Under Armour was founded in 1996 and they supply sportswear and casual apparel. Their 2014 revenues were $3 billion, $2.29 of which came from apparel sales. In a February 4th 2015 announcement, they said; “Combined with the Company's recent launch of the UA Record app and website, Under Armour will now be connected with over 120 million unique global consumers, representing the largest digital health and fitness community in the world.” There is amazing potential in such a platform for individual fitness enthusiasts, allowing them to track personal fitness activities, goals, and progress. With that said, I’d like to examine the team sports angle – specifically football.
Over the past several years, there has been a considerable amount of research and reporting about football-related injuries. There have been numerous incidents of players at the high-school, college, and professional levels dying of heatstroke. There is also the heightened awareness of head trauma. There have been a number of lawsuits against the League from players after suffering repeated concussions throughout their careers.
All of this has led to some sobering discussions about football at the youth level. One recent study suggests that children who start playing football under the age of 12 could potentially suffer from more cognitive decline later in their life when compared to their peers. According to a report by ESPN.com, Pop Warner (the nation’s largest youth football program), saw a 9.5 percent drop in participation between 2010 and 2012. In a recent interview, no less a football giant than “Iron” Mike Ditka, the NFL Hall-of-fame player and former coach of the Chicago Bears, stated that if he had a young son today, he would not let him play football.
Against the backdrop of these developments, there is definitely a way that “Connected Clothes” can play a positive role. I remember the 1986 movie, “Aliens,” specifically the scene where the marines were going into their first battle with the creatures. Each of the marines were wearing gear that provided a live video feed and real-time vital signs back to the commander. In the ensuing scenes, we see much of the battle via individual feeds, including dramatic flat-lining when a soldier meets his (or her) unfortunate end.
What would happen if a football uniform could be connected to provide that same functionality?
Under Armour is a very big player in the football uniform market, producing some very unique designs and color schemes. Imagine if they were to produce a uniform and helmet that could track certain vital signs on a real-time basis?
In a world where a computer can be the size and thickness of a postage stamp and a camera can be the size of a grain of salt, isn’t it possible that functionality for monitoring vital signs could be embedded in a uniform? Items like heart rate, temperature, perspiration, and breathing could be captured by sensor in a uniform jersey. Additional sensors embedded in a helmet could measure acceleration, sudden impacts, compression and other factors.
These datapoints could be broadcast via a wireless network to an application running on a tablet being monitored by a coach on the sidelines. The tablet could display a dashboard for the whole team with each player having his own readout. When a player’s readings went into a red zone, an alert could be sent to the coach, an official, or a medical professional that would signal immediate stoppage of play. The data could be used as a warning or even as a diagnostic tool.
An application like this could go a long way toward helping measure and prevent certain kinds of football injuries. More significantly, these kinds of applications could be deployed at every level of the sport – from the NFL all the way down to Pee-Wee leagues.
Under less dire circumstances, these same data could be used to evaluate player performance parameters, like speed, direction change, and acceleration. (Scouts would love this kind of information.) Some forward-thinking TV broadcast network might even find a way to display these stats during actual games as part of the television viewing experience.
Connected apparel has real commercial applications in the team sports arena. I can’t wait to see when and how they come to light.