Data and technology are increasingly driving the development of major sports, not just in terms of performance on the court but also in the arena and on television as sports look to grow audiences and fan loyalty by offering that something extra.
Information on the speed of the ball, passing tempo, how high a player can jump or how quickly players can accelerate past their opponents are crucial to the modern coach, but this is data that has not been readily available in the sport to date.
For the fan at home too, new technology offers the opportunity to perhaps see the game from new angles or to engage with the action and other like-minded fans via their second screens – new innovations that could well attract a whole new generation of sports fans to the sport
As part of its on-going work to further develop sport, the EHF has been working with experts from the sports tech industry to test a range of new technologies that could revolutionise the game in the future.
Deconstructing the sport
Taking advantage of the season hiatus in January due to EHF EURO, the federation invited two technology companies to Vienna to show off their offerings.
Test subjects for these initial real-world trials were the players of the Vienna-based HC Fivers WAT Margareten, a club with previous experience in the VELUX EHF Champions League and currently top of the Handball League of Austria.
In the first of the tests, carried out by EHF Marketing GmbH, the federation’s marketing arm, each player and the ball itself was fitted with a chip to enable them to be tracked using technology from the company, Kinexon Sports & Media.
Player were tracked during a practice match using six receivers, which fed back information to a base station enabling coaches – and also potentially TV viewers at home – access to live statistics via their laptop or tablet.
The company’s CEO, Maximilian Schmidt, explained the benefits the technology can bring: “When we watch handball nowadays, we see a fascinating and fast sport but nobody knows how fast they are, how much distance they cover during a match, how is their acceleration or how fast the ball is. All this information brings a new dimension that allows fans see the sport through different eyes.”
In a further test with the Spanish company, First V1sion, the Fivers players were fitted with a wearable camera in their playing shirts to provide a unique ‘point of view’ perspective from the game in real time for broadcasters.
Following the use of the ‘spider cam’, ‘overhead cam’ and ‘in-goal cam’ in the EHF’s coverage of the sport, it may not be too long before the 'player-cam', ‘ref-cam’ or ‘coach-cam’ becomes an essential part of match coverage.
Live tests in Poland
The European Championship in January was also a testing ground for the latest in player tracking technology, with tools trailed that are already in use in competitions including the NBA and football’s English Premier League from the company, Prozone.
The company was in Krakow for the competition’s main round to follow a number of games with their unique camera system, which uses a technology similar to facial recognition to track players throughout the game.
Using their system it is possible to follow the movement of both players and the ball and to analyse the distance players have run, how far they have jogged or sprinted during the match.
The company’s General Manager, Martin Bland explained: "We believe that Prozone offers a unique and game-changing product - a player tracking system, which can change the game’s understanding of player performance in both a technical and physical aspect.
“The data we can provide will accelerate player development, reduce injury, modernise talent ID and recruitment, and of course amaze spectators with unique data about their favourite teams and players.”
Positive feedback from players and coaches
The first batch of tech trials has met with positive approval from coaches and players alike.
After the experiments in Vienna, captain of the Fivers team, Markus Kolar, commented: “It was a great feeling for the team, everybody wanted to run the furthest and now we’re all looking to see who won.”
And head coach, Peter Eckl, said: “This is very interesting tool, which will make the make the game easier to understand for coaches and players as well as spectators.
“As a coach this system offers me the opportunity to measure the various performance parameters live and in real time. This is certainly the biggest strength of the system and in the future would allow training sessions to be adapted as they happen and be individually tailored, particularly as the technical requirements don’t disturb the players.
“This tool is best suited to the tactical side of the game, allowing us to work more accurately, for example optimising the positioning of individual players in defence.”
The trials will be now be evaluated by the EHF and will continue to look at a range of new technology solutions for implentation in its top competitions in the future