How WNBPA, BreakAway Could Support Commercialization of Athlete Data

A growing number of WNBA players have started tracking their workouts and recovery through wearables such as the Apple Watch, Oura and Whoop. But making sense of how that data impacts their on-court play isn’t straightforward without a place to collect and collate all that information — biometrics, game stats, travel schedule — to glean insights and identify trends about their performance.

A new partnership between the Women’s National Basketball Players Association and BreakAway Data will help fill that void, ingesting not only wellness wearables but also GPS or LPS trackers, biomechanics analysis and other fitness assessment tools into one athlete-centric mobile app.

“What I’m most excited about is that it puts the players in control of their data,” WNBPA executive director Terri Jackson says. “I just fundamentally believe that, if it’s in the players’ hands, it’s in the best hands because they know what to do with it.”

The partnership will create one athlete-centric mobile app for WNBA players to access their data.

BreakAway Data was started by the founders of the Gains Group, a sports tech consultancy led by former NFL receiver David Anderson and Steve Gera, a Marine turned NFL position coach and innovation leader with the Chargers and Browns. Their latest venture, BreakAway, has previously struck enterprise deals with Athletes Unlimited and the XFL and is in use by a number of individual pro and college athletes. The WNBPA is its highest-profile deal to date.

“As a startup, you always want to pair yourself up with someone that’s growing because ambition is contagious,” Anderson says. “That’s the first and foremost: it’s a league that wants to grow, that wants to give its players more attention and wants to tell more stories.”

Another former NFL receiver, TJ Graham, is BreakAway’s head of innovation who concisely summarized its founding thesis as the need to “own your data.” So many athletes are tracked endlessly, but the information is retained in disparate silos, often out of their possession. Prior to the WNBPA deal, BreakAway collaborated with Los Angeles Sparks guard Lexie Brown as she trained with a couple of talented high school players.

“It’s always about aggregating useful information, collecting useful information, that the athletes asked for or stuff that they don’t even know exists out there,” Anderson says. “Lexie was just excited that she had her game stats — something as simple as that, attached to sleep and attached to recovery — and she can do wonders with that herself.”

While its primary use case is as an athlete data passport, BreakAway also uses Theia3D, a markerless motion capture system to provide players with “useful, position-specific biomechanics.” That’s a particularly nascent area of ​​study in basketball, and BreakAway is working on making the technology as accessible to the WNBPA constituency as possible.

What I’m most excited about is that it puts the players in control of their data. I just fundamentally believe that, if it’s in the players’ hands, it’s in the best hands because they know what to do with it.

Part of BreakAway’s sales pitch is that its platform will help support the commercialization of athlete data. In a conversation with SportTechie about data commercialization this summer, Gera outlined one example of how training data could be licensed to help younger athletes.

When he was a coach with the Chargers, Gera asked star running back LaDainian Tomlinson about his path to the NFL. Tomlinson explained that Cowboys Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith was his north star, and he tried to emulate everything he could find about his preparation, training and game statistics. Gera suggests that building these objective, athlete-designed programs could become a social fitness app like a Strava to help guide aspiring athletes.

“One thing that’s really hard for athletes to grasp and understand is what, what did those who have gone before me? What did they do to get to the place that they’re at?” Gera said in August. “We’re going to be able to give a roadmap for all these athletes who don’t have all that information at their fingertips. That’s the thing I get really excited about is the ability to actually leave that legacy for athletes and allow them to give them the best shot that they possibly can to go be their heroes.”

Jackson says she’s hopeful of realizing revenue-generating opportunities and also points to how it can improve the storytelling around the sport. She says the players’ interest and conversations about that predate her six-year tenure at the union.

“The other thing our players have talked about is the possibilities of what this data can do to the overall broadcast and in raising the profile of women’s basketball by really bringing people into the fold,” Jackson says.

Anderson has seen an early appetite from the W players “for more than just the common use cases that we’ve seen, and that’s because they are in that growth phase, and they are willing and able to push the limits of what’s out there. ” Jackson adds that having more knowledgeable athletes is good for the entire players association.

“An informed player is a great member in our union,” Jackson says. “She lets us know what her needs are. When it comes to the union, we are responsible for monitoring their working conditions and ensuring that they’re healthy and safe. Particularly with a membership that is as savvy as ours, they’ll just let us know what their needs are. Hopefully, when it comes time for us to review the season schedule, when it comes time for us to look across the teams and the kind of practice facilities game, facilities that they have, we can start to have that kind of second layer conversation about the necessary supports for professional women athletes.”