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Most World Cup teams used Mac-only software from Sportstec to improve game performance


As part of Apple's 30th anniversary celebration of the Mac, the company devoted a little bit of ink to Sportstec, a increasingly popular sports analytics company with products that have always been available exclusively on the Mac.

Sportstec, the sports software company founded by Philip Jackson, has been Mac-only since day one. In 2003, Sportstec created its innovative SportsCode technology. For the first time, professional sports teams could use high-quality, real-time video to make adjustments during the game. The Mac provided a platform that was easy to use, was able to compress large amounts of video quickly, and, most important, didn't crash.

That sports teams across the globe employ now Sportstec technology is nothing new, but with the World Cup this year, its offerings have gone global with greater reach than ever.

Out of the 32 teams that qualified for the 2014 World Cup, 18 used Sportstec software for statistical analysis, in-game tracking, and more. Of the final four, Brazil, Argentina, and the Netherlands all employ Sportstec technology.

Impressively, of the 16 teams that advanced to the knockout stage, 10 are Sportstec customers.

I was recently able to catch up with Sportstec founder Philip Jackson who was gracious enough to provide me with a little bit of information as to how Sportstec works, how it helps World Cup teams prepare, and why the product has yet to transition over to the world of Windows and Android.

Usage among World Cup participants has increased since the last World Cup, a result Jackson believes can be attributed to word of mouth and good old fashioned hard work and sales.

We work damn hard at doing that. In South Africa I think we had 10 teams, so it's an increase from the last World Cup. It's just pure sales. We're out actively trying to talk to the coaches in an effort to show them the difference our software can make to hopefully get them on board. Leading up to the World Cup, there was a lot of hard work that went into getting our software out to as many teams as possible.

And the response from teams thus far has been universally positive, Jackson says.

The software and technology allows coaches and training staff to take in a live feed of game action from up to 34 distinct cameras. Coaches use this avalanche of footage to conduct statistical analysis of a team's performance and identify weaknesses in opposing teams. Note that the software doesn't just help teams keep an eye out on the competition, but it also helps teams track the nuances, for better or worse, of their own play on the field.

Our software captures absolutely everything. Teams build their own "exchange" consisting of video files of every game. They build up a monstrous database, analyze every game, and as soon as a team knows who they're playing, the prep work is well underway.

During the course of a game, many of the viewing angles we see on TV are tight shots that exclusively follow the ball. This is great for casual viewers watching at home, but Sportstec software allows teams to check out the action from a plethora of angles, thus enabling them to see "the whole structures" of what's happening on the field.

What's particularly interesting, not to mention useful, is that teams are therefore using the software to help them make game decisions in real time.

Teams are using the software at halftime and also in real time. Messages are getting down to the managers and he's getting the message out to the players regarding what technical changes might need to be made.

In the run up to the games, some teams went the extra mile and decided to provide individual players with iPads containing footage specifically tailored to their position and their roles on the team. The teams who went this route include England, Australia, and Argentina.

And speaking of Argentina, Jackson notes that their team in particular is leveraging the software as much as they can. In fact, Sportstec sales manager Santiago Cuenya is embedded with the Argentinian team, effectively working as a consultant and helping the team's video analysts be "as prepared as possible."

Argentina are the leaders in trying to use the software to go as far as possible with what they can deliver. Santiago is challenging the team at every stage, thinking of ways to use the technology to their advantage.

Here's Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella doing some film study on his iPad.

Why Sportstec isn't yet available for Android

As mentioned earlier, Sportstec remains a Mac and iOS only offering. In previous interviews, Jackson explained that the software is Mac only because "Macs handle video better and faster than any other platform." With that in mind, I asked if the Sportstec software will remain Mac and iOS only for the foreseeable future.

We know that we will have to look at Android at some point in the future. And we have looked at Android solutions already. The reason why we're not on Android yet is that, from a technical standpoint, it can't handle video as well as iOS. The simple answer for that is that you can't go backwards frame by frame on Android, and so from that perspective, Android is limited. And especially in a sports environment, the ability to look at each individual frame is extremely important. But in the long run, we do need to be there. But I wouldn't tell someone today to go out and buy an Android tablet and tell them it's as good as an iPad and that they should expect the software sometime soon.

In any event, here's a view of the software about to get ready for action in the first World Cup game which pitted Croatia against Brazil.

And in this photo, taken from Sportstec's Facebook page, we see Argentina making use of the software on a tried and true MacBook Pro.

And here's Australian defender Alex Wilkinson getting some Sportstec studying in earlier this month.

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