The Golden State Warriors were cruising. It was March 2015 and the team had already won 51 games, looking like a lock for the top spot in the Western Conference. Then, all of a sudden, coach Steve Kerr made an incredibly controversial decision. He benched four all-stars to rest: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Bogut, and Andre Igoudala. Fans were upset, and it generally went against conventional wisdom in the NBA. However, the decision panned out in the long run as the Warriors dominated the fatigued and injured Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Yet, Steve Kerr hadn’t made the decision based on his own intuition or player requests (who at the time were unhappy about the decision). Steve Kerr made the decision based on results from new technology, most prominently: Catapult Sports.
Founded in Melbourne Australia, Catapult is the global leader in athlete analytics, protecting thousands of elite athletes by monitoring player fatigue and physical load through wearable technology. The company makes a variety of wearable devices that turn physicality into data, measuring things such as an athlete’s power and movement efficiency. This data can be used to uncover vitally important information like whether an athlete is developing an injury, whether certain workouts are overly stressful, or whether an athlete is ready to come back from an injury. Last season’s NFL, NBA, and NCAA football champions all used Catapult to monitor their athletes’ health (along with the winners of 10 other NCAA titles and eight World Cup countries). They currently have partnered with 17 NFL teams, 13 NBA teams, and over 30 NCAA programs. In the NBA, a device is worn in practice in the lining of compression shirts. It includes a location-positioning system (indoor GPS), accelerometer (to measure starts and stops), gyroscope (to measure a body’s bending and twisting, magnetometer (to measure direction), as well as a microprocessor to beam data real time to trainers’ screens.
The worst thing that can happen to both a player and a team is to have a player get seriously injured or to try and come back from an injury too early. To the team, losing a player can have significant repercussions for the season. To the player, severe injuries can jeopardize their entire career. Yet historically, predicting non-contact injuries which are fatigue-related has been based on an eye test and player feedback, both fairly poor objective measures. Catapult creates value through wearable devices that help teams measure the risk of non-contact fatigue related injuries through the use of objective real time data that is constantly measured by trainers. In the case of the Warriors, Golden State’s director of athletic performance, Keke Lyles, had developed pre-set parameters for what they considered to be a danger zone: “We found that we had multiple guys red-lining. It was an easy decision… Steve actually said, if one of those guys got hurt and he hadn’t sat them out knowing that information, he could never forgive himself.”
Teams are not only flush with cash but will pony up considerable amounts of money to help insure their players against injury, especially considering the high pressure to win and the high salaries paid to athletes. In 2005, the market for wearable computing systems was $170mm. Today it is roughly $20bn and is projected to reach $70bn by 2025. Catapult captures value by charging teams an average of $100,000 per year, which gets them regular upgrades and analytical software. This price pales in comparison to the amount sports teams pay for other expenses. The company is on pace for 2015 revenue of $20mm.
At this point, the company feels that its main competition is video technology offered by STATS SportVU, which is allowed to be used during real games (unlike Catapult). However, the company views this rival technology as more complementary than threatening as video technology fails to track motion that doesn’t result in visible movement, like the acceleration on a quick jab step, or the force exerted in a contact play.
The future of the space looks very bright. Not only are teams that are using the technology winning, but there is an immense opportunity for in-game usage of the technology. In-game usage can better help teams manage player performance in-games and, at the same time, Catapult can start selling its data to broadcasters eager to divulge more and more data to fans. Broadcasters can report how hard a particular hit was, how quick a player’s cut was, etc.