Science & Technology That Revolutionized Sports

Like any human endeavor, sports evolve over time. Science and technology fuel these changes, improving athletic equipment design, training, and the value of information gleaned from player statistics. From everyday recreational activities to the highest levels of competitive play, these innovations were real game-changers for sports. These breakthroughs, in my eyes, have had the biggest impact.

Baseball –  Tommy John Surgery (1974)


Dr. Frank Jobe and Tommy John in trainer’s room at Dodger Stadium. [Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Dodgers]

Thousands of pitchers who play Major League Baseball have undergone the same elbow reconstruction surgery. First performed in 1974 by the orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe, the surgery was only an experiment when Dr. Jobe first tried it on Dodgers pitcher Tommy John. Today, the surgery is routine. Although arthroscopy has revolutionized the way surgeons approach orthopedics, Tommy John surgery hasn’t changed much (probably because Jobe designed the operation to be minimally invasive). Who knows? Pitchers such as Mariano Rivera, John Smoltz, and many others might have faded into oblivion, were it not for Dr. Jobe.

Football – Helmet Audio (1994)

Patent drawing for football helmet radio


Though the Cleveland Browns experimented with the idea of placing homemade radio receivers inside the helmet of quarterback George Ratterman in 1956, it wasn’t until 1994 that the NFL first allowed quarterbacks to use built-in radios inside their helmets to communicate with football coaches on the sidelines.

Tennis – Composite Tennis Rackets (1968)

1970s ad for Wilson's T2000 tennis racket

1970s ad for Wilson’s T2000 tennis racket

Until the 1970s, tennis rackets were only fashioned out of wood. Although the functionality of wooden rackets improved with advancements in laminating technology (using thin layers of wood glued together) and in stringing methods, the rackets were still relatively heavy and the surface area of racket heads remained small. Compared to modern rackets used today, even the best-made wood rackets were unwieldy and lacking in power. Then, in 1968, Wilson introduced its T2000, the first steel racket on the market. The popularity of the T2000 racket skyrocketed after Jimmy Connors adopted it as his own.

Basketball – Breakaway Rims (1976)

That the NBA needed a new kind of basketball hoop became more and more obvious as slam-dunking became increasingly popular during the 1970s. If dunks didn’t damage the hoop completely, they shattered the backboard, putting the safety of players and spectators at risk. Not to mention that NBA games were often delayed for hours while the equipment was replaced. With a hunch that technology to build a better hoop must exist, Randy Albrecht, an assistant college basketball coach, approached his uncle Arthur Ehrat, a grain elevator worker, to explore the idea. Ehrat added a hinge and a spring from a John Deere cultivator to a basketball hoop rim. With the new setup, the iron basketball rim could bend–and immediately snap back into place–under pressure.

Financially Speaking, March Madness Can’t Top the World Cup


March Madness begins on March 15th. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for this year’s tournament to kick off. Ever since Duke topped Wisconsin to close out last year’s championship, I and many of you, have clamored for it to start all over again.

Not many other sporting events match up to March Madness. In fact, only a few global events come to mind. When it comes to American viewership, March Madness is joined by the only the Super Bowl, Olympics and World Cup as sizable events that consume viewers in many ways. This got me wondering which event reigned supreme financially.

Thanks to Analee Kasudia and Fortune, I found a helpful infographic (below) that broke down all the 2014 events, except for the Olympics (for some financial figures from the Sochi games, click here).

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the biggest global event, the World Cup, generated the highest numbers from viewership (1 billion) to ticket prices for the final match ($7,066). Even when it came to a loss in employee productivity, the sport of the people’s ultimate event trumped all with $1.7 billion lost over the 2014 installment.

What might surprise you is March Madness’ financial gains as well. Over the 12 days of games (compared to the World Cup’s 32), March Madness raked in $9 billion in betting totals, $1.13 billion in ad revenue and boasted an average ticket price of $1,800 for the final game. Similar to the World Cup, March Madness cost companies $1.2 billion in lost worker productivity over its time.

In just one night, the Super Bowl held its own with $360 million in ad revenue, 114.4 million viewers (on 20 million for March Madness) and $3.9 billion in betting totals. Seeing as how many Americans pine for the day after the Super Bowl to be a national holiday, it should come as no surprise that the event costs companies $8.4 million in lost productivity the next day.

These figures didn’t present too many surprises, but it’s interesting to see where things shaped up during the last round of these events. How will they fare in 2018? Most likely, the positions will remain the same while the figures continue to trend upward as the world takes notice.

March Madness  the Super Bowl  World Cup  Which makes most money    Fortune