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The race is on to attract big names in sports technology – a diverse field spanning wearables, software, analytics, fan experience and more. Here’s why Ireland can be a game changer in a market that’s worth billions and is growing at more than 13% per year. 

Technology is changing sport in fundamental ways – and data is at the heart of that transformation. For athletes, data can unlock insights that improve performance. For weekend warriors tracking their fitness, data charts progress towards achieving personal goals. For fans, data deepens their understanding of what’s happening on the field of play, in the stadium or on the screen.

It’s a simple but powerful premise: the more you know, the better you can perform, watch, or enjoy. In this new era, the line between athlete and amateur blurs, as the tools to achieve a personal best, powered by the insights derived from data, are available not just to elite sportspeople but to everyone.

And it’s big business: Research & Markets estimates the sports tech space is growing globally at 13.8% per year, and will jump from $21.9 billion in 2022 to $41.8 billion by 2027. By the start of the next decade, Skyquest forecasts the market will reach $79.4 billion. 

Sports technology is a broad category, comprising technology – hardware devices, smart stadiums, sports analytics and esports – as well as the sports themselves and the end users, which includes sports associations, clubs and leagues.

Field of dreams: Ireland’s aim for sports tech

And when it comes to the convergence of data, science, technology and sport, Ireland has a strong case to capture a big part of this fast-growing market. With available skills and expertise across digital, data, and people, Ireland is an ideal location for the growing industry, according to Aimée Williams, vice president of the enterprise technology division at IDA Ireland.

With data playing such a critical role in sports tech, Ireland’s place as a global regulatory hub for digitally driven and data focused companies is part of its attraction, Williams says. Ireland is especially well placed for managing the data, content and systems that the industry will need, she adds.  

Already, Ireland is a leader in data and data-adjacent talent. Sequoia Capital’s Atlas report on Europe’s technical talent ranked Dublin as having more top placements in categories like artificial intelligence and data science than any other European city.

Draft pick: Irish tech talent on tap

“Dublin offers a wide array of technology skills,” the report says. “It ranks first in per-capita density for more engineering skills than any other city in our study. It ranks first in talent density for data science, AI, finance, security and server and cloud specialists. It also has standout density for systems, DevOps, front-end frameworks and application development,” the report says, adding: “It is no surprise that tech giants in Dublin, such as Amazon and Microsoft, are building out their AI teams using the city’s pool of AI talent.”

Ireland is also suitable for pure-play sports tech and data companies, broadcasters and content producers, wearable makers, esports developers, rights holders and sports properties, able to support the industry to grow and scale globally, create and test innovative technology, measure and improve performance and insights, and boost participation, engagement, and reach.

“Businesses can tap into the talent in Ireland to build their new sports tech product,” Williams says. “We have strong clusters, ecosystems and a pool of talent who love and understand sport.”

Tracking the industry’s progress in Ireland

Sports Tech Ireland, a non-profit cluster dedicated to the sports technology and innovation sector in Ireland, released a report in March 2024 charting the progress of the industry in Ireland. Its report found that Ireland is already home to 85 companies in the broad sports tech field, including multinationals in areas including sporting performance, analytics, health and wellbeing. Already this decade, leading sports and well tech companies Strava and Thrive Global have opened international hubs in Ireland. Many of those companies specifically referred to talent when announcing their decisions to locate here.

Ireland now has more than 60,000 people employed in sport across the country

According to the report, Ireland now has more than 60,000 people employed in sport across the country. Although sports tech is a relatively new industry, it has grown rapidly in the last five years. “Ireland has a competitive advantage in the field of sports technology, thanks to its strong ecosystem of data, engineering and regulatory expertise. In addition, Ireland is world-renowned in the field of sports performance analysis, with many of our Irish-trained analysts working with some of the best clubs, leagues and federations internationally. The pool of sports analysis talent in Ireland is a valuable asset for the development and growth of sports technology companies,” the report says.

As well as wearables and fitness companies like Fitbit, Catapult, Stats Perform, Strava and Whoop, Ireland has a longstanding connection with tech companies whose products are widely used in sport, such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Cisco and IBM, as well as chipmakers Intel and Qualcomm.

And in the emerging eSports space, Riot Games and EA Sports also have a presence on these shores. In 2016, Lero, Ireland’s software research centre, set up Europe’s first esports science research lab at the University of Limerick campus, staffed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers. In 2022, it announced a partnership with Nvidia to help gamers improve their chances of winning some of the enormous prize pool on offer. In 2023, the E-Sports Academy, co-owned by Usain Bolt, opened a high performance centre in Cork for training national and international professionals. 

Keeping score: Irish activity in sports tech

It’s no coincidence that many major sports stars are putting skin in the game by investing in tech companies. Golfer Rory McIlroy is an investor in Whoop – one of 12 sports tech startups he backs. Whoop also set up its international operations in Ireland. Former Irish rugby international Andrew Trimble is the co-founder of Kairos, which provides messaging software for pro sports. The startup was acquired by Teamworks in early 2024.

Another former Irish rugby international, Jamie Heaslip, was an early investor in Kitman Labs. The Dublin-based company combines data analytics and machine learning to predict and prevent athletes from suffering injuries. Its system collects and analyses data from sources like wearables, to identify risk factors and provide personalised training and recovery programmes. This approach is already helping teams across sports like rugby, football and baseball. In 2021, the company raised $52 million in a series C funding round.

Orreco is another Irish innovator. Based in the West of Ireland, it helps athletes to predict their risk of injury using bioanalytics, which analyses blood and other biomarkers to tailor athletes’ recovery and nutrition strategies. It integrates AI to provide insights that help in optimising training schedules, improving recovery times, and enhancing performance. The company has already profiled more than 2,000 athletes on the PGA Tour, as well as NFL teams, elite-level players in US sports including baseball, basketball and hockey, along with the United States women’s soccer team.

Setting goals: Irish aims for industry

Sports Tech Ireland aims to support the industry’s growth in Ireland by building connections between commercial bodies, start-ups, entrepreneurs, research facilities and VCs. It too believes data is the field where Ireland can play, for companies “working at the intersection of data, digital, science and technology applied to the fields of sport, health and fitness, media and sportainment, eSports, stadium and fans.”

“A huge amount of this growth for fitness, sports science and also fan engagement centres on data,” says Gráinne Barry, a pioneer in the field who founded Sports Tech Ireland in 2017. “If you wear a Fitbit or an Apple watch, you’re measuring your own personal best, you’re competing with yourself. As well as the quantified self, you have injury prevention, performance analysis, and predictive analytics. Data is the common denominator. Ireland can be known as a base where we build talent for the industry.”

Another vital piece of the puzzle is to make sure there’s a continuing flow of talent to meet the industry’s needs. Third-level institutes are responding by developing programmes to address both the technical and non-technical fields of the business of sport.

Technology University Dublin has developed a brand-new qualification, a Postgraduate Diploma in sports analytics technology and innovation.

Kieran Collins, Head of Discipline – Dietetics, Nutrition and Sports Science at Technology University Dublin, explains that many sports tech companies are trying to upskill sports scientists because of a shortage of technology skills. “There was a lot of self-directed learning or on the job learning, so there was a huge gap here in terms of need and demand,” he says. 

Talent development: key to every sporting endeavour 

The programme came about through TU Dublin’s engagement with the sector. “The postgraduate diploma is aimed at experienced learners or practitioners within the space – working in either sports tech or an adjacent field. The aim is to empower and support the sports tech sector with talent,” Collins says.

Graduates from the programme will be equally employable in domestic sports tech companies and multinationals, says Collins.

The programme is built on twin pillars of business strategy and design thinking and focuses on enhancing communication between complex teams. It was designed to develop transferable skills that graduates can apply in many areas.

“Whether the final product is technology or data, or focused on sustainability – it looks at the data structures and architectures. We want to create future leaders who can look around corners and see where the market is going, and be ahead of the curve. We have to look at sport in its broadest sense: esports, fan engagements, performance and health and wellbeing,” says Collins.  

Ireland at the cutting edge

As well as honing technical skills, Collins is keen for the programme to contribute towards developing a tight-knit community in a rapidly growing area. “The space is quite nascent, so it shows Ireland at the cutting edge of this space,” he says. “We have to look at sport in its broadest sense: esports, fan engagements, performance and health and wellbeing. The investment in the technology is incredible and if we look at some of the growing trends in the area: right now, we have two huge things happening: artificial intelligence and potentially the dawn of spatial computing. They will have an incredible impact on sport.”

“I firmly believe that Ireland can be the very epicentre of this vertical. I feel we’re at the hockey stick curve in this area,” says Collins. 

Gráinne Barry agrees. And having founded Sports Tech Ireland, she now leads the Irish operations for STATS Perform, which employs more than 300 people in Limerick.

“Sport is in our DNA in Ireland. All the people who want to work in sport, can build a career in sports tech.” - Gráinne Barry

Anyone keen to get a glimpse into the future of the field in Ireland can experience the sector firsthand at the second annual Sports Innovation and Technology Summit in October 2024 at the 477-acre National Sports Campus. The inaugural event in 2023 showcased a model for the industry, attracting more than 400 people from a mix of Irish sporting bodies, multinationals such as Analog Devices and Microsoft, researchers in the sports tech and sports sciences field as well as thriving Irish startups, many of which exhibited on the day. 

Alongside the event, the focus is on enhancing connections and collaborations between industry, academia, research, and sport. The goal, says IDA Ireland’s Aimée Williams, is a simple one: “All the key players in Ireland are working together to make Ireland a hub for world-leading sports tech and sports innovation.”