Aug 3, 2020 - Sports

Coronavirus expedites the sports tech evolution


Rafael Nadal reacts to a Hawk-Eye challenge decision. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed how teams, leagues and other sports organizations operate.

Why it matters: Some of those changes are temporary, but others will likely be permanent — and in some cases, COVID-19 merely sped up a technological evolution that was already well underway.

Two prime examples:

1. Robot refs: In an attempt to reduce the number of people on site, the U.S. Open (Aug. 31–Sept. 13) will replace line judges with an automated system called Hawk-Eye Live, NYT reports.

  • Hawk-Eye has been used in the past to challenge calls, but now it will go from serving as quality control and aiding the broadcast to being the first and final word.
  • The system uses recorded voices to shout things like "out" and "fault," and when a line call is particularly close, the voice projects more urgency. Like GPS systems, different voices — and languages — can be used.
A woman undergoes an iris scan at Clear's booth at Grand Central Station. Photo: James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images

2. Facial recognition: Multiple teams and leagues are testing facial-recognition technology and biometric screening to make admitting fans into stadiums as safe and touchless as possible.

  • Starting next year, LAFC fans will be able to use an app called Clear, which some airline passengers already use to speed through security. The Mets are testing the same system this season for players and coaches, and the NHL is using Clear to screen players and personnel inside its bubbles.
  • How it works, per WSJ (subscription): One camera measures the fan's temperature, while a second determines if they're wearing a mask. The fan then pulls down their mask to allow the camera see their face, which is linked to their TicketMaster account. If they have a ticket, they're allowed entry.

The big picture: The transition from physical to digital tickets has been underway for a decade. This is the next stage in that evolution, and the pandemic sped up the process. Someday soon, you'll probably be buying hot dogs with your face.

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