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Volume 20 No. 45
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Earthquakes form advisory board to guide push to be technology leader

As more professional sports teams look to technology for advantages on and off the field, the San Jose Earthquakes are aiming to benefit from their location in the nation’s tech hub.

“We want to set the global benchmark for the use of technology in soccer,” said Jared Shawlee, Earthquakes chief operating officer. “We know that is a very lofty goal, but sitting here in the center of Silicon Valley, we have to try.”

The first step for San Jose was to admit that they couldn’t achieve that goal with their in-house staff. “We just don’t have the expertise to reach that claim,” Shawlee said. So the club established an eight-person innovation advisory board in December to advise it on emerging technology trends that could improve anything from the fan experience to player performance, as well as deliver potential corporate partnerships.

The MLS club wants to take advantage of being in the center of Silicon Valley.
Members of the board include Jeff Ota, a senior principal engineer at Intel who leads research and development teams in sports technology and augmented reality; Pandora Chief Marketing Officer Nick Bartle; and Austin Noronha, the head of Sony Corp. of America’s growth ventures and innovation group, who also serves as the board’s chair.

The initial focus of the board was to evaluate opportunities for the club to improve its fan experience, an area that Shawlee oversees. That has led to partnerships with team management and communication app TeamSnap, parking technology provider ParkHub and in-stadium food delivery service FanFood.

Following the hiring of AS Roma executive Jesse Fioranelli as the club’s general manager in January, the board is now looking at partnerships on the player side as well.

In July, the Earthquakes signed a partnership with Second Spectrum to use the firm’s player tracking, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to help evaluate player performance and on-field strategies. Los Angeles-based Second Spectrum’s technology is being used in several professional leagues, including by top-tier European soccer clubs and more than three quarters of the NBA.

“When you’re sitting in a market that is incubated by so many great thinkers, you have to embrace it,” said veteran sports executive Tom Fox, hired as Earthquakes president in June.

While Shawlee said he thinks embracing technology will only improve the Earthquakes, the goal isn’t to keep it to themselves.

“We know none of these things will be proprietary for very long, so we want to embrace that and invite the soccer community here to Avaya Stadium and benefit from that,” he said.

During the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final, played July 26 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the Earthquakes hosted an event around technology in sports, highlighting advances at its stadium. More than 300 people attended, including federation heads from across CONCACAF and executives from across MLS and other European teams, as well as representatives from the Bay Area pro sports teams.

The Earthquakes signed a multiyear partnership with the German Football Federation, which focuses on an exchange of knowledge around game and performance analysis. The two will work together to test new trends and technologies through research, clinics and focus groups, and further their investments in youth development and sports technology.

“We’re setting out to be a thought leader in technology in sports and soccer, and if top-tier partners in soccer want to do the same, we’re more than happy to work with them,” Shawlee said.