🏉 How tech is impacting Rugby
From drones, body cams, VR training solutions ...to AR
Rugby is one of the most popular sports in the world, but it is also an early adopter of emerging technologies. Many of the top rugby teams who will be participating in the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France from September 8, 2023 to October 28, will be relying on cutting edge technologies in order to improve the performance of players and prevent injuries. Broadcasters, on the other hand, are also relying on emerging technologies to enhance the fans experience and increase TV viewership.
But before we get into interesting technologies used in the world of rugby, let’s start with some numbers:
In 2016, the total number of registered rugby players increased from 2.82M to 3.2M while the total number of non-registered rugby players rose from 4.91M to 5.3M. South Africa has the most registered players with 651k and England the most players overall with 2.1M.
Let’s now take a look at some interesting companies using in the world of professional rugby.
GPS trackers have become a fairly common technology developed by companies like STATSPORTS, Catapult or McLloyd. Those GPS trackers are being used by coaches to calculate the workload of players, understand when players are reaching a breaking point or are about the get injuries.
Here is a video explaining how the British rugby team is using a GPS system:
It is also worth pointing out that some vendors like McLloyd are going one step further by developing a system to help identify impact to the head with a concussion sensor that is placed behind the ear.
Many pro rugby teams are also using video analysis software along with the GPS and wearable (HR..) in order to better understand the context and get better insights about the health of players.
One of the key players there is Catapult. The Australian company offers Vision, a video analysis platform, which is being used by rugby teams like Leicester to synchronize wearable data with video, allowing for the addition of context and insight which enables the data to be analyzed holistically.
Alex Martin, Head of Physical Performance at Leicester Tigers, said: “We’re excited to have both Vision and Vector used by our senior team. Being able to integrate the wearable and video analysis is a huge step forward and will push the boundaries of what we’re able to do with sports science even further.”
Here is a quick video that talks about Catapult’s Vision:
Video: Catapult’s Vision
Injury prevention software:
Injury prevention is a key theme in the world of pro rugby. One of the key players there is a company called Kitman Labs. Kitman Labs’ solution essentially aggregates a large amount of biometric data (GPS, HR..) and can assess the risk of injuries for individual players.
Kitman Labs not only works with many rugby teams but also with rugby leagues such as The South African Rugby Union (SARU), and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU).
“Kitman Labs provides us with an easy-to-use tool to collect and store all the workload data from across the organization in one central depository,” said Willie Maree, Technical Support Manager with the SARU. “We are able to collect data from each of our athletes before they even come into camp, then put it to work immediately by looking at the injury information reporting and injury audits. In addition, we can share key learnings and data between departments and teams.”
Here is a quick video that illustrates how Kitman labs works and benefits rugby teams:
Video: Kitman Labs
As we noted in previous analyses, VR training has been used in sports like American Football, soccer, baseball, hockey…Rugby is another major sports that has embraced VR for training purposes. For example, the Australian Wallabies have been using a VR training solution.
Concretely, the Wallabies teamed up with Vodafone through a sponsorship of Super Rugby to provide an innovative VR training solution, powered by StartVR, using Samsung Gear VR headsets. VR training allows the team to take on a different approach, working together instead to develop new strategies using this training tool.
Picture: Samsung VR headset, VR training system
“We engaged with StartVR and Vodafone to build a more-collaborative game review tool which would allow players to assemble in groups and fully immerse themselves in the action using Samsung Gear VR headsets,” Wallabies coach michael Cheika says.
“By stitching four simultaneous angles of footage together, we were able to create an immersive experience where players can implant themselves back on the field and rotate to view different perspectives of on-field scenarios, communicating with each other in real-time to improve cohesion.”
This means the players can replay a scene and view it from all angles, reading the game and analyzing how each player can improve their positioning. The technology enables a more interactive game review process, and Cheika says the players have embraced this innovation.
“The players have really taken to [using the VR tech], finding it an enjoyable and useful experience. This in turn has driven more engagement in match preview and review, which results in complete clarity in game strategy.”
Drones and fixed “lamppost” cameras:
In addition to VR solution, rugby teams have also used drones and fixed cameras in order to improve training.
Concretely, drones fitted with cameras allow rugby coaches and players to analyze the footage. One top rugby team using drones is the Harlequins competing in the English rugby league:
"At training, Harlequins have what I call 'lampost cameras,'" Batchelor says. "They sit at one end of the pitch and provide the coaching staff with really high-quality images.
"We've used drones before, too. Drone operators sit at one end of a pitch and move the drones around manually. You get completely different camera angles and perspectives throughout the training sessions and throughout a live game.
"This high-level tech — the video, the GPS — is great as it makes our lives as coaches easier. But it is important to have specialists, high-level coaches, and sports scientists, who can interpret the data from that tech, correctly."
Here is a video footage of a drone system used between Helsinki and Turku Eagles:
Body cams have also become an emerging technology used by broadcasters in order to provide a more immersive viewing experience on TV. One of the key players there is FirstVision which built a smart t-shirt embedded with a camera.
Of note, Kurt Gidley (Warrington) was the first ever Rugby player to wear FirstVision Camera during an official Rugby match between the Warrington Wolves and Leigh Centurions on 16 March, 2017.
VR fans experiences:
VR is also being used in the world of pro rugby in order to improve the fans experience and offer a more immersive experience.
This type of VR experience was offered during the 2012 RBS 6 Nations, commonly referred to as “rugby’s greatest championship”. Back then the RBS 6 Nations began a partnership with Accenture to bring and innovative VR solution to fans.
The Accenture Innovation Program in London developed what it is calling a “cinematic, full body mixed reality experience that extends virtual reality from the individual to a wider audience.” In the demo, rugby fans put on an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and are instantly exposed to a range of immersive experiences.
Using well-known rugby personalities such as 2003 Rugby World Cup winner Ben Kay, the demo followed a cinematic storyline, complete with behind the scenes access to real-world stadia. Rugby fans are able to experience an athlete’s day firsthand, seeing point of view shots everywhere from the changing room to the pitch.
Biometric data as AR overlay on live TV:
The world of pro rugby has also been a pioneer when it comes to AR on live TV. Take the NRL, a leading Australian rugby league, which has been one of the most innovative rugby leagues in the world. The NRL shared with fans the heart rate of coaches and players, captured via RFID and HR sensors, on live TV as an AR overlay during crunch time.
Picture: Sports Tech Advisors
As we noted in some previous analyses, we believe that these types of AR sports experiences on live TV will become even more compelling — and ubiquitous — over time. Live betting capabilities will enable fans to bet on the next play after reviewing a critical play via an AR replay with valuable info (speed, hydration level, fatigue level) during live sports games on TV. These AR experiences will also help broadcasters increase viewership and bring new sponsors. Rugby teams will also be able to attract new fans, new sponsors and drive the sales of their associated content (jerseys, hats, etc.) which will help increase their top line.
But these types of innovatives AR experiences could also emerge in rugby stadiums as well. In fact, as we noted in some previous notes, we see a world where rugby fans will be walking around a rugby stadium wearing a pair of AR glasses displaying live statistical and biometric data (hydration level, blood pressure, HR, stress level, etc.) of players in real-time as an AR overlay. They will also be able to bet in real-time via 6G on the next play after viewing live performance data through a pair of AR glasses or an AR app.
Bottom line: The world of professional rugby has been an early adopter of emerging technologies such as AR, VR, drones, body cams, or injury prevention software in order to improve the fans experience, training and injury prevention. We expect to see new emerging technologies at the upcoming 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. Only one question remains: Are you ready for it? We certainly are.
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