Home Blogs Sports on course to become ‘geo-tech’ with GIS, GPS, and Drones

Sports on course to become ‘geo-tech’ with GIS, GPS, and Drones

GIS, GPS, and Drones
Source: Essential Products (GPS)

Everyone loves a good sports game. Tennis, Rugby, Football, or for that matter cricket – a box of popcorn and a bottle of Coke, I will watch any of it. But, have you ever realized the hidden geographic patterns in sports? Do you know that GIS, GPS, and Drones are being actively used in sports for performance analysis? No? Let’s change that today!

Over the past few years, the game and the business of sports has changed exponentially. It is not about winning or losing anymore but about the statistical and geographical analysis and the planning of future game strategies accordingly. The so-called ‘union’ of sports and tech is, therefore, not new. At present, geospatial technologies which include GIS, GPS, and Drones are being used by coaches, players and teams worldwide. For instance, Aussie Rules have been using GPS since 2004 while the NFL teams have been using drones since 2015. Let’s dive a little deeper and see how these technologies are revolutionizing sports for the better.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is being effectively used to identify characteristics, patterns, and movements of players. More so, it is actively being used in the business of sports which involves choosing stadium locations to managing security at sporting events. Not limited to one sport, GIS is being actively used in football, soccer, rugby, swimming and other sports for accurate athlete performance analysis.

Case Study: Damien Damej, Cartographer, used Esri’s ArcGIS 10.1 to identify patterns for the London Gold Medal tennis match between Roger Federer and Andy Murray. The GIS software was used to draw the patterns of the winning shot of each player and their movement of the two players during the Olympic match. The statistics from the match told us – the layman viewers – that Andy Murray made a total of 18 wins to Federer’s 13. What the statistics did not tell us was where those wins happened, which strokes made an impact, and what led to the winning shot. The ArcGIS software provides an answer to all of that! Taking advantage of the geolocation of the winners, the winning shots, and effective visualizations, the GIS software tells a fascinating story.

The player movement and winning shot positions from the Olympic Gold Medal Match between Roger Federer and Andy Murray | Copyright: Damien Damej

Global Positioning Systems (GPS)

The first suggestion to use GPS for assessing physical activity of humans was 40 years ago while the first attempts to validate GPS for field sports applications was in 2006. Since then GPS is being extensively applied in football, cricket, hockey, rugby union, soccer, and many other sports. The GPS ‘tracks’ the athlete and generates extensive information on the activity profile of the athlete when they are on the field. This includes:

  • The total distance and velocity covered by players during play
  • Periods of intense plays
  • Detection of fatigue and overload on players in matches
  • Activity profiles by position, competition level, and, acceleration/deceleration level.

Case study I: The Harlequins Rugby Club uses the Catapult OptimEye S5 GPS system. This wearable technology has been used by the five-time football world cup winner – Brazil, and very recently by the 2017 NBA champions – the Golden State Warriors. In an interview with Business Insider, Tom Batchelor, the lead sports scientist at the Harlequins Rugby Club, emphasized that performance-related assessment of athletes on the field is now becoming easy because of the 1000+ data points received per second. This data is then crunched, synced into the cloud – which is then converted into a detailed database of knowledge developed over a period of weeks, months and years. Over time, the cloud, and the GPS tracks the highs and the lows (and the average!) of each player helping the coach strategize for winning the game.

GIS, GPS, and Drones
Athletes wear GPS devices on their backs.
Credit: Harlequins / Catapult

Case Study II: According to game rules, players are not allowed to utilize the wearable technology during games – but nothing stops these teams from using these wearables during practice sessions. The 2017 NBA Champions – Golden State Warriors have been doing just that. Using a GPS embedded compression shirt made by Catapult Sports, the Warriors are sitting at the top of the NBA League. Wireless GPS is placed between the shoulder blades – tracking every single movement of the athlete, monitoring the heart rate changes and the stress or force if applied on knees and ankles. This information is useful for the coaches and the players as well to avoid fatigue and lower injury rates. This makes it possible for team players to remain in the best of health for the championships.

GIS, GPS, and Drones
The Warriors are utilizing a GPS-embedded compression shirt to lower injury rate (Ezra Shaw | Getty Images Sport)


If GIS and GPS were not enough, Drones are also infiltrating the sports arena. Drone technology is soon to become a permanent fixture in live sports coverage and sports performance analysis. Drone footage is as useful as the other two technology innovations and can change the way athletes and coaches prepare. The captured footage is analyzed by applying video analysis tools – and can help coaches get closer insights into the minutest and missed aspects of their player’s performance. Of course, use of drones won’t make the teams win games, but it most certainly will help players and coaches understand what went wrong and what can they do differently.

Case Study: The NFL’s Dallas Cowboys are using drones to record footages of their practice sessions. The team uses drones to capture footage directly overhead players to capture the smallest of nuance so as to analyze the team’s performance during practice sessions much more closely.

In conclusion, the nature of sports lies in its unpredictability. Sports today, is moving away from being ‘just a game’ to being a business worth billions. It is, therefore, no surprise that all over the world, elite teams are experimenting with new technology. The tactical work today is being done by these new ‘gadgets’, helping define the intricate strategies that often decide the winners of the game. Do we still call these technologies as futuristic or do we simply accept that the time has come when GIS, GPS, and Drones have actually taken over the sports industry? Only time will tell.


Also Read: The Future of Cricket: Drones and Sensors