Sports technology is a growing area of innovation, with increasing value in the realm of safety, health and entertainment. We hear a lot about different wearables, fancy gear and smart gadgets are useful for both professional and recreational athletics. The people behind (and in front of) these innovations rarely get as much coverage as the technology itself.
The truth is, for every fitness band, impact detector and smart uniform there are the people without which such inventions might never hit the field or soared far beyond it. Here are five individuals worth knowing about.
The influencer: Shaquille O’Neal
Okay, so you’ve definitely heard of Shaq. But it may surprise you that aside from his basketball, TV, and movie career, Shaq has also been a technology mogul for years. An avid tweeter, his was the first “verified account” in 2008. It’s of little surprise, then, that he’s become even more involved in the technology scene since then — in sports tech in particular.
In 2011, Shaq became endorsed and later joined the social video streaming company Tout, using its short video format to announce his retirement. Though not explicitly a sports app, Tout has entered a partnership with the WWE in 2012 and can be used by sports teams for a variety of purposes, like announcements, interviews, fan engagement and athlete messages.
Shaq also attended the latest Consumer Electronics Show (CES) as part of a panel on tech investment in sports. He will also be a judge on “America’s Greatest Makers,” a TV competition in which inventors will pitch their ideas in hopes of winning $1 million toward the next big thing in wearable or smart devices.
The leader: Brian Krzanich
Though startups are abound in the sports technology arena, it’s no surprise that big tech companies like Intel are proving their worth through an array of initiatives, acquisitions and developments. Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich has proven his company’s devotion to sport technology with the announcement of several promising products.
During a two-hour keynote presentation during the CES 2016, Krzanich unveiled new technology meant to enhance sport and fitness experiences. “This is the start of a dramatic revolution in sports,” he told the crowd.
Along with New Balance, Krzanich unveiled running shoes with 3D-printed midsoles enabled by RealSense technology. In partnership with ESPN, Intel has developed tiny hardware modules built into snowboards that collect and display real-time data on jump heights, speeds and tricks. Krzanich also teamed up with Oakley to demonstrate voice-activated smart glasses called Radar Pace, which can serve as a virtual coach for athletes wearing them. These will be released later in 2016.
The inventor: Stephanie Kwolek
Some of the most important figures in sports technology are influential even beyond their life on Earth. Female figures in sports technology are few and far between, but the invention of the a lightweight synthetic fiber by Stephanie Kwolek, who died in 2014, has changed athletics as we know it.
Her 1965 discovery came about when she developed a light and durable material out of a crystal solution of polymers for her company DuPont, more commonly known as Kevlar. Today, kevlar is used by the military for bulletproof vests and helmets, but it’s also huge in the world of sports equipment. From safety clothing to bicycle tires, tennis racquets and even special Nike shoes, her legacy will likely be built into sports gear for many years to come.
Kwolek was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1994, only the fourth woman at the time to be honored there. She also won various awards for her work in polymer chemistry, including the Perkin Medal and the National Medal of Technology.
The investor: Mark Cuban
You and I know him from Shark Tank, where he’s often branded “sports guy” with Dallas Maverick box tickets — because, well, he owns the team. Cuban has long been interested in sports tech, having launched Audionet in the mid-90s: a company that webcasted games from inside stadiums. Audionet became Broadcast.com in 1998, and was bought by Yahoo in 1999 for a record $5.7 billion.
He is also a partner in Synergy Sports Technology, a web-based basketball scouting and video delivery tool used mainly by the NBA. In 2015, he donated $5 million to Indiana University for the founding of the “Mark Cuban Center for Sports Media and Technology,” a gift intended to make IU Athletics “the national leader in 3-D broadcast and replay, virtual reality, and 3D virtual studio technologies.” The center will open in Spring of 2017.
Among an array of other technology investments, Cuban has a stake in Oz Sports, and Australian tech firm for wearable analytic devices, and Sportradar, the fastest growing sports data provider in North America.
The entrepreneur: Russell D’Souza
There are countless impressive entrepreneurs in the sports tech field that have started and grown companies that harness wearable technology, big data, smart gear and more. Russell D’Souza is one of such individuals: along with co-founder Jack Groetzinger, he launched SeatGeek, a ticket aggregator startup that does for sports games and other events what Kayak does for airline tickets.
D’Souza was honored by Inc’s 30 under 30 in 2013 for SeatGeek’s amazing progress; D’Souza and Groetzinger were both named among Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s “America’s Best Entrepreneurs 2010.” The startup raised an additional $62 million in funding in 2015, solidifying the company’s status as an easy frontrunner in what can sometimes be a befuddled ticketing market.
The latest investment brings the company’s total funding up to $100 million, and valuation at $200 million. The startup hopes this will help them scale even further to take on their biggest competitor, StubHub.