Root for the home tech

Houston Astros executive addresses innovations in sports from esports to health care

Technology is changing America's pastime, and the Houston Astros have the lead off. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Over the past decade or so, sports franchises have seen a boom in technology integration. The fact of the matter is that both the teams and the players need to tap into tech to have a competitive advantage on the field — and especially when it comes to the business side of things.

"Technologically advanced companies want to do business with technologically advanced companies," says Matt Brand, senior vice president of corporate partnerships and special events at the Houston Astros. "Old cats like me need to realize you have to stay current or else you're just going to get passed up."

Brand was the subject of a live recording of HXTV — the video arm of Houston Exponential — at The Cannon. He addressed several trends in sports technology, and shared how the Astros are approaching each new hot technology.

The Astros are pretty ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, Brand says, and the trick is keeping a pulse on potential game-changing technology far in advance of implementation.

"The things that we're developing now in 2019 and 2020 are the thing that are going to help us in 2024 and 2025," Brand says.

The approach to technology in sports is changing as younger players enter the scene.

"This generation of players want all the technology they can get," Brand says. "They want what's going on up to the day."

From esports to sports betting sites, here's what the hometeam has on its radar, according to brand.

The evolution of pitching technology

One aspect of the game that's been greatly affected by technology is pitching. Brand says that pitching coach, Brent Strom, is better able to do his job nowadays that there's better quality video and monitoring technologies. Brand cited the transformations of former pitcher Charlie Morton and current pitcher Ryan Pressly. Both saw impressive transformations in their pitching ability thanks to Strom and his technology.

"Brent has the ability to take technology and blend it with the craft," Brand says.

The players as industrial machines

One way the franchise thinks about its players is as machines — in the least objectifying way, surely. But Brand compares baseball players to major, expensive oil and gas machines, and in heavy industry, it's very common for a company to drop $30 million or more on a machine. Of course the company would schedule preventative maintenance and service appointments to protect their investments.

"We've got players now who are high performance machines," Brand says, citing players like Justin Verlander. "We want to make sure we have the best technology and the best care around them."

From doctors and nutritionists to the latest and greatest technologies, implementing the best practices is a good way to protect your assets.

Wearables and sleep technology

Another trend within sports is tracking sleep using technology. Wearable devices to track sleep and health are widely used, says Brand, but the Astros weren't comfortable with the constant monitoring.

"They feel like it's an invasion of privacy," Brand says. They feel like the data would be used against them when it came time to negotiate their contracts.

But prioritizing sleep is crucial in a sport where players travel across the country playing 162 games a season. Brand says investing in the players' sleep equipment is something they make sure to do.

Esports

Brand says, somewhat controversial, that esports is pretty low on the franchise's priority list, and there's one reason for that: Money.

"A lot of these sports teams aren't profitable right now," Brand says, noting that he knows that will probably change over the years.

While the teams themselves might not be making money, the number of users of video games makes for a different avenue to revenue.

"The platforms are what we see as profitable," Brand says, explaining how he's seen brands like Nike advertise in gaming apps.

"There's definitely a pathway to profitability, but esports means different things to different people," he says.

Sports marketing and betting

Looking toward the future, Brand says he sees movement coming in marketing and betting within sports.

With mobile devices in the hands of most sports event goers, brands have access to authentic, engaging content.

"Everyone with a phone is a producer of content, and a lot of brands want that content," he says.

Sports betting technologies have seen profitable success in other United States markets that allow it.

"Betting is the next biggest thing in sports," Brand says. "All the major leagues are saddled up with big money there. In Texas, it's illegal still, but it's coming."

Capital Factory will have a branded area in The Cannon when it opens its new facility. Courtesy of The Cannon

A major Texas innovation player with roots in Austin has now staffed its recently announced Houston outpost in partnership with The Cannon Houston. Capital Factory hired two Houstonians to help provide resources for its growing Houston-based portfolio companies.

Kendrick Alridge has been hired as mentor coordinator, and Brittany Barreto, who founded Pheramor and WeHaveChemistry, has been named the venture associate. Aldridge will focus on growing and cultivating relationships with Houston mentors, and Barreto is dedicated to reaching out to Houston startups to gauge their potential for Capital Factory participation.

Hiring these Houstonians and having these new boots on the ground is a key factor for Capital Factory as it grows its Houston presence, says Gordon Daugherty, president at Capital Factory.

"It's important for us to think Texas, but act local," Daugherty says. "What that means is we can't just assume that the way we do things and the things that made us successful in Austin will directly translate to Houston. Houston is a different market. That's one of the things we learned from Dallas."

Acting locally entails listening and learning to what the community wants and engaging with local organizations to contribute value to the market.

"We don't know how or in which ways, but we know Houston will be different from Dallas and Austin," Daugherty says. "In this way, we are advantaged by our two employees being from the Houston area. They're our eyes and ears, for one, but they are also the voice of Houston to us along with other ecosystem players."

While local resources and personnel are both new for Capital Factory, the organization already has over 20 portfolio companies that are based in the Houston area. Now, these companies will have new resources close to home and can also act as Capital Factory representatives in the community, Daugherty says.

One of the biggest benefits Capital Factory is bringing into town is investment opportunities. Daugherty says that he predicts that Capital Factory, which tends to invest many small-sum deals, will quickly become the most active early stage investor in Houston. The organization has already made a few investments in Houston companies — and this isn't even counting the dollars invested by the investment partners.

"Our mission, as it pertains to Houston, is to help the best Houston startups get funded. We will tap into our network of investors across the state and country to try to find the best matches."

If Houston can take any indication from Capital Factory's Dallas location, which opened earlier this year, Capital Factory will be making a big impact on Houston startups.

"In 2018, 25 percent of the startups we onboarded into the accelerator were from outside of Austin," Daugherty tells InnovationMap. "The first half of this year, a third or more have come from Dallas alone. And I expect the same from Houston. Next year, easily more than half of our new accelerator companies will be outside of Austin."

Capital Factory will have branded space in The Cannon when it opens its new facility later this month.