The whistle for the kick off of the match between Russia and Saudi Arabia that will open the 2018 World Cup on Thursday evening will also mark the start of the most technological sports event ever. Every movement, angle, result, and drop of sweat will be immortalized, interpreted, stored, and distributed on thousands of systems, networks, applications, and communities. The current World Cup is not only a celebratory sports event for fans of the teams; it is also a celebratory high-tech event for technology fans – in many cases, the two sets of fans are identical.
Welcome to the world of sports technology, or sport tech for short. If you think you have reached the forefront of technology with your new 55-inch 4K screen, think again. The most intriguing technology is in the cloud, accumulating big sports data from innumerable cameras and sensors, analyzing, and producing information. We will see some of it on the screen during game broadcasts. More intensive information consumers can get it from thousands of apps and websites providing information to order and connecting fans to the experience on the field.
This situation is fueling a real economic celebration around the World Cup: the advertisers and advertising platforms. This prodigious economic engine is what drives the sport tech industry: advertising revenue, not the audience’s love or greed for sports. More than anything else, sports tech provides access to a captive audience with very well-known features and more segmented than almost any other sphere – an audience whose suspicion barriers against commercial offers are very low. A plastic cup with a picture of Lionel Messi? Gimme six of ’em.
A world hungry for Israeli sports technologies
In recent years, more and more Israeli startups are finding a place in global sports technology. Let’s not go overboard – all the talk about Israelis “conquering” the sports tech world and Israel being a sports tech superpower is an exaggeration. The trend does exist, however. Israeli companies are entering the global market, some with considerable success, such as sports event viewing company Replay, which was acquired two years ago by Intel for $170 million. The Replay deal showed the way for additional delegations of foreign investors shopping for sports technologies.
New figures from Start Up Nation Central show a growth trend in recent years in both the number of Israeli sport tech companies and the amount of financing that they have been raising. The figures show that there are 103 sports technology companies in Israel, compared with 61 in 2013, a significant increase, if not a quantum leap. Most Israeli sports tech companies were founded in the past five years. 78 of them, a large majority, have up to 10 employees. 35% of them are bootstrap companies financing themselves from their revenue without raising external capital. 34% have so far raised capital only in the early stages. The average financing round has grown from $375,000 per seed round in 2014 to $700,000 at the end of 2017.
What technology are Israeli companies developing? Despite the popularity of soccer in Israel and worldwide, that is not necessarily where the emphasis is being put; it is on augmented reality (AR) with smart eyeglasses and ski helmets, real-time video analysis of sports performances, hydration consumption management for athletes, a swimming training application, a Pilates application, and a lot of companies with network technologies for sharing information and viewer experience.
The most conspicuous sign that this sub-sector in Israel is starting to be interesting is that the Israel Innovation Authority is discovering it and giving it support. The Innovation Authority has supported 15 ventures so far. Innovation Authority VP and startup division head Anya Eldan says that this is a very interesting field that the Innovation Authority plans to support with attractive support tracks. “There were beginnings in sports in Israel, but we’re recently seeing more and more activity. I’m seeing projects of types and I want to encourage creation of ideas through the Tnufa program incentives for encouraging entrepreneurs. I’m looking for areas in which more ideas are needed. I think that sports technologies are such an area.”
Trend: Sensors and analysis in sports for individuals
Eldan says that one trend gaining momentum among companies in recent years is initiatives in sports for individuals: running, swimming, bicycle riding. In the past, Israeli companies have been wary of these sports because they did not know how to reach millions of consumers around the world. One of the explanations for the current boom is leading Israeli technological developments such as sensors, image analysis, and quantitative analysis of information, which are just begging to be applied to sports.
Another hint that Israeli sport tech is on the rise is the interest in it expressed by the TheTime incubator, owned by Ilan Shiloach and Nir Tarlovsky and by IPG/McCann, Eurocom Communications, Viola Credit and others. Under TheTime’s sponsorship have sprouted startups Fanzone and Pixellot, two of the most prominent on the local scene.
Taking the sector a step further is Oren Simanian. For soccer fans who do not recognize the name, Simanian is a former international referee who developed an interest in technology during his career as a referee. He has already represented the Indiegogo crowdfunding platform in Israel, founded the StarTau entrepreneurship center at Tel Aviv University, and last year managed the Colosseum Sport community, which coordinates joint activity of several dozen sports tech companies.
“It started with a feeling that technology was missing in the sports world,” Simanian says. “I got the inspiration in a soccer match when the ball hit the top goalframe but stayed out, which required a referee’s ruling that was a 50-50 guess. I thought, ‘How stupid we are for not using simple inexpensive technology to get the decisions right.'” Today Simanian holds meeting with sports clubs and organizations around the world to persuade them to adopt Israeli technologies. He says that in addition to the 100 companies dealing directly in sport tech, there are dozens more Israeli startups with technologies that can be suitable for this sector. “Israel will be a sports power by 2020 and will be the leader in sports technologies,” he predicts. “As in the past, when no one paid attention to Israel in auto technologies and Israel now leads it, the same thing will happen in this field.”
At the end of next month, Colosseum Sport will hold the Colosseum Sport Tech Summit 2018 conference. Simanian promises one of the biggest sports technology events ever held in Israel. “We’ll host representatives of some of the leading organizations and leagues in the world and in Israel. In the sports world, we’re low-rated and people don’t know us. When I used to go to referee European soccer games and said that I was an Israeli, they made a face, but when I go to lecture about innovation and say that I’m an Israeli, I see eyes light up. The chance of Israeli sports goes in tandem with the success of Israel technology.”
Six fascinating Israeli sports tech companies
1. PlaySight: Smart sports fields
PlaySight, founded in 2010, is making sports fields smart. The company installs high-quality video cameras on the fields. The system is able to record and analyze events, in addition to information from sensors that athletes carry on their person and from scoreboards. It generates insights for decision-making and improving achievements. The users can share the information on social networks with a community of athletes and fans. The company offers a close-up view of practices, games, and players.
PlaySight’s technology, which was originally developed for tennis, is now also used for soccer, basketball, volleyball, handball, ice hockey, dance, etc. The company is focusing on practice fields and small arenas. Its customers include NBA teams such as the league champion Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns.
Economic model: payment for the system
2. WSC: Game wrap-ups according to selection
WSC Sports Technology, founded in 2011, has developed machine learning technology capable of analyzing game broadcasts in real time, spotting importing events on the field, and composing video clips with automated and personalized wrap-ups. A wrap-up can be generated that includes only the big misses in a given soccer game, for example, or concentrates on all of the dunks by one basketball player. The technology is designed for use by broadcasting networks; WSC has sold its system to NBA teams and college teams, as well as to broadcast companies such as Turner Sports.
The clips generated by WSC can be automatically shared on digital channels and social networks. A company with broadcast rights can thereby expand its monetization capability and selection of video assets and increase its number of viewers and exposures to advertising. Among other things, the company has put a chatbot on the NBA’s Facebook page in which the surfer can order a video clip according to his preferences.
Economic model: sales of the systems and payment for use
3. Minute Media: Sharing of content by fans
The company, which was founded in 2011, won second place in the “Globes” competition for promising startups in 2017. Minute Media has developed technology enabling fans to create, publish, and share sports content. The company has a new approach to creating content in which the fan can create and share rich multimedia content, video clips, sports stories, and pictures and use them to tell his story from a personal perspective and display behind-the-scenes images of sports events.
The company covers sports events in 20 countries through three brands: 90min for soccer, 12up for US sports (Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Football League, and the college leagues), and DBLTAP for gaming and digital sports. According to the company, it has the highest rating of the world’s three leading soccer platform, with tens of millions of users and rapid growth in revenue.
Economic model: advertising revenue (customers include Nike, Pepsi, Mastercard, Verizon, and Paramount)
4. Tokabot: chatting with fans in real time
Tokabot, founded last year, has developed a system for generating involvement and interaction between sports fans before and during games. Based on statistical data and additional information, fans can share experiences, answer trivia questions, and create dynamic content in real time. Tokabot’s customers are companies in the sports field that can generate interactive marketing that responds to events taking place on the field.
A month ago, Tokabot signed a cooperation agreement in the content field with gambling giant Bwin that will take effect during the upcoming World Cup, enabling the company’s customers to upgrade their viewing experience as fans. The product developed for Bwin is called Wet Buddy, a platform for both sports fans and gamblers. Tokabot previously developed the official chatbot of the German soccer association for the World Cup and “Virtual Friend” – technology designed to augment the interaction on social networks between clubs and sports companies and the fans.
Economic model: advertising revenue
5. Pic2Go: pictures for footrace competitors
Pic2Go, one of the oldest companies in the sector (founded in 2010), has almost no sales in Israel. The company enables footrace and bicycle race competitors to obtain free photographs of themselves during the race with the addition of information about their performances: distance and speed when the photograph is taken. The company’s technology identifies the runners by a barcode imprinted on their chests. The pictures of hundreds and thousands of competitors are automatically uploaded to Facebook and can be shared. The company covered nearly 500 million competitors at 650 races in 40 countries in 2017.
Pic2Go CEO Eitan Hefetz asserts that his company’s economic model changes the rules of the game in the sector. The service is given free of charge to competitors; financing is provided by sponsoring companies. “For the sponsorship providers, the results are hundreds of thousands and millions of exposures to branded pictures,” he says. Pic2Go was founded on the bootstrap model and grew organically while granting franchises in various countries. Hefetz says that the fact that the company has not raised capital is what pushed it to rely on the franchises model, instead of focusing on a single market like many other companies.
Economic model: franchises and sponsoring companies
6. Pixellot: focus on amateur sports
Pixellot, founded in 2013, sprouted in the TheTime incubator. The company has developed an automated panoramic photography, processing, and production system for broadcasting sports events. There are 75 million such games a year that are not broadcast by the television networks. Pixellot focuses on leagues for children, teenagers, and lower sports leagues. The company last year signed a cooperation agreement with the Wige network, which broadcasts lower sports leagues and leagues for children and teenagers in Germany, and with the NFHS network of high schools in the US. The agreement’s potential is in the millions of dollars.
Pixellot’s technology is based on the ability to operate cameras remotely and a photographic editing system on live streaming broadcasts. The system is also able to create wrap-ups of prominent events and personal clips of players in a game. The system can be adapted specifically for any sport: soccer, basketball, handball, volleyball, ice hockey, rugby, American football, and lacrosse. Another of the company’s products is designed for use by a team’s training staff. Its customers include prestige clubs like Barcelon and Bayern Munich.
Economic model: payments by parents or sponsorship by commercial companies.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news – www.globes-online.com – on June 13, 2018