SportsTechX
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SportsTechX

Overview of the BasketballTech landscape

The industry shows a big appetite for tech solutions and partnerships.

With the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup coming to an end, many eyes are on the tech that is used before, during and after the games. And just before the tournament started, FIBA and Atrium Sports announced a landmark partnership forging the future of basketball. It’s their “shared vision to deliver the FIBA Connected Stadium to help make basketball the most popular, innovative and digitally advanced sports community in the world. Atrium Sports is helping remove the barriers by implementing artificial intelligence and machine learning based automated solutions to capture, enhance, produce and distribute live video content. National Federations and Leagues will now have access to market leading Keemotion technology.” A few weeks earlier, the NBA and Tencent announced a five-year partnership. “Under the extended partnership live NBA games, video on-demand (VOD) and short video content will be available for fans through Tencent’s digital and social media platforms including QQ.com, Tencent Sports, Tencent News, Tencent Video, QQ, Weixin and Weishi. Tencent will also collaborate with the NBA to develop innovative advertising products, and launch and operate “mini programs” for mobile devices, including the NBA’s fan loyalty program in China: NBA Qiu Mi Quan (QMQ). In addition, Tencent will leverage its consumer insights to help the NBA expand its fanbase in China and provide the league’s global fan base with new, customized interactive services.”

Generally speaking, it’s no secret that the NBA is a prime example of a league testing and implementing tech solutions. The league hosts an annual NBA tech summit to bring together a unique, invitation-only group to explore the trends and innovations in sports, media and technology. It was listed by Fast Company as one of the most innovative companies, e.g for their AR APP (iOS and Android) and the opportunity to watch live games in VR with NextVR. In July 2019, the NBA announced a first-of-its-kind strategic partnership with NEX Team’s Homecourt app, “a mobile basketball training application that uses advanced machine learning and computer vision to unlock potential in every player. The partnership will leverage HomeCourt’s technology to develop and train players at all skill levels and will be an integral part of the NBA’s youth basketball development initiatives around the world.”

On a team level, it’s the Golden State Warriors that are frequently named as the leading franchise when it comes to leveraging tech for its business model. The Warriors are in the luxurious situation to have great partners “in their backyard,” e.g. Google Cloud (for business and basketball analytics), HPE for connectivity topics or Accenture as tech & innovation partner. We recommend reading this article on “How Silicon Valley Helps Keep The Golden State Warriors At The Cutting Edge”, covering both the performance and the fan view. And with the recently opened and tech-filled Chase Center, the Warriors started a new chapter in their history, as they both own and operate the venue. We recently had the chance to visit the Chase Experience Center in San Francisco, thanks a lot Daniel Brusilovsky!

What is also interesting to observe: The players in the league show a big interest in startups and entrepreneurship, as seen during the Players Tech Summit presented by Bloomberg, with Andre Iguodala as one of the main initiators. And many of the stars are investing their money in promising tech companies themselves, e.g. Kevin Durant or Steph Curry.

Another interesting initiative is TPG Sports Group, with projects like the Sports Tank Innovation Studio, who, amongst other things, showcases startup companies at their NBA All-Star Demo Day. Their President and Board of Directors are made up of NBA Executives, NBA Coaches, Scouts and an ESPN analyst.

But we also see things happening in Europe. The Euroleague Basketball Tech Challenge is a startup competition that aims to award the best upcoming technological innovative solutions that have potential to help sports organizations to better connect with their audiences and grow their existing business or create new revenue streams. The program is set to help Euroleague Basketball and its clubs to identify the technology that will disrupt the industry in the upcoming years.

We’re happy to see that basketball leagues and competitions at the highest level are embracing technology and exploring ways of integrating it into their business models. Definitely a role model for other sports.

The Data

We have screened companies all around the world and analyzed them according to our SportsTech Framework and a variety of other factors. For this specific article we went through more than 100 BasketballTech companies that are listed in our global SportsTech database, to make sure they are active and to identify the best ones. We went for both funded and unfunded companies who were founded in 2009 or later. Over 60 startups & scaleups made it into the final overview.

To match our definition of BasketballTech, a company must either have a strong footprint in the industry or its products/services must be clearly tailored to basketball. This means that we did not include companies who list basketball just as one of many target industries (e.g. lots of betting companies) or whose products/services can potentially be applied to basketball as well.

Startups & Scaleups

BasketballTech solutions can be found all over the SportsTech framework, with the exception of the eSports sector. This is not surprising as eSports startups/scaleups rarely target single sports (games such as NBA2K by EA Sports are not part of our overviews).

Naturally, the Activity & Performance sector is all about tracking, reading and improving the game. Some interesting basketball specific products are smart shooting machines with tracking function (GRIND or Shoot360). And ShotTracker managed to have lots of professional clubs and teams amongst their clients. Definitely amongst the highlights are data analytics companies Homecourt, Second Spectrum, Synergy Sports Technology and Kinexon, whose solutions can also be applied to produce outstanding media content. A promising upcoming company is Pivot Analysis (shout out to Morgan Flom, great to see his passion for basketball data).

The Management & Discovery sector doesn’t come with any surprises. As in other sports and sports in general, one can find networks, club and team management solutions (we like the data driven approach of Global Sports Analytics) and solutions that help to find fellow sportsmen and courts to play on.

In the Fans & Media sector we can see solutions for the production part of the game (such as Glory League, LIGR or Keemotion) but also well executed basketball content products (such as The Ringer or MarsReel). Plus there is WSC Sports, which is THE solution for automated highlight videos. We were surprised that there are not more Fan Engagement solutions out there which are tailored towards basketball enthusiasts.

Here are the most funded BasketballTech companies

NextVR ($116mn) — Exclusive access to sports, music and entertainment immersive experiences in virtual reality.

WSC Sports ($36.0mn) — AI driven platform that analyzes live sports broadcasts, identifies every event that occurs in the game, creates customized short-form video content and publishes to any digital destination.

ShotTracker ($20.2mn) — Sensor-based system that delivers statistics and analytics to teams, fans and broadcast networks instantly, enhancing the experience of the game.

Second Spectrum ($20.1mn) — The next way of seeing things, winning more games for teams and engaging viewers for media & leagues.

Homecourt ($12.5mn) — HomeCourt is a breakthrough approach to basketball player development with the help of AI. Recently secured an investment by the NBA.

Disclaimer: a) All numbers excluding undisclosed rounds. b) We’ve not included Catapult Sports and PlaySight in the investment data in this article, as their offering involves 20+ sports in total, which would not represent BasketballTech accurately in that aspect. Nevertheless they are included in the visual overview, as they have a significant footprint in the industry with their client base.

And here are some SportsTech companies we want to highlight

Athlenda — Global basketball scouting network for Players, Coaches, Agents, Clubs, Scouts, Camps and Universities from all over the world.

Global Sports Analytics — Diversified technology platform that provides products and services to basketball teams, players and fans worldwide.

Glory League — Automated video engagement system. Full game video, highlights and stats for everyday leagues.

Keemotion — The automated production solution connecting the arena for coaches, leagues and fans.

Kinexon — Measures, analyzes and visualizes the athletic and tactical performance of team and individual players with the help of intelligent sensors and a powerful software. The NBA’s most used wearable tech.

MarsReel — Provides coverage of the most exciting athletes and teams in high school hoops.

MockOut — Mock draft for the NFL Draft and NBA Draft. Predict trades, swap picks, and compete in mock draft contests.

Want to see more BasketballTech companies? Our SportsTech database is the place to visit!

Geographical View

It is no surprise that the US is dominating the global BasketballTech market both by amount of startups and investment made, but we didn’t expect the huge differences in the investment space. Sure, there are some undisclosed deals which can not be covered in the data, and China related details are always hard to get, but the investment infographic displays an extreme picture. Only Israel stands out as a 2nd nation with significant funding, even though all of it came from WSC Sports. So our wish for this year or the next is to have a significant investment showcase from a region outside of North America.

Interview with former pro player Jan Jagla

For this article we were able to talk to a real basketball expert, who happens to be involved in the SportsTech world as well: Jan Jagla. In case you don’t know him: Jan is a former German professional basketball player. He spent 3 seasons with Penn State in the NCAA, took part in the 2008 Olympics, the 2007 World Championships and the 2006 and 2008 Euro Championships. In his career he played for various teams in Germany, Greece, Poland, Spain and Turkey, amongst them were Bayern Munich, Türk Telekom Ankara and Joventut de Badalona. After his retirement, Jan turned into a Pro Sports Marketing Manager (currently part of Brands & Emotions in Munich) and is involved with various tech startups in sports.

And here are the questions we asked Jan.

How well is the basketball industry adapting new technologies and what’s the reason for it?

“That depends on where you look. The NBA is probably the most technology adapt sports league in the world. They were the first to experiment with AR and 5G and they have a great way to share technological ideas and business cases amongst each other.

Europe, on the other hand, is lacking behind and the grassroots level is almost tech averse. I believe that technology could be the great equalizer that helps other sports next to football become more relevant in the competition between the sports while fighting for relevance.”

What do you recommend other former pro athletes who want to be involved in SportsTech do?

“There are many ways to get involved. The most efficient and responsible way in my opinion is to first invest your time into learning the sports tech space. That can be done by mentoring at different accelerators or becoming part of a venture firm that invests in sports tech. That is also a great way to build a network and then find the right people to either invest with or work with. But go out there and connect to the right people who need your expertise and who are willing to teach you the business in exchange.”

Which basketball tech solutions excite you and which would you have appreciated during your active career?

“I am a huge fan of tracking tech, anything that helps you put objective value on your performance is great. Whenever you can actually point your finger on what you have done and see how you can improve is great. The analytics is another tech that I wish would have been part of my career. For once you can quantify your presence on the court and not solely rely on your statistics that might show your individual performance but has no indicators how much you make your team better or how much better your team performs while you are on the court.

Also the decentralization of coaching through apps such as Homecourt or Evolve Basketball aim to bring quality coaching to the masses. I love these initiatives and hope they will produce more kids that have perfect jumpshots taught to them by Steve Nash through the homecourt app.”

We Like What We See

It’s hard to find another sport where fans and players alike have access to such advanced tech solutions as in basketball. We see leagues driving innovation, clubs utilizing tech products and services, and players with a sense for startups and innovation. It’s done both on the performance side and the fan/media side, with a special focus on expanding viewership internationally. We wouldn’t be surprised if tech is the main factor that ensures the NBA’s status as the most prominent and successful sports league and the groundwork for it is being laid now. We can’t wait to see what the new normal will be in a couple of years from now and how big the differences will be compared to other sports. And special thanks to Jan for the interview!

Benjamin Penkert is the Founder of Berlin based SportsTechX — Data & insights about SportsTech startups and the surrounding ecosystem. You can get in touch via Linkedin, Twitter or email.

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Benjamin Penkert

Benjamin Penkert

Founder of @sportstechx. All about #sportstech and #startups.