“Globally, the sports technology market is the third biggest in the world behind defence and aerospace,” says Craig Hill, executive director of the newly formed Australian Sports Technologies Network (ASTN).
“And it was seen that Australia was not getting a fair slice of the pie.”
Hill is talking about the establishment of ASTN, which has at its core the mission to get groundbreaking sports technology IP out of university labs and into the marketplace.
It was launched on April 26 by Senator Kate Lundy, conveniently the Minister for Sport and Minister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, and will be in the public limelight on November 2 when it hosts its first conference, in Geelong.
The Federal Government kicked in $125,000 to help get the ASTN up and running – a mere three weeks after Hill and his colleagues pitched the idea. That idea has now been embraced from all sides – sports tech companies, the Australian Institute of Sport, national sporting organisations and academia.
“The goal is to advance the development and commercialisation of sports technologies in Australia – there has been no co-ordinated effort to develop the industry,” says Hill.
“We have a fantastic global reputation in sport. We perform very well in elite sporting markets and have well recognised coaching methodologies, but it’s actually not flowing through to developing sports technologies to get to market.”
The ATSN is not for profit and is developing a small venture sum to invest in sports technologies with high potential for commercialisation.
While this is partly about improving our performance in elite sport, it is also about bringing technologies to the grassroots or “weekend warriors”.
Professional sporting teams have an arsenal of technology they use to monitor stress on their athletes and track their movements in training and games.
“An example of an Australian company that has done very well is Catapult Sports,” says Hill.
Last weekend the company celebrated a double grand final success – as technology suppliers to the Sydney Swans and Melbourne Storm. They sell their athlete tracking systems into the English Premier League and Major League Soccer in the US.
“They’ve developed a strong scalable business model out of development of technology that was initially in a university that was then brought out into a larger scale enterprise,” says Hill.
“There are all sorts of things out there now in data analytics, sensor technology, protective wear and equipment around injury and concussion … there is some really strong IP there but it needs commercialisation and assistance to get it to market.”
Especially the mainstream market.
In the real world, we weekend hackers make do with GPS running watches and heart monitors, but how cool would it be, say, if your over 35s soccer team had cheap access to sensors in their playing shirts, tracking the distance covered and maximum speeds and a whole other range of data, not just to help the oldies avoid the physio, but also for the sheer laugh and one-upmanship of it all?
“A lot of the technologies that are being developed are just reaching the elite markets but not further,” says Hill. “We’re trying to get these products and services to the grassroots weekend warrior levels – that’s the big consumer market.
“The GPS running watches are a perfect example. Twenty years ago only the defence industry used that technology but now you can buy a GPS running watch for $100 and there are 100,000 of them in Australia – globally that’s a highly scalable consumer market.
“It’s about getting a solution to a price point that a local club could afford, and the way technology is moving that might only be a few years time – there is a lot of work going on in sensors – sensors in footballs, cricket balls and bats to measure movement, accuracy, etc.”
This year’s conference will conclude with a Dragons’ Den-style pitching competition which about 25 technology entrepreneurs entered, seeking mentorship for their ideas and a $15,000 prize.
“If there are some quality entrants that come through, there are potential investors there to provide help with prototyping and access to the market,” says Hill.
Tony Harper is editor and co-founder of Sports Business Insider website, an online resource showcasing views, news and trends for the growing Australian sportsbiz industry, and soon to start a media services division. Look out for Tony’s regular contributions as a new blogger to SmartCompany on all matters sports business-related. Follow Tony on Twitter: @toneharper.