FIFA Embraces Technology in Russia - What's Next?

3 Innovations to watch out for at World Cup 2026 – that’s right, 2026

As you’ve been cheering in the pub, yelling at your television, or streaming each World Cup match on your phone under your desk when you were supposed to be working, you’ve been witnessing the inevitable highs and lows that make this global spectacle so magical.  Harry Kane’s hat trick, Germany’s unthinkable ouster from the tournament :( Senegal out based on yellow cards??!!

   Alex Morton/Getty Images  - England's Harry Maguire (6) requests for VAR review

Alex Morton/Getty Images - England's Harry Maguire (6) requests for VAR review

All this time, you’ve also been absorbing – either consciously or subconsciously - how technology continues to radically alter the way the game is played, how the rules are enforced, and how we experience every moment as a fan. From FIFA’s commitment to using VAR (Video Assistant Referee) at all matches -- with much debate from fans and teams every time the referee runs to the sidelines to confer with the VAR team.  The rate of change is occurring at a dizzying pace. There’s nothing quite like the global stage that only a World Cup or the Olympics can truly offer to provide a kind of litmus test on the state of technology innovation in sports.

Forbes recently published an article on 5 Tech Innovations to Watch this year in Russia. They highlight not only VAR, but 4K UHD, Virtual Reality experiences, 5G bandwidth, and the addition of smart sensor technology to Adidas’ official “Testar” tournament ball. This collects tracking data on speed, trajectory, and more while the athletes play the game, pairing well with the addition to ChyronHego’s TRACAB optical tracking systems.

We at STG have been researching the sports technology landscape and following the trends closely. We want to share our predictions on the future of technology in sport over the next several years. Based on our research we will share the kind of tech you expect to see as ubiquitous at World Cup 2026 when it comes to North America; and, if you’re in the business of sports technology, how to prepare for these disruptive technologies. Prepare for shifts today so that you’re not caught flat-footed when they become mainstream.

  STG's Sports Technology Hype Curve. July 2018.

STG's Sports Technology Hype Curve. July 2018.

With all of our customers and partners, we start most conversations about the future of tech in sports with our version of the sports tech hype curve.

This curve demonstrates that each innovation progresses through the phases of hype, disillusionment, a slope of learning and enlightenment before it ultimately is adopted and becomes the new standard or is discarded as not viable in the market.

The three technology innovations that we are betting on now because we are confident they will drive the next wave of innovation over the next half decade are:

  1. Blockchain

  2. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

  3. IoT

What do these tech innovations have in common with one another and why do we believe they will be so disruptive?

What they have in common is that all three are about data – how we collect data, how we use and analyze data, how we control who has access to data, and how we harness the power of machines to make more intelligent decisions with that data.

Data and statistics have always been integral to sports – from the obvious areas like athlete performance (and the rise in disciplines like sabermetrics) to the behind-the-scenes operational data that makes any for-profit enterprise on the planet run more effectively. But, in the past decade, as we fully embrace the digital era we live in, we have seen both an explosion of data and an erosion in the trust. We no longer truly know who is collecting our data and how it is being used - for or against us. Athletes are especially at risk as their data can impact everything from their salaries, to fantasy leagues and sports betting.

These 3 technologies are radically transforming other industries - from retail to financial services to manufacturing - and we believe that they will be standard practice in the sports industry by the 2026 World Cup.

BLOCKCHAIN

First, imagine if all data that a team/league created or relied on to run their organization was “trusted.” Meaning that any data that was exchanged between athletes and country teams or FIFA and their sponsors were immediately trusted –

  • you knew who the data was from,

  • you had control over your own data, and

  • you knew the data was accurate and couldn’t be changed by any of the parties to prevent future disputes.

That is the promise of blockchain technology. At STG, we have already started down the path of creating sports applications on blockchain technology. To learn more, click here.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

The second technology advance will be AI, aka artificial intelligence. At its simplest level, AI is the ability for computers to take large streams of data, learn trends in the data and automate decisions based on that data with continuous improvement in those decisions over time as the machine learns more and more. If you take the trusted data from the blockchain – about athletes, about teams, about fan behaviour – really any kind of data you can imagine - and you apply AI to help all parties the result is:

  • More intelligent decisions,

  • better play,

  • better organizations,

  • better leagues,

  • new revenue opportunities

  • new models for fan engagement.

INTERNET OF THINGS

IoT, the third innovation we’re excited about, is already being implemented. It’s at the top of our hype curve, and the craze around IoT devices has not slowed down.. Athletes are using wearables to better understand their sport, their body and to perform as optimally as possible. FIFA’s Adidas’ game balls are IoT devices so that you can track athlete movement in relation to the ball throughout the game. Spectator purchases and movement is being tracked in smart stadiums via their phones as they connect to different beacons as they move through. It’s here, but we believe the potential for a full unity of data is possible. Whether as a unified athlete or a unified fan, breaking down the walls of data silos will consolidate the information these smart devices are collecting in one hub. This way the executives in a sports league, or the GM making the recruiting calls, will better understand the impact of their decision making. There is so much data being collected, but it is still unclear how it can be used effectively. Check out STG’s blog next week on the Unified Athlete that will delve into who owns athlete data, and how it can be controlled.

Understanding the data we are collecting within sports franchises, leagues and teams are going to be absolutely necessary to gain a competitive advantage in the future. Having the ability to integrate data from every source to understand how your athlete, fan or sponsor is activating and tracking will be the best way to stay ahead of evolving consumer behaviour and a growing digital landscape. The 2018 FIFA World Cup is just the first step in the direction to an overwhelming amount of misunderstood data.

What do you think about the 2018 World Cup’s addition of technology and where do you see it going? Comment below and let us know!