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Georgia Tech’s new research arm aims to make region a center of sports innovation

Attendance at WNBA games has averaged from 7,000 to 8,000 per game, such as at this 2018 Lynx/Dreams game at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Credit: By Lorie Shaull - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71612157

By David Pendered

Georgia Tech this week launched a program that speaks to Atlanta’s reputation as a home of tepid sports fans. Engaging the fan base is an entire section of Tech’s program, and its tenets, perhaps, could have benefited the Atlanta Dream – picking the WNBA team solely as an example.

The Atlanta Dream’s final game this month drew a crowd of 5,495, well below the average attendance at WNBA games of 7,000 to 8,000 per game. Here, the Dream played the Lynx last year at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Credit: By Lorie Shaull – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71612157

The Dream played their last final game of the season in front of 5,495 fans on Sept. 8 at the State Farm Arena. The team had a lot on the line – had the Dream defeated New York Liberty, the Dream could have ended the season tied for second-from-the-bottom instead of in last place. There’s no telling if a few more Dream fans in attendance could have rallied the Dream, which fell 71-63.

Tech’s new program, SPRINT, is a three-legged stool that seeks to expand the use of sports-related research, including fan engagement and marketing, topics that could raise attendance at a season-ending game. Tech’s three targets are sports performance by athletes; fan experience; and operations.

SPRINT’s three subjects are:

  • “Athletic performance (athlete health and human performance, wearables, and analytics)
  • “Fan engagement (in-game engagement, relationship management, segmentation, communications, sales, and customer marketing)
  • “Operations (ticketing, game-day operations, parking, security, concessions, ingress/egress, and venue management).”

New sources of research funding are also an objective, according to Todd Stansbury, Tech’s athletic director since 2016. Stansbury created the position of assistant athletics director for innovation and the incumbent, Doug Allvine, is leading the new initiative.

“The Georgia Institute of Technology is a leading research university,” Stansbury said in a statement. “Applying our research innovation to sports is a huge opportunity for faculty and students, and gives our teams on and off the field a competitive advantage. Sports innovation creates opportunities for research, grants, corporate partnerships, industry collaboration, and student advancement.”

Consider just one research topic – “wearable sensor technology and data collection-capture.”

This category includes the kinds of activity trackers that have been around for years. Devices that count steps are standard issue in cell phones and products such as Fitbits. The next generation is expected to focus on a whole new areas, such as monitoring Parkinson’s disease. This shift will require sensors that are ever smaller and increasingly capable of sensing the required data and sending it to a processor, according to a report by market research company IdTechEx. The company observed:

  • “The key hardware component for capturing this data is the sensors, so understanding the development and prospects of sensors today is critical to predicting the potential for this entire industry in the future.”

Tech named the new program SPRINT, standing for Sports Research, Innovation, and Technology. It’s housed in Tech’s Institute for People and Technology.

IPaT creates multi-disciplinary teams of faculty, staff and students to address research issues.

In this case, the team includes representatives of: Georgia Tech Research Alliance; Office of Industry Collaboration; VentureLab; Exercise Physiology Laboratory; School of Biological Sciences; Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering; Sports, Society and Technology prograam; and CreateX.

The segment on e-sports is to consider the use of games to promote student interest in science, technology, engineering and math. Tech convened a think tank on the topic Thursday to gather ideas about the notion that, “esports as a vehicle for generating STEM interest continues to appear highly successful, an existing challenge remains. Educators and students are often less aware of the variety of variables that could contribute to their success in developing STEM skills”


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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1 Comment

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