In a sign that the debate over wearable technology in professional sports is still ongoing, the NBA Players Association has reached a bargaining agreement with the league which prohibits NBA teams from using data obtained from wearables in contract negotiations.
Among other things, the new agreement sets out the terms and conditions for the use of wearables, including the establishment of a Wearable Committee composed of three representatives each from the NBA and the Players Association to review and approve any wearable technologies worn by players. The agreement also requires that players give voluntary permission for the use of data from wearables for the purposes of player health and performance along with for tactical and strategic uses.
All of these changes are the result of the influx of wearable tech within professional sport, since along with the mounds of data produced by wearable come concerns for player privacy and autonomy. The latest move by the NBAPA, for example, was spurred by a worry that data on an individual’s fitness and performance obtained via wearables could be used against the athlete during contract negotiations.
Yet, the advance of wearables into professional sport seems inevitable. Currently, while NBA players are still not allowed to use wearable performance tracking devices during games, there are a handful of approved technologies available for use during practice, including devices made by Adidas, Catapult, Intel and VERT.
A recent market report predicts the worldwide sports analytics market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 40.1 per cent over the next five years, to reach $3.97 billion by 2022, with the bulk of this growth squarely due to the introduction of wearable tech and sensors tracking player and team performance and aiding in injury prevention.
In the NFL, teams are already hooking their players up with a range of sensors to monitor health and performance, such as wrist-based fitness trackers for heart rate monitoring, chips in shoulder pads for improved player hit stats and even sensors in helmets and mouth guards to monitor for severe impact and concussion.
Yet in November of 2015, the NFL Players Association filed a grievance over teams’ use of sleep monitors, saying that their use falls outside the realm of game and practice-related activities. The grievance was settled the following summer when the NFLPA, in what some took a sign of capitulation and acceptance of wearable tech’s growing impact on the game, agreed to the rule that teams are allowed to use roster-wide sleep monitoring as long as they get NFLPA approval beforehand.
Other sports are seeing the influx of wearables as well. In Major League Baseball, two types of wearables were in use this past year – the Zephyr Bioharness for checking heart rate and breathing and the Motus sleeve which collects data concerning elbow stress in pitchers.
In the NHL, wearable tech was included as a component of its World Cup broadcast in September, 2016, involving player data on stats like puck possession, distance covered and puck speed. The league has also bought into a concussion monitoring system designed by Seattle-based X2 Biosystems. Called the Integrated Concussion Evaluation (ICE) system, it provides real time information to help determine whether or not a concussion has been suffered. The ICE system is currently being used by other organizations such as the NFL, Major League Soccer, Premiership rugby and the US Army.
Below: Qualcomm’s Paul Jacobs: Wearables Will Transform Sports