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Teams’ winning formula increasingly involves risks and rewards of technology

Sep 25, 20174 mins
IT Leadership

The ability of sports teams to successfully leverage the potential of technology is increasingly reflected on the scoreboard.

fantasy sports football
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Technology is permeating everything. We need look no further than the one segment of our culture that brings people together across the world – sports.

Let’s start with the world’s most popular sport, soccer (or futbol for us purists). This just happens to be my personal favorite as well. Now in my 25th year of refereeing, I never anticipated the arrival of goal line technology or video replay, both of which are being seriously considered for integration into the games of the 2018 World Cup.

And who would have thought that teams like the renowned FC Barcelona would employ a head of sports technology? Raúl Peláez oversees areas such as wearable devices that track player movement, collecting and analyzing medical data, and how various statistics lead to what he describes as “the only KPI that matters” – a victory.

Here in the U.S., September means kickoff for the “other football,” the National Football League. While having big and powerful players remains important, in the modern NFL, the ability of teams to successfully leverage the potential of technology is increasingly reflected on the scoreboard.

ISACA’s headquarters are in suburban Chicago near the home of the Chicago Bears. The Bears are tapping into virtual technology to offer more opportunity for their prized rookie quarterback to expedite his acclimation to professional football without taking practice repetitions away from the team’s current starter. Across the league, teams are engaging with vendor partners to enhance their data analytics, allowing coaches to better understand biomechanics, the needed recovery time for athletes and an abundance of other key enablers of success that would have been left to guesswork in the not-too-distant past.

Risks and rewards in sports technology

The dynamics like those described above are playing out on fields, courts and stadiums across the globe. In theory, all of these sports technology advancements are wonderful. The ability to better predict performance, reduce injuries and train more efficiently and effectively are worthwhile goals. However, just as the risks and rewards of innovation must be balanced in other industries, the same holds true to the sports world. Even athletic teams are vulnerable to many of the ‘real-world’ threats with which we have become all too familiar.

In Major League Baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals were fined and stripped of draft choices for a former scouting director’s hacking of a rival team’s computer network. Why should we be surprised? To a professional baseball franchise, scouting evaluations, trade discussions and proprietary statistical information are just as coveted as credit card information or patient records may be to hackers.

Cricket enthusiasts may find themselves uncomfortable focusing on the match these days given that drones are now flying overhead capturing video that provides deeper insights into a batsman’s technique. The related safety and privacy concerns abound.

In fact, privacy considerations are escalating to become a very big deal. When teams seek to monitor athletes’ sleep habits and other off-the-field behavior, some athletes – and the unions that represent them – are very concerned that some of the captured data are not being managed well, and that the availability of this data, especially if misused, could prove damaging in contract negotiations, and even threaten athletes’ livelihoods.

Technology has become deeply intertwined in our daily lives

While some of these dynamics pale in importance to the weighty consequences of our ability to effectively and securely leverage technology elsewhere in society, the accelerating impact of technology on sports reveals how deeply intertwined technology has become in our daily lives – even in things we have traditionally looked to for escape from work and the pressures of everyday life.

These themes will become even more prominent in the sports landscape going forward. There are debates yet to be finished, such as will baseball replace umpires with robots, which sets of data analytics should shape how teams construct their rosters and how will other technology-driven innovations be leveraged without compromising the spirit of the games.

This means even sports, like most other industries, needs to make greater investments now to assure the proper ROI on technology investments and deployments, and that their operations are rooted with a sound foundation in the governance of enterprise information and technology, inclusive of well-trained and credentialed professionals. On the assumption that sports franchises will act responsibly and capitalize on the opportunities that result, our favorite teams and athletes will give us even more to cheer about.


Matt Loeb, CGEIT, FASAE, CAE, is the CEO of ISACA, which serves 159,000 professionals with expertise in audit, assurance, security, privacy and risk. Prior to joining ISACA, Loeb was staff executive for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the executive director of the IEEE Foundation. His professional experience includes enterprise strategy, corporate development, global business operations, governance, publishing, sales, marketing, product development and acquisitions functions in a variety of for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

In 2016, Matt named a Fellow of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). He is one of only 251 individuals to receive this recognition since the program’s inception 30 years ago. This industry recognition is bestowed on fewer than 1 percent of those working in the nonprofit industry. He was also selected by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) as one of the top 100 Directors for 2016, and honored for this recognition at NACD’s annual Directorship 100 event in New York City in November.

Matt has been on numerous corporate for-profit and non-profit Boards. He currently serves as board chair of Pittsburgh-based Clearmodel, as a director on the Board of the American Society of Association Executives and the ASAE Foundation, both of which are based in Washington, DC, and as a trustee of Excelsior College located in Albany, NY.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Matt Loeb and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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