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ICT breathes new life into old games

Korea’s sports industry turns to technology in tough global market
Jan 23,2019
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Children enjoy an opportunity to play football alongside famous football players at the Football Faentasium, western Seoul. [ALLIVE CREATIVE]
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The global sports industry market hit $1.3 trillion dollars in 2017, drumming up nearly as much revenue as the car market that year. Sports commerce continued to pick up speed in 2018 as it began to incorporate different technologies into its existing infrastructure - namely those that represent the fourth industrial revolution.

The utilization of information and communications technology (ICT) is a tempting opportunity which did not go amiss for Korea, a powerhouse in the ICT industry. The Korean sports industry, which suffers from a lack of research and development, as well as low domestic demand, is now utilizing these advances to their benefit in the hope of gaining a global edge.

Adventurous start-up business operators like Kim Jun-oh, CEO of UComun Technology, picked up on this opportunity and created “voice caddie” - an innovative device that combines GPS recognition and voice guidance to relay the distance of shots.

The idea first came to Kim, who has a doctorate in electrical engineering, when he realized the original golf GPS device was too heavy and complicated to handle. Kim wanted to create something that was easy to use, as well as lightweight. He modeled the original prototype on a magnet that golfers wore on their caps and, after a number of trial and errors, the voice caddie was born. UComun Technology generated over 30 billion won ($26.5 million) in sales, mostly from the caddie, last year.

The recent trend in the sporting industry is the convergence of sports and ICT technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR).

“We are looking into [this trend] to create a completely new paradigm for measurement devices,” said Kim. He added that “40 percent of the 60 member staff are professional ICT researchers” and that he would continue to use such technology to give the company an edge when competing in the global market.

Another area where ICT is incorporated into sports is at in-door sport simulation centers.

Simulation sports were first introduced to the public in the early 2000s with screen golf. Business picked up as screen baseball was added into the picture, followed by bowling and even fishing. The domestic market for these simulation centers hit 1.5 trillion won in 2013 and grew to 5 trillion won last year as more sports were added.

As for simulation golf centers, many are now incorporating AI and 3-D graphics to deliver a more realistic experience.

With the increasing popularity of indoor simulation centers, simulation-based sports theme parks have also began popping up across the nation.

Football Faentasium, located at the Seoul World Cup Stadium, provides a service that combines football with VR and AR technologies. After donning the appropriate gear, visitors are presented with the opportunity to play football with famous players like Son Heung-min and Ki Sung-yueng.

“Recently, more content has sprung up that the industry can work with and the market has grown thanks to it,” said Jeong Eui-seok, CEO of Allive Creative - the company responsible for Football Faentasium.

Sports Monster, another sports simulation theme park that offers unique opportunities, such as cycling, track and Taekwondo through VR technology, recorded 200 billion won worth of sales during the past two years. Their success has opened doors in the global market, and the company is now preparing to open stores in China.

The convergence of sports and ICT is not only limited to theme parks, but can also be seen in our daily lives as well. Fitness centers are now using big data to collect information needed to create a work-out regime that caters to individuals’ personal needs. Such data is collected through wearable devices.

“The combination of sports with ICT technology is now contributing to a new platform for the sports industry,” said Yoo Sang-geon, a professor who teaches Sports ICT convergence at Sangmyung University. “[I] hope that this new trend will not just simply open up the sports business, but create a new pathway into the global world.”

As of last year, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism opened a VR sports center for elementary school students in the hope that, by using such facilities, interest in sports will grow.

The convergence between ICT technology and the sports industry is not expected to slow down in the future.

“The need to provide services that cater to specific individuals will be of the utmost importance,” said Kim. “Our company will focus on utilizing a 5G network and looking into ways we can incorporate that into our future products.”

“The change that revolves around ICT and sports is still in progress and, if used properly, could increase the quality of life for users in the future,” added Yoo.

BY KIM JI-HAN [jeong.juwon@joongang.co.kr]