.
This analytical synergy should spring smart baseball players by scouting them at batting cages as Spring Training unfolds.