Technology’s invasion of sports and pick up for marketing

Tuesday, 18 September 2012 00:36 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

I wonder if you can remember the famous World Cup Soccer final some years back where the fourth referee intervened after the great Zinedine Zidane head-butted Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final. It would have perhaps gone unnoticed if not the TV referral.

In my view, if this had gone unnoticed, it may have even changed the course of the game. In the game of cricket, we saw how the Indians came down hard in the last series with Sri Lanka as the third umpire option was not used and so many decisions went against the players.


Weeraratna claim

For those who are unaware, the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) which is currently adopted by ICC stems back to the originator being a Sri Lankan lawyer named Senaka Weeraratna, whom I had the opportunity of working very closely with when we worked for the State in the fight against terrorism.

From the facts that I have been privy to and confirmed by eminent lawyer Dr. Harsha Cabral, Senaka is the man who conceptualised the idea that field umpire decisions should be subjected to a process of reviewing in the game of cricket way back as 1997.

As per the Intellectual Property Law, this can be backed by the articles that appeared in eminent media such as Australian (1997), Times of London (1997), Sunday Times – Sri Lanka(1997), Dawn – Pakistan (1997), International Cricketer – UK (1997), Australian (1999), to just name a few.

I am sure that time will do justice to the authorship and moral copyright of this development and that very soon we will see the Weeraratna Law hitting the news lines just like the famous Duckworth Lewis calculation on rain hit matches.

I see a similar interaction, if not stronger, in the world of business where technology is coming into play for decision making. I guess this is the era that we work in and now either we become savvy to this fast changing landscape or if not we will find ourselves lost in the global business arena. Let me take a few of them.


Tracking studies

The Zinedine Zidane example was a few defining instances of the use of technology in sports – either in the form of television or through data and video analysis for decision making. But the fact is today we see that the world is getting quite familiar with the use of technology for decision making like what we saw at the Olympic Games, where every finish the winners are decided by technology.

I feel we also need to pick the positives and do the same in our day-to-day businesses. If we are in brand marketing, it is of paramount importance that we use the data provided by research agencies for decision making. The best set of data are the tracking studies done on a brand’s target consumers at the retail end and at the home. It tells a brand marketer the movement of consumers in and out of a brand in terms of user-ship and as well as usage levels on a segmental basis vis-à-vis the competitors.

If one is running the track on a computer system, one can analyse consumer behaviour from a geographical basis or from income segment that can point to where the business issue. To my mind this is the ABC of the science of marketing as geographically we can see the areas where a brand has won consumers and from who the business has come so that post that, more conventional research can be done to see why they switched.

This analysis can help a marketer develop their brand strategy with absolute shotgun focus rather than the peanut butter approach that was done some years back. This is the challenge that the marketer is up against that brings about the science in this very popular discipline of marketing today.

The question is, are potential marketers equipped with the skill set for this new paradigm shift that is talking place? To be honest this has been in the multinational belt for over 10 years, but now it’s cascading to the top local brands in Sri Lanka. I guess the next step is to bring this technology to the supermarket segment of business that is fast catching up. This will require a super panel I guess.


Leadership styles

With sports becoming more professional and competitive and leading to the use of technology, players and coaches as well as officials have strongly increased the use of technology. Some coaches use technology to work out strategies against teams, specific opposition players and situations through the use of data and image analysis.

To cite a case in point, a leading bowler in the Australian cricket team did not believe that his head was falling 10-15 degrees whilst in the middle of a delivery. This in turn would affect his rhythm and performance. But when shown his variation on computer he began to believe. Today, he is one of the top five bowlers in the world of cricket.

In business management training programmes, trainers simulate a problem and record the decision making process of the team to demonstrate leadership styles – autocratic, team-driven, etc. Thereafter, one is asked to reflect the behaviour demonstrated so that changes can be drilled into the core of an individual. The concept is ‘Seeing is believing’.

Once again we see the influence technology, whether it be in the sports arena or in a business situation. However, we have to be open to the idea of using technology to improve our performance. As long as there is a block ‘I do not want to be photographed and analysed in public’ mentality, we cannot become a professional of today, who is technology-driven.



Technologies like speed cameras, ultra speed motion cameras (which produce 1,000 frames per second against the 25 frames by a normal camera), cameras with good long lenses that capture minute details and super slow moving cameras can show the false start of an athlete who gets off to a lightning start in a 100m dash.

We saw this many times in the recently-concluded London Olympic Games. In effect, the way that sports are telecast is changing. No wonder viewers crib when one TV channel does not show the good images or angles of an ace fired by the new US Open Mens Champion Andy Murray, who is now coached by the great Ivan Lendle purely with the aid of technology.

In management we see this customisation taking face with Facebook, Twitter, My Space, SMS, MMS and emailing, just to name a few of the social media developments. The world is moving away from a mass marketing approach to a customised approach of reaching consumers.

I know of a company that manufactures baby care products that have a database of all the mothers in the Western Province and communicates to them on a weekly update. A customised birthday card is sent to the little one until the third birthday, which is computer generated. Just imagine the bond that exists between the brand and the customer – the mother in this instance.

In countries like Sweden, where the penetration of computers is 98%, even political leaders address the nation through customised email. Imagine having a letter from the President of your country addressed to you when you turn on your computer in the morning. This is the power of technology and the impact to influencing consumer behaviour.


The future

This is then the present. But what lies in store for the future? It is going to be more integrated analysis and user interactive technology. A typical viewer of TV will be demanding what he wants as backing data whilst a programme is on.

For example, if there is a partnership going between two cricketers of the calibre of Jayawardene and Sangakkara, one can request data on the history of the partnerships between the two players. This is basically going through Skype technology, which offers free communication over the internet – totally individualised.

In developed markets when a consumer is at a supermarket on a Friday evening, on each shelf there is a reader that automatically demonstrates by way of a meter reading the most purchased brand for the day. It helps a consumer understand the trends of purchasing behaviour in a segment like toothpastes or beauty soaps.

May be a day will come where with one card all transactions can be done – purchasing goods at a supermarket, opening a car door, swiping to get access in office in the morning to opening one’s main gate at home. In fact it’s already here on earth.

With the race towards a technology-driven era unfolding, the reality of today is that we use only 10% of applications our computer can offer to us on daily basis. Even though millions are spent by mobile companies to purchase a 3G license, people use their cell phones just as they did in 2000 – to make calls. I feel the time has come to change.

 (The writer is a Board Director in many private sector and public sector organisations and serves the United Nations – UNOPS – as the Head of National Portfolio Development. He was awarded the Exemplary Leadership Award in the recently-concluded Leadership Awards in Singapore voted in by Association of Businesses, Education Global Congress and CMO Council.)

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