The World's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies In Sports

Whether they're redefining ticket sales or building a stadium worthy of Silicon Valley, when it comes to the business of athletic entertainment, these companies are true game-changers.

1. STATS

For turning jocks into nerds. This data company's SportVU cameras track and quantify everything during a game and have quickly gone from a geeky extra to a necessity: As of this season, every NBA arena uses the $100,000-a-year system--up from half last year--allowing teams like the Toronto Raptors, for example, to rewatch games with "ghost" versions of themselves that know exactly how to react based on an opponent's stats. "It's not just about getting all 30 teams but exposing game data on NBA.com and NBA TV," says Brian Kopp, an SVP at STATS. That only creates more demand. Soccer's UEFA Champions League uses it, and Duke basketball became the first college adopter in October. Next up: ice hockey. Read more >>

2. Roc Nation Sports

For breaking into the business. After selling his stake in the Brooklyn Nets to open his own sports agency, Jay-Z promptly snatched former Yankee superstar/$240 million Seattle Mariner Robinson Cano from superagent Scott Boras. Jay-Z may be new to the sports rep game, but he has a deep bench of athlete buddies and fans of his marketing prowess in locker rooms throughout sports. His relationships with major brands are something other agents can't touch. (New clients CC Sabathia, Kevin Durant, and Victor Cruz are counting on it.)

3. IBM

For acing tennis data. With SlamTracker, IBM has created an online stats dashboard that cuts through reams of new data provided by motion-capture cameras and automated sensors. The software's specialty is its predictive analysis. Based on more than 41 million data points from eight years of Grand Slams, SlamTracker applies some of the same analytic techniques as IBM's crime data tools to pinpoint what each player needs to do to win a given match. By updating those numbers during the match, SlamTracker provides a deeper perspective on the action.

4. Replay Technologies

For bringing Matrix-like frames to sports highlights. Using two dozen high-speed cameras to capture the on-field action, Replay turns sports highlights into jaw-dropping 360-degree clips. Think Keanu Reeves's bullet-dodging moves in the sci-fi trilogy. Replay's "freeD" video made its NFL debut at the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium this season, and the YES Network brought it to baseball at Yankee Stadium.

5. ESPN

For stealing Nate Silver from the New York Times. Getting the best-known stathead in sports (or politics, or…) and giving him a bigger platform elevated ESPN's data game. Rich, creative statistical analysis will certainly deepen fans' understanding of games and change the sports conversation, much as Silver has done in politics. Like Grantland, Bill Simmons's online magazine that covers pop culture as well as sports, Silver's site--which will be free of paywalls or subscriptions--is set to launch early this year and will use sports as a jumping-off point to politics and other topics, pulling a broader audience into ESPN's ever-expanding sports empire.

6. Weinstein Carnegie Philanthropic Group

For managing athletes' softer sides. Image-savvy (and genuinely caring) athletes can raise tons of money for good causes--but how do they actually do it? This agency works with charities, brands, and celebrities, particularly in sports and entertainment, to market good causes. In 2013, it managed tennis pro James Blake's charity, helping raise $1 million through a tennis exhibition and other events. It also partnered Yankee CC Sabathia's foundation with multiple multibillion-dollar corporations.

7. Northwestern University

For redefining ticket sales. Under the direction of two in-house economists, the university is testing out a new ticket-selling system for some of its games. It's called "Purple Pricing"--like a Dutch auction, but with a twist: Prices start high and drop until tickets sell out, and fans buy whenever a price is appealing. There's no risk of overpaying (like, say, on StubHub, where prices fluctuate) because everyone pays the final price. So if a fan buys at $50 but the price drops to $40, the fan is refunded $10. The system gives the school precise data about the market value of its tickets, ensuring more revenue and less scalping, and presenting a new path for a messy ticketing industry.

8. Uncharted Play

For lighting it up. With their unique product, Soccket, Uncharted Play founders Jessica Matthews and Julia Silverman tapped into the global popularity of soccer in hopes of providing a clever and much-needed source of renewable energy for the estimated 1.4 billion people worldwide without access to electricity. Soccket, which was kicked around by President Obama at the White House last summer, is essentially a soccer ball that is equipped with an internal generator: A half hour of play produces about three hours of power. Uncharted Play provides a ball to a community, which shares the energy to power LED lamps provided by the company. In December, the company launched its latest innovation: Pulse, a jump rope that can generate five times the electricity of the Soccket.

9. MLB Advanced Media

For making more multisport moves. Baseball's in-house tech powerhouse has a busy year on tap. Already the largest provider of live streaming content--of any content, not just baseball games--MLBAM will begin powering what Sony is calling its "cloud-based TV service" and WWE's new 24/7 online channel. Both will feature live and on-demand content, creating an alternative to cable. During baseball season, MLBAM will provide the game's newly expanded instant replay review, which includes managers' challenges. Umpires in the Replay Command Center at the company's headquarters in New York will monitor live feeds and rule on disputed plays at ballparks around the country. MLBAM, whose At Bat app is the highest-grossing sports app in iTunes for five straight years, is also adding to its product line. It's reviving and updating R.B.I. Baseball, a beloved video game from the '80s, for today's consoles and mobile devices.

10. San Francisco 49ers

For building a stadium worthy of Silicon Valley. The 49ers are constructing a facility to rival the ultimate man cave. Levi's Stadium, scheduled to open for the 2014 season, will be the most tech-embedded facility in sports. It will have HD video boards stretching more than 13,000 square feet, Wi-Fi for NFL RedZone streaming from your seat, and an in-stadium app that helps you find the shortest beer and bathroom lines.

[Image: Flickr user Bill Ohl]

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