Sometime soon, there is likely to be some sort of breakthrough in sports entertainment where commentators get real-time access to data about each athlete and play drawn from sensors worn on the field or the court — how high that jump was, how fast the swing of that bat was, how much faster that player was was running compared to the defense.
It could be pretty exciting, especially for those of us who are more sensitive to the repetitive jabbering of sports commentary.
Athletes and their coaches are just starting to get access to some of that data today. One independent startup in the space, Zepp, makes a one-inch-square sensor that can be mounted on a baseball bat, golf glove or tennis racket.
Some other options include the 94Fifty from InfoMotion Sports Technologies, a smart basketball that helps coach people on their shots, and early sensor-sportswear from established companies like Under Armour and Nike.
Zepp is pretty new to the market. Launched in 2012, it has “tens of thousands” of customers, including some professional athletes, according to CEO Jason Fass. The Zepp sensors are sold in Apple and Verizon stores.
But Zepp is already starting to get a lot of data; its sensors have measured 500,000 golf swings in the past 30 days, Fass said.
Now Zepp has raised $15 million in funding led by GGV Capital, Legend Capital, Bertelsmann and Cherubic Ventures to expand its product and brand.
The company — which has 35 employees in Los Gatos, Calif., and Beijing — had previously raised $5 million from Legend Capital, which is the investment arm of Lenovo.
Fass said Zepp’s key trick is extracting actionable data for training purposes via specialized Android and iOS apps for each sport. Compared to various activity trackers, “making data actionable and meaningful is where I feel all these companies are failing,” he said.
And Fass knows a bit about that topic — his last job was leading product management for Jawbone, which makes the Up activity-tracking band. Before that, he helped lead the MacBook Pro division at Apple.
Going back to the opening premise, data from Zepp and other wearable trackers isn’t yet being used in sports broadcasts of golf, tennis and baseball. That’s a bit of a hypothetical leap, but not a huge one.
“We’re getting into a world — it may be two years, it may be 10 — where sensors are on every athlete on the field,” Fass said.
“Remember when the NFL was first considering the yellow line [to simulate where first downs are for TV watchers]? That was controversial,” Fass said. “Now it’s hard to imagine watching the game without that.”