The Business of College Sports
Greg Gatz calls it the “next big thing coming on down the line.”
And no, the Director of Strength and Conditioning for Olympic Sports at North Carolina isn’t talking about the latest and greatest in athletic footwear.
Gatz is speaking about GPS tracking technology and specifically, Catapult Sports.
An Australian-based sports technology company, Catapult is on the forefront of cutting-edge technology that measures athlete analytics. Just seven-years-old, the company has infiltrated the American sports market but mostly with professional franchises like the New York Knicks, Dallas Cowboys, and Detroit Tigers.
Despite Catapult not “directly targeting the college market,” according to Media and Marketing Manager Boden Westover, the company has still managed to gain a handful of clients in the form of college athletics departments, including North Carolina.
About a year and a half ago, Tom Myslinski — the former Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at UNC and current Head Strength and Conditioning Coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars — began slowly implementing the technology into his regiment.
Once he headed South to the National Football League in 2012, Gatz picked up where Myslinski left off with the technology. This past Fall, Gatz and the University of North Carolina Athletic Department purchased just 10 units from Catapult.
“It was kind of use it when you can as much as you can,” Gatz said of the limited supply at first.
Initially, the North Carolina women’s soccer team (won the 2012-13 NCAA Championship) has been the most consistent user of the software. With head coach Anson Dorrance “all on board,” as Gatz stated, the Tar Heels could now quantify their on-field performance.
In the future, Gatz would like to have enough units to put them on athletes for daily practice sessions. According to Gatz, using the technology in the week leading up to a match or a game can help determine how much an athlete can do on match/game day.
For student-athletes to utilize the software, OptimEye tracking “bugs” are worn by players in a tight-fitted jacket, with monitors being analyzed on the sidelines by athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches; the tracking technology monitors 20 unique metrics such as acceleration speed. Additionally, it allows coaches to make decisions in real time, and it also gives them a full picture of how hard their student-athletes are working and what it’s doing to their bodies.
“The biggest value is to get that inside information on each individual athlete,” Gatz said. “You can get stuff that you wouldn’t normally see just by standing on the sidelines — the heart rates, the load production, that type of stuff during the course of a match.”
So, what is preventing more athletic departments from taking advantage of GPS tracking technology?
One word: money. Catapult charges teams, on average, $100,000 to utilize its software, according to a recent article from Forbes.com. The purchase includes regular upgrades and analytical software.
Naturally, it makes sense then that athletics departments’ ability to fund such sports technology depends on the size of their budgets. Smaller colleges and universities just don’t have the funding. For schools like North Carolina, Florida State, Kentucky, and Oregon — who have all utilized Catapult Sports in some fashion — they are more equipped to purchase the sports technology.
Coupled with funding is also awareness; considering it’s a relatively new product in the marketplace, some colleges and universities don’t even know of the sports technology’s existence.
Yet, the third reason might be the biggest hurdle athletic departments and teams will have to overcome.
“The most difficult part of it at this point is you have coaches who have been doing their job for 20, 25 years the way — they’re old school,” Gatz said. “It’s tough to break in a new type of idea and concept like this when they’re not really sure it’s beneficial at this point.”
GPS technology might not be so commonplace now with the more recognizable sports like football and basketball. But in 10 or 15 years, those old school coaches might have to re-consider if everyone else is getting the competitive edge with GPS technology.