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Wrist Assessment: Exploring the potential of wearable technology for sports fans

By: Andy Cooper

From fitness bands to smartwatches, the increasing popularity of wearable devices has been one of the major technology trends of recent years. The development of products such as the Apple Watch has put wearables at the forefront of consumer technology, but what does the future of the industry look like, and how can sports organizations best equip themselves to take advantage of its growth?

Rapid Growth

The wearable technology market is growing at a phenomenal rate. Currently worth $15 billion, the market is expected to exceed $31 billion by 2020. In 2015, 84 million wearable devices were ordered worldwide, with CCS Insight projecting that 245 million will be shipped in 2019 as technology improves and prices fall.

The potential of the wearables market is huge. According to research conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), 20% of American adults already own a wearable device. As 53% of millennials say that they are excited by the future of wearable technology, PwC believes that businesses must evolve their current mobile-first strategies to embrace wearables and deliver cross-platform content. With continued growth in the market, consumer brands that enable engagement via mobile and wearable devices will be the most likely to thrive.

Fan Engagement

Enabling users to receive calls, text messages and calendar alerts as well as collecting fitness tracking data, smartwatches are set to become the dominant form of wearable technology. Fitness bands currently outsell smartwatches, but that is not a trend that is expected to last. In fact, CCS Insight estimates that more than half of all wearables sold in 2018 will be smartwatches as their enhanced functionality eclipses that of single-function activity trackers.

Such is the growing popularity of smartwatches that they may pose a threat to the dominance of smartphones in the coming years. The ratio of smartphone to smartwatch shipments worldwide is currently 500 to 1, but research by IHS Technology claims that it will drop to around 20 to 1 over the next five years. Enhancing the smartphone experience and rapidly developing new functionality, the future of smartwatches looks bright.

As tech giants such as Apple and Google leverage their brands to drive the development of wearables, the delivery of customized content to users’ wrists is becoming a reality. Given that 69% of American smartwatch owners are aged 18-34, there are significant opportunities for sports teams to engage with digitally native fans via wearable technology.

Wearables are ideal for receiving live, bite-sized content that can be digested at a glance, information that sports teams and media organizations have in abundance. From live scores to team lineups and injury alerts, wearables are an excellent platform for keeping fans informed on the go.

Athlete Monitoring

Professional athletes are some of the most frequently monitored individuals on the planet. From speed and distance to heart rate and sleeping patterns, athletes are analyzed around the clock by coaches intent on evaluating performance and recovery. This type of in-depth health monitoring has traditionally been the preserve of elite sports, but technological developments are making it available to the masses.

The growth of wearable technology has given rise to online communities that facilitate the analysis and comparison of activities. Websites such as Strava allow users to upload their data and compare themselves to professional athletes. Presenting activity tracking through a social media-style interface, these communities engage users with the data generated by their wearables as well as connecting them with their favourite athletes.

Strava has over one million active users and is a good indicator of the popularity of personal health tracking. In the future there is the possibility that sports teams could use similar platforms to share selected player performance information and give fans the opportunity compare their own daily activity with that of high-profile players from leagues such as the NBA, NFL or English Premier League.

Increasing the reach of teams and brands through this tech can help organizations better interact with fans and exploit the burgeoning potential of wearable devices. It remains to be seen exactly how the delivery of content to wearables will develop, but these devices are here to stay and look set to provide an exciting new avenue for original and informative sports content.