Sensor-fitted footballs, intelligent data analytics, immersive replays, and smart stadiums — as Qatar found its place on the international football map with the FIFA World Cup, it also emerged as the thrumming headquarters of sports technology, exponentially enhancing match quality and viewer engagement with its innovations.
So now, as the peninsula nation draws up plans to host another round of big sports events — including the Asian Games in 2030 – and makes a strong pitch for the 2036 Olympics, what will its sports tech story look like in the coming years?
The potential is “huge,” believes Mohammad Ali Abbaspour, founder and CEO of Sponix Tech, one of Qatar’s prominent sports tech firms. “The country has an amazing vision for sports, and they are backing it up with excellent digital infrastructure. The attractive funding and support provided by Qatar Development Bank and Qatar Sports Tech (QST) will draw big sports tech businesses to Qatar in the coming years.”
PERSONALIZED AND CUSTOMIZED SOLUTIONS
“Also, the World Cup gave companies access to top-level decision-makers and new clients from leagues and clubs, and they could see our solutions Live. This has put the sector on the fast track for growth in the future,” says Abbaspour, adding that his business “has grown exponentially” since the World Cup 2022.
Developed under the QST umbrella, Sponix Tech’s virtual advertisement technology (it creates personalized AI-powered virtual ads in real-time) and the ‘SPov’ technology (which produces immersive video replays) were game-changers for broadcasters during the FIFA World Cup.
“Within the next two years, we are going to have the technology to broadcast the entire game through the eyes of the players, and not just the replays,” he says.
And what’s the next big idea in sports advertising? “It is all going to get more and more personalized,” he says. “For instance, girls between 15-20 years of age watching the match can see one kind of advert on the perimeter boards. There will be another feed for men between 25-30 years who like, say, Coke or Toyota cars. It will all be about using AI to go deeper into details.”
The future lies in the details and in “data”, says Adel Saad, CEO of Skora, an AI-powered platform that uses data analytics to offer a career path for young players.
“The World Cup 2022 provided us exposure, brand recognition, advertising, and investment opportunities. It also showcased Qatar as a serious sports organizer. The future now is all about leveraging this spotlight to develop customized solutions for aspiring players to ensure better athlete detection and better team curation,” adds Saad.
SPORTS MOMENTUM CONTINUES
While over two months have passed since the World Cup 2022, Saad believes the momentum continues “because the infrastructure and opportunities are all here now.” “We’ve doubled growth, and there is going to be a significant increase in our profits in 2023 as well.”
The global sports tech industry is worth $22 billion, and ever since winning the bid to host the World Cup in 2010, Qatar has been rapidly developing the sector as part of its economic diversification plans.
Recently, at the World Economic Forum, when Qatar Investment Authority CEO Mansoor Al Mahmoud said that global inflation presents an opportunity for the $450-billion sovereign wealth fund to rebalance its portfolio and invest in soccer, technology, and financial institutions, it became clear that even after the World Cup 2022 Qatar has a long-term vision for sports.
Among the government arms supporting tech innovation in the country is the Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP). Its Innovation Director Hayfa Al-Abdulla, says that organizations like theirs are keeping a “close eye” on what entrepreneurs and startups need.
“In times of quick-evolving technology, it is imperative that a well-grounded support system is in place to foster those who are creating new tech-based solutions. We are doing that with our business acceleration and funding programs. We’re excited to continue our post-World Cup journey with innovative entrepreneurs,” says Al-Abdulla.
TECH PUSH GETS STRONGER
With many more initiatives in the pipeline, experts see the country’s sports tech push getting strong.
“The country has set up the Qatar Centre for Artificial Intelligence that aims to make AI so pervasive in all aspects of life, business, and governance in Qatar that everyone looks up to Qatar as a role model for seamlessly transitioning into an AI+X future. The Information and Communication Technology WLL is also working towards the local IT evolution,” says D Ravi Kumar, a media consultant who worked closely with the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the body responsible for delivering World Cup infrastructure.
In the next few years, Abbaspour, too, expects some major shifts in Qatar’s sports tech industry. “Right now, the sector in Qatar – and the Middle East region – is more consumer-centric. With growing investment and infrastructure push, we will become more development-centric, focusing on creating sharper technology,” he says.
The other big hope from the sports tech boom is the democratization of access to top coaches and clubs. “The future is about reshaping the pipeline. We are getting data on players from the Middle East and Africa who have traditionally not had access to clubs and agents because of poor economic backgrounds. I am personally approached by no less than 300 players every month, and thousands reach out to us digitally, all wanting the same thing, an opportunity. We can potentially become the premier data house of Middle Eastern talent,” says Skora’s Saad.
Saad’s company has data of over 20,000 players – including scores, skills, fitness, and experience – and they are working to take that number to one million, which they say can go up to 300 million in the future.
But when the world is bracing for a recession, how long can sports tech bask in the afterglow of the World Cup 2022? For a long time, believes Saad. “The sports industry is recession-proof. Also, Qatar and the larger Middle East region are emerging markets with no cookie-cutter systems here.”
And this boom is not going to be limited to just Qatar. “The UAE has been playing host to several international sports events. Saudi Arabia is also making a bid for many top events. So there is bound to be a quantum leap in the growth of sports technology in the region,” says Kumar.
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