Back in 2008, Golf Channel first introduced technology into its telecasts that allowed viewers to track the flight path of the ball from a player’s club to its ultimate landing spot. Now, like the virtual first-down line on football telecasts, golf fans consider Toptracer technology an essential part of the viewing experience.
“It’s now expected by the sports fan to be there on every golf shot, and if it’s not they get frustrated by it,” said Will McIntosh, executive vice president of digital and sports consumer business at NBC Sports Group, which owns Golf Channel.
NBC Sports licenses Toptracer for use on NBC and Golf Channel through a multiyear partnership with Topgolf, which has owned the technology since 2016, but it can also be found on competitor CBS Sports’ PGA Tour telecasts, as well as at driving ranges around the world.
As Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal launches a SportsTech accelerator program, executives at NBC Sports Group are hoping to take a more active role in finding, developing and owning the next groundbreaking technologies that change the way fans experience sports.
“We hope that we’re going to get early introductions and/or insights into technologies or trends that we’re not focused on right now or that we’re not thinking about for whatever reason,” McIntosh said. “We fully expect that this will lead to companies or technologies that we want to license commercially or integrate with our own tech stack or potentially acquire.”
The accelerator — a partnership between Comcast-owned sports media brands NBC Sports Group, Golf Channel and Sky Sports, along with sports organizations NASCAR, U.S. Ski & Snowboard and USA Swimming — starts accepting applications Tuesday. Companies that are accepted into the 13-week program that begins this August in Atlanta will receive access to sports industry advisers, a curriculum to help with idea development and investment capital from Comcast and accelerator manager Boomtown.
In exchange for a minimum of 6 percent equity, Comcast and Boomtown will invest at least $50,000 in each of the roughly 10 companies in the initial cohort. The accelerator is seeking technologies in eight sports-related focus areas: media and entertainment, fan and player engagement, athlete performance, team and coach success, venue and event innovation, fantasy sports and wagering, esports and the business of sports.
Bill Connors, president of Comcast Cable’s central division, said the company’s two existing technology accelerators — Philadelphia-based LIFT Labs and Atlanta-based The Farm — have each received a surprisingly high number of applications from companies with sports-related technologies. Based on this level of innovation and Comcast’s growing involvement in a variety of facets of sports business — media, on-site connectivity, sports participation software and team ownership — it made sense for the company’s third accelerator launch in the past three years to focus specifically on sports technology.
For sports property partners such as NASCAR, being part of the accelerator offers greater insight into emerging technologies than they could achieve on their own. Craig Neeb, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief innovation officer, pointed out that while the governing body has been proactive in terms of competition and driver safety, the accelerator will help NASCAR find new ways to engage fans both at the track and on their devices.
“The idea of using an accelerator like we’re talking about here gives us a much broader net to be able to go out and filter through some of those potential opportunities,” he said. “We have resources to look at these things, but there’s so many that come to us and so many that we probably never see, and this is an opportunity for us to get more of that visibility to those opportunities.”
While SportsTech is far from the first sports-focused technology accelerator, its creators believe the breadth of internationally recognized partners involved will provide participating companies access and insight unmatched by other programs.
This story has been updated to clarify which company is launching the SportsTech accelerator.