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‘The technology genie cannot be stuffed back into the magic lamp’

Ever since HawkEye was first used in tennis as part of the BBC’s coverage of the Davis Cup in 2002, technology has revolutionised the sport, in terms of how it is played, viewed and coached.

The introduction of Rule 31 by the International Tennis Federation in January 2014 to allow the monitored use of Player Analysis Technology is arguably the most significant shift in the sport in over a decade, having opened the door to a new wave of equipment that collects, stores, transmits, analyses or communicates player performance.

“The technology genie cannot be stuffed back into the magic lamp so sports need to adopt and adapt if it is to expand participation,” says David Minton, managing director of The Leisure Database Company.

“Technology will have a big impact on all sports. Tennis is not only changing its format, with shorter games like cricket, but player, officials, spectators and interested persons will monitor ball-by-ball, game-by-game by algorithms that represent a revolution in sports business.

“Tennis already has HawkEye but this is just the start, with wearable technology for the players and embedded sensors in the balls and rackets monitoring and reporting on the action.”

Minton will be presenting at the 2015 TIA UK Annual Summit on April 16 on disruptive sport technology as he looks at the way tracking apps and wearable technology has changed the way people exercise and play sport.

Last week he presented at the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association’s annual international convention and trade show in Los Angeles and he is amazed at how quickly the industry is moving.

“In one year the technology has exploded and I can see the same will happen with all sports” he said.

A new member of the Tennis Industry Association UK for 2015, The Leisure Database Company offers customer profiling, site analysis and market data to sport and leisure operators, suppliers and industry bodies. The company also produces annual reports for the fitness and swimming industries, which is something he believes tennis could benefit from.  

“We know where all indoor courts are, the type, size and number and who own and manage them,” Minton explains. “Like with fitness and swimming once you know where the supply is it’s interesting to look at the current and potential, or latent demand, for these facilities.

“For fitness and swimming we work this out by taking live consumer data, profile it and load it into our supply demand model. If we could obtain a meaningful sample of tennis consumer data we could do the same for the tennis industry. It would be of interest to all who work in tennis development, I’m sure.”

Profiling Manager Natalie Gibson explains how a combination of facilities data and demographics allows them to offer key information to local authorities and health club operators.

“We collect a lot of data on where all the different sports facilities are, and we look at the number of gyms there are in the country, the number of swimming pools, average membership fees, number of members and the penetration of fitness in the UK,” said Gibson.

“We also have a demographic system in house so we do a lot of site analysis work for operators, offering competitor analysis and look at populations in particular areas and from that we have built a supply-and-demand model, which basically estimates the demand for fitness at any given site in the country.

“That has been built over the years and takes into account the types and the number of people living in an area and the competition as well. We have profiled millions of members over the years so we know which types of people are more likely to join a gym, and how that differs both geographically and by the type of facility they would join.”

However, whereas gym membership typically requires an individual to sign up and provide their details, collating the equivalent data for tennis players would be more of a challenge.

“In a lot of instances, particularly in local authority leisure centres, you could go along and book a tennis court and not necessarily have to join,” explains Gibson. “Also one person could book a tennis court for four people so we wouldn’t necessarily have access to that data for the types of people that used that court.”