Athlete Biometric Data: The future of fan engagement content?

This is a short commentary in advance of panel discussion on the same topic at the Sports Performance Data & Fan Engagement Summit in San Francisco on 30-31st January 2018.

There has been a market surge in both provision of and demand for fitness applications and sport wearables (Apple Watch, Fitbit, and MI band), with biometric data such as heart rate information becoming increasing popular outside general medical practice. Applications such as RunKeeper, Azumio and Runtastic are allowing athletes to share their HR data to social networks in real-time. This information will only become more comprehensive (dehyrdation levels, force capacity in football, boxing etc) as these devices become more intelligent and price points for consumer items are brought down.

Now imagine if you can use the same technology to get an insight into Chris Froome's HR in the mountain stages of the Tour de France, or see what punching force/speed McGregor had in his recent Vegas fight? It has been argued that the most robust fan engagement experiences of the future will incorporate athlete biometric data into live public broadcasts. For example, one of the first empirical investigations on this, by Curmi et al ('Biometric data sharing in the wild', Int.J. Human-Computer Studies, 2017) found that when spectators were presented HR data they reacted more positively to athletes' performance.

This is not a far-flung concept. The Red Bull Stratos event superimposed HR data on Felix Baumgartner as he jumped from space, with over 8 million online viewers watching the project unfold. Not long ago Formula 1 teams refused to allow their radio broadcasts to be televised, now it is an integral part of the storytelling for race days.

Of course, many coaching teams in most major sports leagues are using these devices now to track athlete performance before, during and after practices to improve training, injury prevention and tactics. If applied judiciously, responsibly and ethically, biometric data technologies in professional sport has the potential to reduce injuries, improve performance and extend athletes' careers. In April, the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) announced that fitness tracker maker WHOOP would be its official licensed recovery wearable, using its technology to study the effects of travel, sleep, scheduling, injuries and other factors. Under the partnership, NFL players will own and control their individual data and be able to commercialise this information through the NFLPA's group licensing program. However for many other sports organisations the collection of player performance data is dogged by questions around data ownership and privacy.

Ultimately this data - whether it is player's heart rate, skin temperature, perspiration etc - is the player's medical data and there is privacy rights associated with that (in the US health care setting, biometric data is giverned by regulations on informed consent, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)). Whilst this technology can have numerous benefits it can also risk compromising players' privacy and autonomy, the confidentially of their data and their careers. For example, the NBA's current collective bargaining agreement with it's players allows teams to use data gathered from wearable devices to monitor player health and performance for training purposes, but its use for other decision-making processes is prohibited. Arguably there is five areas of concern 1). validity and interpretation of data 2). increased surveillance and threats to privacy 3). risks to confidentially and concerns regarding data security (hacking) 4). conflicts of interest and 5). coercion.

Therefore whilst content directors may see this data as another channel to feed fans' seemingly unlimited demand for player and game stats, there is several sensitive issues that must be addressed so that players, coaches, teams and leagues are comfortable in its distribution. Furthermore these questions go beyond professional sport and similar ethical concerns can be raised in collegiate and high school sport.

In San Francisco we will be discussing this topic in more detail and bringing together over 600 executives - both from the fan engagement and performance analysis side of sports - to be part of this keynote panel below.

Panel: The challenges in using athlete biometric data to develop interactive content for sports fans

- Who owns the data? Understanding the privacy and property rights of athletes.
- Who owns the data? Understanding the privacy and property rights of athletes.
Can biomechanical and physiological data be collected to help athletes and also engage with fans? If biometric data is owned by the athletes and subject to privacy and intellectual property rights, how can leagues, teams and unions incorporate this information to create robust fan engagement experiences of the future?

Joe Rogowski, Director of Sports Medicine & Research, National Basketball Players Association

Matt Johnson, President, Slipstream Sports
Kristy Gale, Advisory Board Director, Biometric Data Optimization & Protection Institute & Founder & CEO, Hypergolic Enterprises
Bob Lenaghan, Assistant General Counsel, Major League Baseball Players Association
Thomas Grilk, CEO, Boston Athletic Association