#Trending: How professional sports leagues feel about wearables

Who loves wearable data? And who's afraid of it?
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Wearables in the sporting realm aren't exactly new. There are dedicated golf wearables and GPS watches aiming to improve your game and tennis trackers that attach to your racket, while an increasing amount of smartwatches are offering advanced metrics for running, swimming and cycling.

But while you have consumer-facing devices, there's also the stable of devices being used in the professional scene.

And keeping track on which teams and leagues are deciding to embrace the technology and which are sticking to convention is an interesting sub-plot that's gone under some recent change.

So, what's the current state of play?

Well, it's important to keep in mind that every sport has different demands which affects adoption. The trend here shows major US-based leagues welcoming tech and data into the room more than, say, the wide range of football (or soccer, for our US friends) leagues in Europe.

Recently, we've seen waves in the NFL, NBA and MLB, but deciphering whether this is a genuine push towards innovation or a series of middling attempts to keep up isn't easy.

Which devices are gaining the most traction?

Instead of focusing solely on the game itself, devices monitoring the bigger picture have become the priority. The Whoop Strap is seeing popularity in all three leagues due to its ability to provide skin conductivity and heart rate variability measurements, as well as monitoring sleep.

This allows for insights into how an athlete's body is handling the strain of working out and recovery. And, in fact, just this week we saw the NFL Players Association partner with Whoop.

The NBA's Golden State Warriors and Premier League's Leicester City have also used Catapult Sports' devices to monitor performance in training to aid recovery between games, while the Miami Heat has been using Vert, a wearable which can monitor elements like jump count and jump load.

#Trending: How professional sports leagues feel about wearables

Wait, so why doesn't every team get involved?

A lot do, and the number is growing by the year. But still, these teams are individual operations, despite sitting under a wider banner - nobody has to do anything. Some teams just won't see the value, but the bigger issue here is organisations not employing the manpower to go through the data and find the best use for it. Telling someone to wear something is just the start, after all, and there are plenty of other statistical and analytical sources to contend with, too.

Also, let's be real, there's some cynicism involved, too. A lot of coaches won't want to hear from a data analyst that a key player is struggling to cope with the demands of travelling and training.

Why aren't league offices handling all this?

Their involvement is generally limited to approval and rejection of the overall premise of newfangled tech. But there's potentially a huge opportunity being missed here. Take the NFL, for example. The concussion issue continues to sit on the radar, with more and more studies showing the link to brain damage, such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

This is an instance where the NFL could step in and implement tech to increase player safety on a league-wide basis. And while it continues to explore a tech-based option to work in conjunction with or replace the independent neurologist on the sidelines, it's already pushing more commercial wearable exploits, such as NextGenStats.

This is the league's platform to provide fans and broadcasters alike with info on player location, speed and acceleration on every single play, with this being achieved through sensors on pads and throughout the stadium.

#Trending: How professional sports leagues feel about wearables

What about the others, hey? HEY?

Well, the NBA, which is typically progressive, has recently rejected the use of wearable trackers while players are on the floor. Per the new collective bargaining agreement, it's essentially trying to avoid a situation whereby the data is used in contract negotiations.

The MLB, meanwhile, is showing no such concerns, with wearables given the green light last year and Whoop being approved for in-game use just last month. This means players and teams can keep tabs on injuries and a player's condition around the clock.

I see a theme developing here.

It would appear so. While the help is there, or at least ready to be pushed further, the potential pandora's box this can open is something that league front offices generally don't want to take a chance on. That's why you see the NFL Players Association taking a leading role on player safety, instead.

Anyway, what's the next step in this great game?

It's tough to tell, since this is a pretty broad and thorny area. Teams will no doubt continue to embrace innovation, since the hunt to find a competitive edge is so fierce.

Whether those in charge are eventually pressured to open things up with regard to in game situations remains to be seen, but the recent trend would suggest the tech wins out here eventually. Stay tuned.

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Conor Allison


Conor moved to Wareable Media Group in 2017, initially covering all the latest developments in smartwatches, fitness trackers, and VR. He made a name for himself writing about trying out translation earbuds on a first date and cycling with a wearable airbag, as well as covering the industry’s latest releases.

Following a stint as Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint, Conor returned to Wareable Media Group in 2022 as Editor-at-Large. Conor has become a wearables expert, and helps people get more from their wearable tech, via Wareable's considerable how-to-based guides. 

He has also contributed to British GQ, Wired, Metro, The Independent, and The Mirror. 

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