The sports world almost acts like a stock market, it’s constantly changing both in organizations and what the fans see for entertainment: players being traded, contracts being negotiated, and even new stadiums being built. What changes a lot behind the scenes is how teams are taking stats and what it is they track. The stats of a player have always been there, and is the general topic fans bet on. But now, so much more is being tracked. Advanced trackers show heart rate, fatigue levels, and body temperature, speed, peak force, training load and intensity, strain and recovery, contact, and explosiveness. These stats are sometimes shown to fans for the entertainment factor. But if that data is made available in a consistent, ongoing way, it could broaden the sports betting industry.
In the “dinosaur age” of sports, players only got feedback from coaches and video when available. A coach might demonstrate a skill they’re doing wrong or pull out a broken clipboard to show you where you were supposed to be. Then stats started to emerge, but they were mostly used as an overall summation of a player’s performance after the fact.
In 2002, MLB manager Billy Beane rebuilt the Oakland Athletics based on sabermetrics, a form of sports analytics, after meeting Peter Brand, a Yale economics grad with the idea to use stats to assess player value. Brand focused on the importance of getting runners on base with the logic the team that gets more runners on base, scores more runs. The A’s also used his analysis to maximize their budget by signing underrated pitchers. The strategy paid off. Oakland went on to clinch the 2002 AL West title. Billy Beane had caught the attention of others in the league. He declined an offer from the Red Sox, who later followed a similar strategy and won the World Series.
17 years after Beane’s success with stats, technology is providing access to more data than ever and leading managers to new philosophies to build their championship team. Baseball was the first in the sports world to allow biometric trackers to be used in game. The MLB also uses Statcast, which uses a radar above home plate to tracks many things such as how far a ball is hit, its speed, and how hard a player throws. MLB teams back around 2015-2016 hopped on the trend with wearable performance trackers in spring training for both practices, games and training. The shirt made by Zephyr has a sensor embedded into the chest which tracks breathing rate, heart rate variability, jump height and flight time, impact, physical, mechanical and training loads and intensity, and even an estimate of the amount of oxygen in the player’s blood. These trackers are usable for many other sports such as soccer, basketball and American football, and have the option to wear the sensor as a strap. Leagues are also allowing trackers to be used in league games. FIFA allowed Catapult’s player tracker in the 2018 World Cup to track stats, using a vest with a GPS and trackers that monitor a body’s systems such as heart rate and temperature.
The list goes on for almost every sport. But while this glut of information could be a boon to professional bettors, very little of it is made available. The largest reason is professional leagues, teams and players agreed stats gained from these trackers should stay confidential within the teams’ coaches, trainers and players to avoid other teams using it against them. Players decide if they want to use such technology and if they decide to, who sees that data is under their control.
The NBA decided not to allow stats gained from the Whoop tracker to be used in player and contract negotiations. And while the NHL has been experimenting on the use of biometric trackers, the NHL’s players association is weary of how the data could be used if released to fans and used by a team’s coaches and managers.
“The push to quantify everything, without knowing what those quantities mean … for example, if I saw you’re skating slower than you did three years ago, does that mean your play is better or worse? Can you not keep up any more? There’s a real danger in negotiations about a lot of statistics that merely provide excuses for doing what they want to do,” said NHL’s player association’s executive director Donald Fehr.
If biometric stats were released to fans, that means it’s publicized for teams to see, and that could anger players if a team uses it as a negative. As a result, this data can’t be used or provided to bet on in websites or apps.
The future is very unknown as to when and how these stats could be released and displayed to fans. So far, the NHL, MLB, NBA, MLS and NFL have a partnership deal with gambling companies, mainly consisting of MGM Resorts as the partner. The NBA signed a multi-year partnership deal in 2018 which establishes MGM Resorts as the official gaming partner with the NBA and WNBA. These deals allow data from sports teams to be shared with gaming companies. These partnerships are a big deal for the future of biometric data, as if in the future biometric stats are able to be used and released to the public, associations and the gambling industry could use this to broaden their spectrum for fans and sports bettors.
Image Credit: Flickr/Baishampayan Ghose