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Sports, innovation share stage at Sloan event

A love of sports can lead to exultation and heartbreak. But it can also lead to technical innovation, a point emphasized in one of the panels during the second annual MIT Sloan Sports Business Conference, held Feb. 9.

The sports conference, which brought together major figures in the sports industry for in-depth, often contentious, discussions, covered topics ranging from baseball and football analytics to managing high expectations for a team.

A panel discussion on sports technology, moderated by Kim Blair, director of MIT's Center for Sports Innovation, featured speakers from businesses that serve niche markets within the sports industry.

The startup Yoonew--a kind of stock market for sports tickets--came about when founder Gerry Wilson MBA '04 went to Fenway Park to try to get Red Sox tickets and came away empty-handed. "He started thinking, Wouldn't it be cool if there were insurance for tickets?" said Wilson's partner, Hagos Mehreteab MBA '06.

The Yoonew web site lets fans bid on tickets for "team fantasies" such as the Patriots getting into the Super Bowl and "fantasy matches," such as a future Patriots-Giants match, Mehreteab said. The company "brings what's traditionally found in financial market to the ticket market."

Ellen Brockley, co-founder and vice president of Motus Corporation (which was founded by MIT alumni) said co-founder Satayan Mahajan had noticed his golf game was always better when he played with a partner who was on the golf team. Being at MIT, he sought an "engineering solution." This became a low-cost, wireless three-dimensional motion-capturing vest that can be used for fitness training. The company is now moving into medical applications.

"If you can tell how an object moves, you have all sorts of applications," Brockley said.

Determining "who won" can be a technical challenge. Douglas J. DeAngelis, founder and president of Lynx System Developers, described how the combination of high-speed digital cameras and computers created a "photo finish" system in 1992. The system is now widely used in sports from track events to NASCAR races.

The relationship between star players and ticket sales is one of the aspects of StatBridge, a software firm founded in 1999 by Matthew Marolda that specialized in data visualization and analysis.

Dave Scarborough, executive vice president of Ticketmaster, described a future when fans come to events "without tickets," just as today passengers can fly on airlines without a physical ticket.

Asked what advice the panelists had for budding sports entrepreneurs, Brockley said, "Make sure your market is ready for the technology."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 13, 2008 (download PDF).

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