The future of sport? New anthology prophecies a technological revolution


Siv Stavang Aune, Anne Tjønndal, Stian Røsten og Sigbjørn Børreson Skirbekk
RESPONSE – Research Group for Sport and Society, Nord University

Sascha L. Schmidt (ed.)
21st Century Sports: How Technologies Will Change Sports in the Digital Age
318 pages, paperback, ill
Dordrecht: Springer 2021 (Future of Business and Finance)
ISBN 978-3-030-50803-6

The book 21st Century Sports: How Technologies Will Change Sports in the Digital Age is part of Springer’s Future of Business and Finance book series. The series aims to define, describe and chart the future trends in a specific topical field. From this starting point, it is clear that this book is firmly rooted in sports management. The book is a collection of essays that examine how technologies will change sports, as well as sports-related consumer behavior and business models. Furthermore, the book provides suggestions of how and what the future of sports may look like in 20 or 30 years, and thus imagines the unknown unknowns. The book consists of five sections: 1) Introduction, 2) Physical Technologies,3) Information Processing Technologies, 4) Human Interaction Technologies, and 5) Final. The “Introduction” includes three chapters where the reader is given insight into the relationship between technology and sports in the digital age, outlining improvements to athletic performance, sports consumption, sports management, and governance. The opportunities, challenges, and development of the sports tech industry are further elaborated through a sports tech taxonomy – a useful tool for researchers and practitioners.

Five chapters constitute the second part “Physical Technologies”. The first two chapters explore robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and automation in sports. The third chapter outlines megatrends of sports in Australia and introduces the use of sports technologies as an additional megatrend. The last two chapters move in different directions: the impact of additive manufacturing technologies in sports, and the future of regenerative sports medicine. The third part examines how information processing technologies entail exciting possibilities for the development of sports. These technologies involve big data AI, quantum computing, machine learning, and cloud computing. It is argued that by finding creative ways to use those kinds of data, one will have a competitive advantage and be the champion of tomorrow. The next two chapters provide insight into what blockchain is and how this can be used beneficially in sports, both on and off the sports field. The final chapter in this section explores emotion AI, which has the potential to radically change the way sports are coached and how they are experienced and consumed, through an illustration of how affective states can be measured with the help of AI.

The first, and most pressing, is the lack of critical perspectives throughout the book. With few exceptions, the contributing authors focus almost exclusively on the potential and positives of developing technologies in sports, while overlooking pitfalls and challenges.

Media and the consumers of sports are embellished in part four, Human Interaction Technologies. First, the reader is introduced to reimaginings of live sports events through novel technologies. The second chapter in this part examines how sports have become increasingly intertwined with the trajectory of the media innovation industries and how this extends particularly to the realm of computer-generated imagery and game-playing. The last chapter discusses how this interactive media consumer behavior opens up new avenues for engaging and immersive experiences. The book ends with a Final section consisting of two chapters. The first chapter is creatively written, exploring an imaginary future by following an illustrated fictional character where potential applications of technologies are highlighted. The last chapter looks beyond technology’s short- and mid-term impact on the sport through the eyes of the athlete, consumer, and manager. The authors also present suggestions on what sports will look like in the next thirty years.

The strengths of the book

At first glance, the title arouses great curiosity for us as readers because it combines two interesting sectors in society, sports and technology. Similar to the editor Sascha L. Schmidt and contributors, we find the dynamic sports-technology relationship fascinating. The book is intended to spark and inform developments in the applications of emerging technologies in sports, and discuss prospects we may face: “We aim to create a compass for the next five to ten years – and food for thought for the time beyond” (p. ix). By collecting scholars from several fields of research (e.g., sports management, computer science, engineering, manufacturing, medicine, economics, and communication), the chapters cover and investigate a range of intriguing scenarios on how the deployment of technological innovations will shape the future of sports. This includes the applicability of technologies like robotics to enhance athlete performance using virtual competitors, additive manufacturing to provide customized sports equipment, regenerative medicine to create new treatment and rehabilitation concepts, artificial intelligence to increase decision-making, blockchain to protect and secure key organizational information, and augmented reality to enrich sports experience, among others. The various potential applications for sports certainly open up completely new possibilities and challenges, which in turn revolutionize the way sports are played, organized, and consumed. The discussions regarding the potential impact of emerging technologies are one of the strengths, and why this book is of value and a thoughtful one to read. Another exciting part is that the authors dare to look into the future of sports, which invites the reader to reflect on the diverse prospects that in many cases seem utopian and unimaginable today. For instance, will athletes train and compete against “virtual ghosts” with holograms? Or eat 3D-printed food to further optimize their diets?

Of the 18 chapters, some stood out as particularly thought-provoking for us as readers. Chapter 7 by Beiderbeck, Krüger, and Minshall, titled “The Future of Additive Manufacturing in Sports”, is one of these. In short, additive manufacturing (AM) is “a process of joining materials to make objects from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer” (p. 112). In the chapter, Beiderbeck and colleagues investigate the present and anticipated impact of AM technologies on sports. They argue that AM will play a significant role mainly in creating new, customized, and performance-optimized equipment, alongside cost efficiency, sustainability, and safeguarding. To illustrate the AM-related benefits, they present a fictional use case of biathlon. The example of Julia, the new biathlon champion of the Winter Olympics in 2030, is relevant to highlight these points. The chapter ends with a brief discussion about future opportunities and challenges around AM and technology in general, where the authors conclude that “regulators will have to deal with these technology advancements” (p. 129) linked to the ongoing debates around technological doping (e.g., the new super shoes for running such as Nike Vaporfly NEXT%). All in all, this chapter is a fruitful one to read, especially for those interested in how technological innovations and applications will impact future performance improvements.


Another exciting contribution we want to highlight is chapter 13 by Bartl and Füller, titled “The Rise of Emotion AI: Decoding Flow Experiences in Sports”. First, it is refreshing to read an empirical chapter. Second, the chapter brings a novel thematical contribution and it is timely in recognizing that human emotions are considered to be of immense value for sports and society. Bartl and Füller argue that developing an automated and real-time recognition of human emotions based on physiological data (e.g., heart rate, electrodermal activity) has the potential to overcome some of the limitations of traditional techniques (e.g., interviews, questionnaires) when examining affective states. In the chapter, they explore how AI-based methods can measure and analyze athletes’ mental flow state and further add value to different stakeholder groups in sports such as coaches, fans, and media. Based on an exploratory study with four male junior biathlon athletes of team Switzerland, their findings “shows that AI-based emotion recognition methods allow for classification of specific physiological patterns of the athletes, which help to predict their shooting performance” (p. 220). Overall, it provides interesting insights into how this approach may be used to optimize the way sports are played, organized, and consumed. For those interested in the evolving field of AI, human emotions, and sports, this is an interesting read.

Drawbacks of the book

Though this anthology notes several interesting possibilities for the future of sports, we have some critical points resulting from our collective reading. The first, and most pressing, is the lack of critical perspectives throughout the book. With few exceptions, the contributing authors focus almost exclusively on the potential and positives of developing technologies in sports, while overlooking pitfalls and challenges. Many of the presented topics invite interesting discussions of ethical problems concerning surveillance, personal privacy, social injustice related to costs and access to technologies, and biases in technologies. Overall, the optimistic view of technologies makes it appear as something neutral and unproblematic, which makes our group of sport sociologists somewhat skeptical in our reading.

The width of topics introduced to the reader is certainly interesting, however, the coherence between the contributions suffers due to this variety. Chapters aimed at different stakeholders, such as fans (Shields and Rein, p. 233), equipment manufacturers (Beiderbeck, Krüger, and Minshall, p. 111), and engineers (Kirchner, p. 73)) appears random at times. This makes for an unclear coherence between contradicting perspectives. This shows particularly when for instance, Schlegel and Hill argue that technology developments lead to the “transfer from Sport to Allied Health” (p. 105) and “into Defense” (p. 107) while at the same time, Hutmacher argues that technology development in health will affect sports the other way around through “utilizing regenerative medicine for sports injuries” (p. 147). Another consequence of the width of topics presented in this book is that there is some overlap between chapters, which perhaps is inevitable in an anthology with 18 individual contributions. This is especially clear through chapters on future stadium experiences (Shields and Rein) and virtual reality and extended reality and fan engagement (Miah, Fenton, and Chadwick), and the two blockchain contributions (Khaund, and Carlsson-Wall and Newland).

Concluding thoughts

Schmidt’s edited collection inspires readers to reflect on a variety of ways in which sports technology may impact sports in the future. This is the high point of the anthology. From our reading, we would recommend this book to students and scholars in the field of sports management with an interest in sports technology. Students and scholars within the sociology of sport, such as ourselves, may find that critical perspectives related to the social issues and ethical dilemmas that follow novel sports technologies are lacking in this book.

Copyright © Siv Stavang Aune, Anne Tjønndal, Stian Røsten
og Sigbjørn Børreson Skirbekk 2023

Table of Content


How Technologies Impact Sports in the Digital Age
Sascha L. Schmidt

Taxonomy of Sportstech
Nicolas Frevel, Sascha L. Schmidt, Daniel Beiderbeck, Benjamin Penkert, Brian Subirana

How Thesis Driven Innovation Radars Could Benefit the Sports Industry
Sanjay Sarma, Brian Subirana, Nicolas Frevel

Physical Technologies

Robotics, Automation, and the Future of Sports
Josh Siegel, Daniel Morris

Robotics and AI: How Technology May Change the Way We Shape Our Bodies and What This Does to the Mind
Frank Kirchner

The Reach of Sports Technologies
Martin U. Schlegel, Craig Hill

The Future of Additive Manufacturing in Sports
Daniel Beiderbeck, Harry Krüger, Tim Minshall

The Current State and Future of Regenerative Sports Medicine
Dietmar W. Hutmacher

Information Processing Technologies

Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Quantum Computing in Sports
Benno Torgler

The Data Revolution: Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning in the Future of Sports
Christina Chase

Blockchain: From Fintech to the Future of Sport
Sandy Khaund

Blockchain, Sport, and Navigating the Sportstech Dilemma
Martin Carlsson-Wall, Brianna Newland

The Rise of Emotion AI: Decoding Flow Experiences in Sports
Michael Bartl, Johann Füller

Human Interaction Technologies

Strategies to Reimagine the Stadium Experience
Ben Shields, Irving Rein

Virtual Reality and Sports: The Rise of Mixed, Augmented, Immersive, and Esports Experiences
Andy Miah, Alex Fenton, Simon Chadwick

Video Games, Technology, and Sport: The Future Is Interactive, Immersive, and Adaptive
Johanna Pirker


Impossible Sports
Brian Subirana, Garcia Jordi Laguarta

Beyond 2030: What Sports Will Look like for the Athletes, Consumers, and Managers
Sascha L. Schmidt, Katsume Stoneham

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