STATSports keeping tabs on sporting giants from Manchester United to Barcelona
STATSports Technologies has had a big impact on training methods with its Viper data monitor, writes Clare Weir
It's a must-have accessory for players from some of the world's top soccer and rugby teams. From Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal to Juventus, Galatasaray and Barcelona, from the Harlequins to the New Zealand Chiefs.
Homegrown players wear it too – the Ulster, Leinster and Connacht Rugby teams and the Northern Ireland football team.
And the company is now keen to expand into the other markets and has enlisted the help of GAA legend and former Armagh manager Joe Kernan to break into GAA sports, after providing services during the recent International rules series.
But the new accessory isn't a watch, a designer suit or a pair of trainers – and it's becoming as commonplace as shinpads and boots.
Strapped discreetly between the shoulder blades, the Viper is a health monitoring system which maps and monitors the work rate of the world's top sporting stars – and is made in Northern Ireland.
And now the technology is being expanded to allow coaches, pundits and even armchair viewers the chance to analyse the performance of players, including their heart rate, distance travelled and metabolic ratios.
STATSports Technologies was founded by Alan Clarke and Sean O'Connor in 2008 and, from a small office in Randalstown in Co Antrim, now operates from customised premises in Newry.
Finance director Sean McGuiggan said: "In time we would hope that the GAA would still be a significant and important market for the company." The company also plans an export strategy into the USA and China.
Alan had a background in competitive sports while Sean is a sports scientist.
Following the successful launch of the Viper System in 2012, the company achieved national acclaim by winning the Football Business Awards' 'Best Business Serving Football – Under £2m category' at an awards ceremony at Chelsea FC in London this time last year. From originally targeting amateur and semi-professional teams in Ireland, the company soon found that its services were not being provided at the elite professional level in Great Britain.
Mr O'Connor said that as a result, the firm decided to target big professional football and rugby teams, mainly in England.
"We launched the Viper System in 2012 and now have three quarters of the Premier League football teams as clients," he said.
"Our success has been built on the quality of Viper System hardware and analysis software, but, perhaps just as importantly, is our customer service and expertise. Our reputation has grown among top level coaching staff in professional sport and word of mouth recommendation enabled us to establish a firm customer base in the UK and Europe. Our Viper pods are now worn by some of the world's best known football and rugby teams."
This year saw the company move into the elite European football market, with new customers picked up in Italy, France, Turkey and Israel. However, next year potentially lucrative world markets will be targeted.
"We're well on our way to achieving our export goals," said Mr O'Connor.
"Next year will see us expand into America and the Far East. We've established a presence in America and recently signed a contract with leading NBA team The Chicago Bulls. We made our first sale in China earlier this year and hope to establish a distribution partner in the Far East sometime next year."
Michael McGuiggan said that the business has grown every year since its formation and the firm doubled its business achieved during 2012 due to the continued success of the Viper product and subsequent sales growth in mainland Europe and further afield.
He added that Invest NI has offered lots of assistance, particularly towards extensive research and development investment.
"We also sold to teams in China, the Middle East and the USA during a hectic pre-season sales drive earlier this year." he said.
"Invest NI offered revenue and marketing support in the early stages of the business's development and has assisted our product development, with two research and development grants in excess of £190,000.
"We are currently in our second research and development grant, which is assisting us with the development of our broadcast technology system,which will help keep us at the forefront of technological change in the industry."
He added: "At our Newry base we have expanded our in-house training facility and recruitment of sports science graduates has enabled us to maintain our high levels of customer service and expertise in a rapidly changing industry. We're committed to ongoing training and have operated an innovative internship programme since inception."
He said the company would keep broadening the uses of its analysis, and has already branched out from its core sports of football and rugby and into horse racing, field hockey band basketball.
"Key to the future success of the company will be the development of new and innovative products and keeping a step ahead of the competition by being first to market with new technology."
Smart piece of kit that keeps track of player's performance
The STATSports Viper pod contains four processors, a GPS module, a heart rate receiver and a long-range radio, as well as numerous other technological components that collect and log data up to 100 times per second, including speed, distance, accelerations and decelerations.
Combining the different measurements, coaches are then able to gauge a player's work-rate, the stress that is placed on their body either in one session or over a period of time and can compare one player's data against the squad's average.
The Viper pod is standard across every sport, but the analytical software that the data is exported to is specifically designed for each sport.
The original Viper software was built for football, with later sports specific editions being created as the business grew.
For instance, the new Viper Rugby software includes collision analysis, collision load, scrum analysis and maximum intensity period which are all specific to rugby.
In profile: Alan Clarke, managing director
Alan (42) from Bessbrook in Co Armagh is an experienced business man and has had a career that has spanned electronic engineering as well as both the music and sports industries.
After studying mechanical engineering at Dundalk Institute of Technology, he worked for over 10 years in the music industry before embarking on a career in sports technology.
His background in sport includes a stint as a football player, most notably with Dundalk FC and as a manager with an amateur team.
Alan has built up an extensive knowledge of the business of sport in the UK, Ireland and the US and has access to senior coaching staff in many major clubs, establishing key networks at the highest level in professional sport.