Wednesday, June 5, 2024

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NBA Slow to Accept Wearable Technology

The future may be coming quickly, but the NBA is not yet ready to accept wearable technology to the same degree as other sports leagues around the world.

The latest example of this is an amendment to the bargaining agreement between the league and the NBA Players Association that prohibits the teams from using any data obtained by wearables in contract negotiations.

This is a double edged sword for the players. The NBAPA wanted this language written into the contract to protect the players in the league. The association was worried that negative data produced by wearables could be used against athletes during contract negotiations.

It is easy to see how this would be the case. Player A could be 25% below the league minimum at his position in terms of overall movement on the court for example. The players association was worried that teams could collect this data and then offer said player 25% less in a contract because the player was seen to be doing less work.

While this is probably a legitimate fear it is worth noting that the opposite could have happened too. A particularly energetic player for example could have used wearable data to prove his worth to potential suitors in free agency. This may not have equated to a bigger contract necessarily (though it certainly could) but it would have been a great way for a fringe player to fight his way onto a squad.

The new agreement also includes the establishment of a so called Wearable Committee within the league. This committee will be composed of three representatives from the NBA and three from the Players Association. This committee is going to have the final say on any wearables worn by players as they must review and approve them based on a set of criteria yet to be established.

In a league that is looking for parity and uniformity to drive ticket and television sales it makes sense that a six person panel will be able to control the flow of wearables within the league. It is a real worry within the league that one team would get a jump on the others with its use of technology and this multi layered new agreement seems to have quashed that fear.

With the sports wearables industry expected to grow to an almost $4 billion sector of the economy by 2022 it is inevitable that the NBA will have to move into this century or get left behind as a league. While teams can use one of a handful of approved devices in practice, there is currently no wearable device commissioned for use in tracking players during games. With sensors now able to track health and performance so accurately, the NBA must use this new committee to find the right balance in wearables to optimize the league.

Ali Yaqoob
Passionate about transforming data into science!

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