US ranking: The most innovative sports companies 2022

LISTICLE | 07/11/2022
In 2017 more than 140 million Smartwatches and Fitness Trackers were sold.
Martin Jahns

How is technology changing the way we play and consume sports? In its annual ranking, the US tech magazine Fast Company selects the ten most innovative sports companies. In 2022, these include a surfing app that knows the best waves of tomorrow and a Bluetooth sensor trusted by stars like Eliud Kipchoge and Chris Froome.



Anyone who buys fan merchandise in the USA can hardly get past Fanatics. But in addition to the "classic" But in addition to the classic business with jerseys from world soccer clubs such as Real Madrid or from the world-famous U.S. professional leagues such as the NBA, NFL or NHL, Fanatics has impressively expanded its business model in recent years.

The company has broken the dominance of trading card manufacturer Topps and has a new foothold with its trading cards to the baseball league MLB. The fact that the league itself and the players' union are also earning money from the cards is a first. Fanatics also has a presence in the sports betting sector thanks to a partnership with Jay-Z. Since 2021, there has also been the company's own NFT project Candy Digital, which holds exclusive digital rights to MLB.



No matter how perfect the equipment is: Without the right waves, nothing works when surfing. To find spots with perfect swell at any time, Surfline offers a surf forecast with subscription model. Using Advanced AI, machine learning, and a network of live cams at over 800 surf spots, Surfline uses millions and millions of calculations to make daily predictions about the height, timing, and progression of the swell. Surfline was also involved in the Olympic Committee's preparations for the 2021 Olympic surfing premiere in Tokyo to find the right spot.

The service is resonating with the surf community, with the number of paying subscribers up 38 percent year-on-year and Surfline's revenue up 24 percent.



In golf, nuances in the swing make the difference between a ball in the water hazard and a perfect approach shot to the green. To detect these subtleties in motion, Denver-based Golftec now offers hobby players unique high-tech evaluations of their swing at more than 200 locations in North America and Asia.

In July 2021, Golftec unveiled its latest motion detection technology, OptiMotion, which uses HD cameras and artificial intelligence to reproduce swings in full 3D, completely without cables or sensors, making technical imperfections visible. In the US, Golftec continues to grow rapidly, with the brand opening twelve new training locations in the second quarter of 2022 alone.



GameChanger has been offering a service with its app since 2011, with which junior and amateur athletes could enter, display and manage scores in a wide range of sports. In 2021, another feature was added: GameChanger can now be used to stream entire sports matches live - including AI-supported score display.

The streaming service is particularly popular for high school baseball in the USA. Highlight scenes can be easily clipped out and shared as a video on other social networks. The number of streams grew from around 6,000 a month initially to more than 120,000 a month in the course of 2021.


National Basketball Association (NBA)

The NBA stands for top basketball worldwide. To promote this in Africa as well, the NBA has joined forces with the International Basketball Federation (IBF) to launch the Basketball Africa League (BAL) - thus helping to build a successful project.

What began in 2021 with a tournament in Kigali (Rwanda) was already expanded in 2022 to a season in several cities from March to May. African teams played for the title in Kigali, Dakar (Senegal) and Cairo (Egypt). The champion in 2022 was the Tunisian team US Monastir. In its inaugural season, BAL reached more than 170 million fans through its own social media channels and those of the NBA. The BAL website registered 1.6 million visitors during the first tournament in Kigali.



What does the chip giant have to do with sports? A whole lot! Because its new 3DAT technology enabled never-before-seen analysis in TV broadcasts at the 2021 Olympics. The cloud-based, artificial intelligence-powered technology combines high-resolution footage from multiple angles to deliver unique information.

For example, new graphics at the Tokyo Games broke down exactly which sprinters* had their best or weakest phases during the race. The holistic scan in sports is worth its weight in gold not only for TV audiences, but also for training analysis. Since the technology is also available as a software development kit, other platforms can also create their own apps with the 3DAT power.


Is 3D printing solving the world's supply chain problems? At least for sports equipment, 3D printer production is a real alternative. Carbon, a brand specializing in 3D printing technology, is already in demand for sports products: Adidas uses 3D-printed elements for its shoes, and Fizik relies on carbon bicycle saddles.

And Carbon also has its foot in the door in the MLB baseball league: In the new REV1X baseball glove from market leader Rawlings, Carbon's 3D printing technology is also used to produce the padding around the thumb and little finger, replacing felt materials. This makes the glove lighter and stronger at the same time - and the in-house 3D technology makes Rawlings less vulnerable to supply chain bottlenecks with suppliers.



In 2021, the ban on advertising for college athletes fell in the USA. A stroke of luck for Opendorse. The sponsorship platform has been bringing together professionals and potential advertising partners since 2012, working with superstars such as NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes and soccer player Alex Morgan.

And Opendorse responded to the college revolution with lightning speed: With customized offers and individual virtual marketplaces tailored precisely to the local circumstances of the colleges, Opendorse generated more than $1.5 billion for college athletes - and that was just in the first year in which marketing was permitted. More than 15,000 professionals and more than 50,000 amateur athletes now use Opendorse.


Drone Racing League

In the Drone Racing League, the world's best drone pilots compete on breakneck and spectacular courses. For years now, the DRL has been producing breathtaking footage of the high-speed races thanks to the cameras integrated in the drones. In August 2021, the league teamed up with T-Mobile to take this to a new level: that's when the first 5G drone was launched, capable of streaming its own race itself to the internet in high definition thanks to the super-fast 5G module, bringing fans live on board.

A new partnership with Genius Sports and DraftKings also made the DRL the first air event that sports fans could bet on. The DRL can now be received in more than 250 million homes worldwide. On TikTok, the spectacular footage is also a hit, with followers growing by more than 300 percent



When is it actually time for the body to refuel with energy, especially during endurance sports? Marathon superstar Eliud Kipchoge and multiple Tour de France winner Chris Froome rely on the Libre Sense Glucose Sport biosensor from Abbott. The small, smart sensor on the upper arm measures exactly how the body's glucose balance is and when it is high time to replenish it, for example with a drink or shake.

The small platelet, which is currently only available in Europe, measures the glucose content in the tissue fluid directly under the skin and forwards the data via Bluetooth to an app, which then determines recommendations based on the biochemical data. The result: better performance and healthier endurance sports thanks to the timely warning of glucose deficiency. Not only for professionals, but also for diabetics, the wearable is the perfect companion for sports.

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Martin Jahns