NBA must determine future of wearables with new CBA

The NBA’s tentative new collective bargaining agreement has solidified the league’s financial foundation for at least the next six years and taken steps to decrease the wear and tear on players through the reduction of preseason games, back to backs, and four games in five nights. However, as ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh reports, the additional creation of a wearables committee suggests there’s still work to be done in determining how best to integrate new health and wellness technologies into the game.

Likely at the core of the discussion is who owns the data, how it can be used, and of course how do teams, players, and the league make money off of the information produced by the wearables.

Richard Drew/ Associated Press
Richard Drew/ Associated Press

For example, imagine the “crunch time” heart rate sponsored by your favorite antacid. Who gets the money generated from that sponsorship category? Is there an invasion of privacy for the athletes whose information is being displayed? How is the information utilized when it comes time to negotiate contracts? What type of liability do teams have if it can be shown that they were negligent in their use of an athlete considering the availability of data?

These are just some of the questions that arise when wearables and the data they generate get introduced into real-time game environments, whereas use solely during practice don’t produce nearly as many questions.

The NBA and its players are right to take a measured, but proactive approach toward the introduction of these devices into the game. With so many devices being developed and companies involved, it’s a bit of the wild west in terms of both usage and data generated. From basic data such as heart rate monitoring and distance traveled to oxygen levels, there’s a mountain of information to parse and utilize, let alone manage.

Each league has to determine how best to integrate these devices, while players must make sure they’re not being harmed by sharing what’s arguably private data that could be used against them at some point.

If the league and its players can find a compromise, there’s an opportunity to not only increase revenue through leveraging the data for sponsorship opportunities, but the increased integration of health information may lead to healthier players and more efficient management of playing time and scheduling. It’s pretty easy to see the value in wearables for all of those involved, but without developing structured rules and regulations for their use, the league and its players might not be able to avoid the potential pitfalls.