Nine and NRL to fit State of Origin players with GPS trackers in bid to push ‘datatainment’ offering

The Nine Network and the NRL are set to install GPS trackers in the jerseys of all of the players in this year’s State of Origin matches, as they look to boost the ‘datatainment’ offering for viewers and help improve player welfare.

Speaking at an IAB Digital Sport in Digital Media seminar this morning, Nine’s head of sport Sam Brennan described the move as something which has “never been done before in Australia”, and credited the NRL for helping them through a two-year development process.

Brennan: ‘Datatainment is feeding our appetite for sport’

He explained the move was fuelled from Nine’s side by the rise in ‘datatainment’, the need to provide viewers with more detailed and sophisticated statistics on sports in-game and in real-time, to keep them engaged.

“Datatainment is feeding our appetite for sport,” he said. “Presenting data in an entertaining and relevant fashion is a big part of what we do as a mainstream broadcasters and a digital provider as well.

“Data was once the domain of commentators and experts, but I think all consumers now expect this as a bare minimum of what we do.”

Brennan said the trackers, which will be live for Game 1 of Origin on May 31, would move beyond the “little plastic nodes” which are already used in many sports to track how far a player has run, to capture much more detailed data about their performance. Some NRL clubs are already using similar technology to track player loads.

“This tool measures a whole range of information: top speed, heart rates, stop starts, all these sorts of things in order to give the viewer at home an insight into how these players work,” he added.

The opening up of more data is likely to have an impact on sports betting as well, with fans able to more accurately track workloads of players to gauge their performances.

Luke Gooden, general manger of innovation for the NRL, described the technology as a boon in the push to improve player welfare by allowing them to track more accurately the workloads during games, and main points of stress.

He told Mumbrella the NRL had been developing the technology offering through partners Catapult for the last two years.

NRL clubs like the Canberra Raiders are using the tracking technology to improve training

“This is innovative from our perspective as it will take the fans closer to the game than ever before, and help them understand it in a different way,” he said. “For the game itself it’s very significant for us to understand what the athletes go through.

“We can now measure a lot more, and that will help us bring in rule changes to improve player welfare going forward.”

NRL head of strategy Dave Silverton, who spearheaded the project alongside Gooden, hailed it as “a very important initiative for the game” which he said would “bring benefits to our fans through highly engaging content in broadcast and also to the players given the analysis we can undertake with more accurate and deeper data”.

But Brennan noted Nine’s challenge was providing so much data in a presentable and easy to-use way to viewers “in a timely fashion”.

He added: “What we’re doing in opening up this technology is providing a way for viewers to personalise that experience and decide what information and data they will consume at any one time. It’s a big deal for us, and it’s pretty fulfilling to see it go to air in just over two weeks’ time.”

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