Fusion Sport CEO Markus Deutsch Establishes a Baseline Before the Human Performance Summit
Source: Sport Techie, October 2019
Fusion Sport, a leading provider of athlete management systems, is holding its bi-annual Human Performance Summit this week at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah. Headlining the conference are speakers such as the Philadelphia 76ers’ recently departed director of performance research and development, David Martin; the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association high performance director, Troy Taylor; Olympic gold medal-winning freestyle skier Hannah Kearney; and the Toronto Blue Jays’ assistant director of high performance, Clive Brewer.
The speakers and panels take place on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 4-5, and are preceded by an optional Smartabase workshop day on Thursday, Oct. 3. Smartabase is the flagship product of Fusion Sport, which was founded in Australia. More than 250 elite clients use the platform, including MLB’s Red Sox, the NFL’s Cowboys, the NBA’s Lakers and Spurs, and NCAA powerhouses such as Oregon.
In advance of the Human Performance Summit, SportTechie spoke with Fusion Sport co-founder and CEO, Markus Deutsch, who earned his Ph.D. in the physiology of rugby at New Zealand’s University of Otago. He later served as a consultant sport scientist to the country’s famed All-Blacks national rugby team. Deutsch is now stationed at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Boulder, Colo.
SPORTTECHIE: What new markets or sports has your company been working in?
MARKUS DEUTSCH: Our original cornerstone business is obviously in elite sport—professional teams, colleges, those sorts of things. I think the strength of our platform Smartabase is it’s really configurable. It’s more like a software builder than a piece of software. It’s very sport-agnostic. It allows us to do things that are outside the mainstream focus of a lot of the sports tech market.
A lot of the sports tech market is focused on the big four sports—baseball, basketball, football, hockey—and we obviously do all those, but we can go well outside those. We do a lot in Olympic circles globally. We have a couple of big projects: the Dutch Olympic Committee, Malaysia, we just kicked off with Jordan, we’re about to kick off with Cyprus. A lot of Olympic committees need us to build a system that can support 40 or 50 sports, not just the big four or five. That’s been a big focus for us, the Olympic committee market.
The other thing we’ve done a lot of is in the electronic medical records space but from a performance angle. The U.S. has some real nuances about it compared to the rest of the globe. The big leagues and even a lot of the colleges have taken to the hospital-based electronic medical records (EMR) systems that have been tweaked a bit for sport. They’ve got systems made by companies that do most of their business in health care and not the sports environment. Outside of the States, that doesn’t happen. I can’t tell you one league outside of America that uses a hospital system for its EMR. So we’ve built about 130 different EMRs around the world.
If you think about what a hospital records system has to achieve, what it focuses on is dealing with people who are already injured or sick and basically curing them. It has a large focus on billing and finances and making sure everything gets paid for and charged to the right insurance company, etc. Whereas in the performance environment, you don’t just want to deal with people who are already injured. You want to prevent them from getting injured in the first place. Hospital-based systems just don’t do that. They don’t even think about it. So that’s another big area. We’re actually going to be doing a pretty big push with the colleges later this year.
The last big one that’s really growing quickly for us is the military space. The industry trend now is kind of this ‘human weapon system.’ The military has come to recognize that the operators and the soldiers are actually one of their weapon systems. In the past they tended to focus on guns and tanks and missiles and the steel things more than the people who operate those. But they’ve come to realize that the people themselves are actually their own weapon system.
SPORTTECHIE: How much has analytics in American sports trended away from only considering game performance statistics to including sport science data?
DEUTSCH: It’s getting there. I can definitely say, 10 years ago, it was barely on the radar, but it’s been picked up really quickly. There’s still a few years to go. Australia has been doing this for quite a long time. The two main reasons for that are, one, we just don’t have that many athletes. We’ve got a total population of 20 million people in the whole country. So we don’t have a lot of good athletes.
The States has for a long time survived by being able to shake the tree because there’s just so much talent here with the population and the huge sporting [culture] and especially the huge college engine. On that Moneyball approach of just shake the tree, pick the best talent and if they break, get another one, we just don’t have that luxury. I think that’s why you’ve seen that model develop faster in Australia. But people are starting to realize that it’s really critical not just to have the best talent but actually look after it and keep it on the field. A lot of research now shows that the more you can keep your four or five best players on the paddock or on the court, you have a much better chance of winning.
The really [progressive] ones are starting to link the two together. ‘OK, we know that in the fourth quarter, this player will shoot 30% from the baseline but not if they’ve done X amount of load in the preceding 10 minutes and they’re experiencing this degree of fatigue.’ They’re starting to inform their performance analysis model with the other data, which is great.
SPORTTECHIE: With the Rugby World Cup ongoing and the new mandate for player load monitoring, how would you assess that sport’s adoption of sport science?
DEUTSCH: Rugby’s been pretty advanced for a long time. I would say rugby and Australian Rules Football are the first two [sports] globally to really embrace sport science. Soccer started to get on board about seven or eight years ago. But rugby’s definitely had a very advanced model.
SPORTTECHIE: How challenging is it for a platform like yours to crack into individual sports?
DEUTSCH: We do a lot with individual sports, but we do it through the organizations that fund those sports. We work a lot with triathlon, cycling, athletics [i.e. track and field]. We already do that, but we do it through the national sporting organization. We’ve talked about going out and producing some sort of prosumer/consumer products. I think we will, at some stage, but the difficulty there is it’s a very different way of doing business. And businesses need to focus and not try and do too much.
At the end of the day, the coach is still important. All of this data is fantastic and obviously very important, but its purpose is to inform coaching decisions. I don’t think you can just remove the coach and have software train an individual.
Some big companies like Catapult have tried to go into that prosumer space with GPS, and they’ve had a very tough time with it. I don’t think that market is quite ready. I think it wants to be, but I don’t know if it’s quite ready yet.
Even at the grassroots level, it’s being done the way that national sporting organization wants it done, and that’s where they bring their expertise. We’re not going to develop a product for triathlon and think we can do it better than USA Triathlon. I think that’d be really naive. What I’d rather do is work with them.
The Smartabase Athlete app enables athletes to share data on health, wellness and training with coaches and staff, as well as track their own performance, health and goals via user friendly ‘dashboards’.
SPORTTECHIE: What are the next growth areas?
DEUTSCH: The military is the big one for us. Over the next couple of years, it has a chance to become the biggest [market] for us. We’ve got some other interesting projects going on in occupational health and safety—factory workers, working at big companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola. We’ve got some clients already and have had success. I have a meeting in a couple of hours with a company in aged health care.
We’re especially strong in remote monitoring—you know, being able to remotely monitor populations through wearables devices and analyze movement—and optimize those people’s lives, whether that’s going into the NBA or walking down to the corner store or being able to go to work and work properly. At the end of the day, what we do in sport is based on health and safety, just for professional athletes. We try to stop them from getting injured and helped them do their best at work. They have different inputs and outputs, but the philosophies are very much overlapping.
SPORTTECHIE: What are your hopes for the Human Performance Summit?
DEUTSCH: What we really wanted to do was genuinely build a proper human performance conference. There’s a lot of sports conferences, but often the performance side of things get diluted by the analytics of the Moneyball side of things or ticketing and fan engagement. We wanted to create a really pure human performance conference. For us, it’s really about building that trust in the market and cultivating human performance. I think, at the end of the day, we’re still in a market that’s being created. Especially in this kind of athlete management systems platform market, it’s still very much an emerging market. We want to get people together and push that forward and help to keep educating the market.