While not usually the most progressive of sports, it looks like tennis may be in a mad rush to catch up with the data craze that team sports have been enjoying. In the past two weeks, Babolat unveiled a smart racquet, which elite tennis players can now use to have a host of data served out to them via a wireless connection (like Rafa Nadal needs another advantage). And this week the tracking technology that is all the rage with companies like SportsVU has made its way into the game of love as well.
On Monday an Israeli company called “Playsight” announced a $3.5 million funding round to use camera tracking to improve the games of players of all ages.
Already approved by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for use in amateur tournaments, PlaySight’s SmartCourt technology has been installed at a number of prestigious venues including Roland Garros in Paris (home of the French Tennis Federation), CourtSense Tennis Training Center in New Jersey, Queens Club in London, Stefan Edberg’s academy in Sweden, Holland’s Laurense Tennis Academy (the training center for legendary coach Sven Groeneveld) and Ramat Hasharon tennis center in Israel. PlaySight has recently installed its first collegiate court at the University of Georgia, site of this week's NCAA championships in Athens.
The private investors include Novak Djokovic, Billie Jean King, Bill Ackman, Dr. Jim Loehr and others including Mark Ein, who is both on the United States Tennis Association board and has made a name for himself as a bit of a maverick in the tennis world with the uber-successful four time champion Washington Kastles of Mylan WTT. Ein is also CEO of the holding company Venturehouse Group.
“PlaySight has the potential to revolutionize the game of tennis as well as other sports through bringing the same sophisticated analytics available at the highest levels sports at a price point that makes it accessible to clubs and players of all levels around the globe,” said Ein, is a release that was issued this week. “Through this ‘video-gamification’ of sports, PlaySight will make the game more fun and appealing to new and casual players while providing an incredibly valuable training tool for the more frequent player.”
The idea behind PlaySight is to use tracking technology similar to what’s used for military pilots to create a cloud-based experience that automatically classifies and tags all the events that take place during a session without the need for court-side operators or wearable sensors. Players can watch selected events (e.g. every backhand down the line that went long), with no need to watch the whole video or manually tag it.
PlaySight is also able to record 3D tactical game management information including the height of balls over the net, speed of every shot and the depth of balls hit within the court. The SmartCourt is easily operated by the players through a courtside kiosk and all video and data can be shared within seconds with coaches, friends and family at remote locations. Players can also track distance covered and calories burned during a match or practice session.
It is a relatively low cost technology that PlaySight's owners hope will morph into other sports, with tennis as a starter. While not looking to replace things like Hawkeye, Playsight and other technologies seem to show that tennis, in order to compete with other participatory sports, needs yet more zing for millennials. It comes maybe at the right time, as Roland Garros begins next week and officials hem and haw at the lack of prominent Americans who can take the title on the red clay. Maybe tech, from racquets to courts, can keep young people more engaged, and thus turn the tide not just of professional players, but recreational ones as well.