'1st and Future' showcases new technology for NFL

STANFORD, Calif. -- Virtual reality NFL game viewings. Player-mounted cameras. Sweat-monitoring biosensors.

Innovation was on display Saturday morning at the Stanford Graduate School of Business as the NFL and TechCrunch presented "1st and Future," a competition between tech startups focused on the future of sport for fans and athletes.

"This is an opportunity for us to talk about how technology impacts the experience of football," commissioner Roger Goodell explained in his opening remarks. "Technology is something we embrace and love, and is something that will make us a better league going forward."

The competition featured three categories: Bringing Home the Game, Tomorrow's Athlete, and The Future Stadium. Leaders from each competing company pitched their product to a packed auditorium and a panel of judges featuring American political scientist and diplomat Condoleezza Rice, Verizon Communications chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam, Nike CEO Mark Parker, and San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York, among others. After viewing each presentation and deliberating, the judges crowned the following winners:

» Bringing Home the Game:LiveLike, a company that uses virtual reality to bring you and your friends together in a sports viewing experience that's as easy as turning on your TV and as thrilling as going to the stadium.
» Tomorrow's Athlete:Kenzen, a company with a small athletic patch that delivers real-time health insights using patented biosensors, sweat analysis and predictive analytics.
» The Future Stadium:HYP3R, a location-based engagement platform that makes it easy for businesses to engage customers at specific locations (such as an NFL stadium) on a personal level in real-time.

While some might feel virtual reality is a gimmick, Andre Lorenceau, co-founder and CEO of LiveLike, sees virtual reality as an emerging commodity in the sports world.

"Everybody reaches a point where they're convinced (on the legitimacy of virtual reality)," Lorenceau said. "It's too powerful of a medium. Even what we do today compared to what we'll be able to do a year from now ... it's evolving really fast, it's extremely powerful, and it's definitely the wave of the future."

LiveLike is immersive, allowing for users to get a viewing experience that makes them not only feel like they're in the stadium, but also with their friends. The designers incorporated multi-player functionality inspired by video games to improve the social experience and remove the potential feelings of isolation from users. The product is still in its infancy, but it already features the ability to flip from cameras all around the stadium with integrated stats and other information for a truly unique viewing experience.

For Steve Pecko, co-founder of Kenzen, he and his team had a simple goal: to use human physiology as a means to identify and prevent injuries.

"The devices on the market weren't really gathering the signals we thought were meaningful in order to get ahead of avoidable conditions, so we started building our own sensors," Pecko said.

Currently, the Kenzen Echo Smart Patch can help prevent injuries like muscle strains, cramping and dehydration using a combination of patented biosensors, sweat analysis and predictive analytics. Kenzen is continuing to evolve what they can identify and are hoping to have expanded offerings to keep athletes safer and prevent more injuries before they happen.

With many fans gravitating toward watching games in the comfort of their own home, professional teams are looking for ways to keep the fans coming back to the stadium. That's where HYP3R comes in.

"When we saw we could surface all of the social media activity from a specific location and then engage people directly through a social network without requiring downloads, we knew this was something we needed to explore and build a company around," said Carlos Garcia, founder and CEO of HYP3R.

In the demo during the presentation, they showed how teams can keep track of all of the social media postings at their stadium from multiple platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), and use HYP3R to directly engage with fans for unique offerings such as seating upgrades, surprise meet and greets with players, promotional deals, or sharing their social media postings on the Jumbotron.

Each winning startup received $50,000 from the NFL's Strategic Investment Fund, tickets to Super Bowl 50 and an invitation to visit league headquarters where they will have the opportunity to meet with top NFL executives.

Based on what was on display during this competition, the future of the NFL fan is in intelligent, capable hands. Stay tuned.

For more information on the winning startups, visit their websites at livelikevr.com, kenzenwear.com, and hyp3r.com.

For more information on the 1st and Future competition, including videos from the event, visit TechCrunch.com.

Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar

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