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How SafeZone Can Help Sports in North America Adapt to the ‘New Normal’

As leagues in North America begin to formalize and execute return-to-play procedures, the health & safety of players and team personnel remains top priority. One way leagues and teams in Europe are staying protected is through the adoption of innovative digital technology.

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ChicagoJun 12, 2020

The unprecedented interruption to sports across the world has led to extraordinary challenges for players, coaches, staff and league officials. Similarly to other industries, sports has taken an unavoidable back seat to public health. In Europe, leagues such as Italy’s Serie A tried the spectator-less approach before ultimately suspending its season. In the United States, the NCAA outright cancelled March Madness, which generates more than $800 million each year.

The goal of flattening the curve has been met by most countries, which has allowed for a phased reopening of the economy. However, with no vaccine available, COVID-19 still remains a concern. Thankfully, through combined efforts and initiatives, innovators around the world have introduced ways to help slow the spread, as the general public attempts to acclimate to the new normal.’

How sports is adapting

It’s easy to implement physical distancing guidelines when standing in line for a cup of coffee, but how might it be possible to keep essential personnel safe as they prep arenas and training facilities? How do players remain safe while in a hotel? Masks have proven somewhat effective, but alone, cannot assure the safety of a sports team, let alone an entire league.

Leagues in Europe have begun working with local health departments to identify comprehensive safety protocols to either wrap-up seasons in progress or prepare for new seasons. Fortunately, these plans revolve around utilizing technology vs. relying on antiquated methods of protection.

Pivoting from athlete monitoring to health & safety

Enter KINEXON SafeZone, the most efficient digital solution to combat the spread of COVID-19. In just a few weeks, the same sensor technology that is used by 23 NBA teams to track performance, was repurposed to create the most accurate physical distancing and contact tracing solution on the market.

What was thought of as a solution that would be geared toward large-scale manufacturing facilities, quickly garnered interest from almost every conceivable type of business — from food & beverage to sports.

Teams and leagues are facing challenges that are not only new, but need to be solved rather quickly in order to keep players and staff safe, as well as salvage seasons, revenue and interest. It’s up to us as pioneers in this space to provide technology that can resolve these problems and ultimately help sports entities transition and adapt to the new normal.”

Mehdi Bentanfous, CEO KINEXON North America

The core element is a lightweight wearable sensor, the KINEXON SafeTag, which uses highly-accurate ultra-wideband (UWB) technology. The SafeTag, which can be worn as a wristband, clipped onto clothing, or displayed in a badge holder, emits a visual warning (red light) when there is a contact made (less than 6 feet of separation). If the contact happens for longer than 5 seconds (standard time, but can be configurable for a different duration), the contact becomes​“critical” and an audible warning (alarm-like sound) is emitted.

No infrastructure is needed, making it a scalable plug-and-play solution.

With optional software, SafeZone is also able to trace chains of infection. Due to the precision of the sensors, only realistic cases of infection are recorded and the number of people that need to be quarantined is reduced to a minimum. This is particularly important for leagues who are looking to maintain operations, even if a positive infection occurs.

Safe Tag

A solution that helped sports restart

On May 16th, the Bundesliga became the first major professional sports league in Europe to resume its season. Widely regarded as a trailblazer in sports innovation, Eintracht Frankfurt successfully adopted KINEXON SafeZone to keep all gameday personnel safe inside Commerzbank-Arena. The implementation of the smart wearables served as an important part of Eintracht Frankfurt’s gameday safety protocol and was supplemented by additional safety and hygiene measures.

We wanted to create trust for all parties involved by fulfilling the necessary distance requirements and document the implementation and compliance. Ideally, these technological solutions serve as a confidence-building impulse for sports, industry or event organizers even beyond football.”

Sebastian Zelichowski, Eintracht Frankfurt Executive Officer

As a further protective measure, Eintracht Frankfurt introduced a zoning concept. SafeZone enabled the team to check zone accesses, which are crucial for the safe conduct of game operations. The wearable sensors interacted with reference points that are representative of the respective zones, thus ensuring the zone capacity remained at a safe level.

German Basketball Bundesliga

On June 6th, the German Basketball Bundesliga resumed play with a 10-team, 36-game tournament that spans across three weeks. One of the precautions the league is using to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is SafeZone contact tracing.

The robust contact tracing program implemented was established to prove which individuals come in contact with a positive player. This will allow the tournament to continue while impacted individuals are quarantined.

When entering the quarantined hotel, all players were asked to wear a KINEXON sensor. Player participation was completely optional, however, organizers explained to anyone choosing not to wear the sensor that if any positive test occurred within the hotel they would have to be quarantined, as it could not be proven they were not at-risk. With this information, the players quickly recognized the value in a solution that could keep them on the court if another participant tested positive.

In the event of a positive infection, you can effectively narrow down the group of people who might have been infected. You don’t have to send everyone home.”

Maximilian Schmidt, Co-Founder & Managing Director KINEXON
Charging Tray

Protection of personal privacy

SafeZone has been deliberately designed to collect the minimum amount of data in order to respect the privacy of its users, while at the same time providing a valuable service. 

The KINEXON SafeTag logs the following data during a contact event:

  • Its own SafeTag manufacturer ID
  • The SafeTag ID of the other SafeTag that it comes into contact with
  • The distance between the two SafeTags
  • The timestamp of the event.

The SafeTags do not collect absolute location data. Only the relative distances between two tags is stored. In other words, it does not track user movement. It tracks contacts.

When the SafeTags are returned to the charging tray, all information is transferred to a database controlled by the organization. An assigned member of the organization, such as a doctor, can access the information if an infection occurs. In the case of the German Basketball Bundesliga, only two medical professionals assigned by the BBL have access to identity data, and even those individuals can only view limited data if a positive test occurs. 

Upon a positive test, the designated doctors are authorized to request all critical contacts for the positive player within a recent period. The software supplies them with all such contacts, tallied cumulatively in terms of time spent in contact with the positive individual. From there, they can consult with the local health department regarding which players need to be isolated. 

What teams and leagues in North America can learn

The idea of bubble tournaments’ is not unique to the BBL or leagues in Europe. Leagues such as the NBA, NHL, MLS, WNBA and others have all established plans to execute some kind of isolated season restart or playoff tournament. With the experience of rolling out SafeZone for an entire league, KINEXON is ready to take what its learned in Europe and apply it to sports in North America. 

  1. Physical distancing cannot be estimated, it needs to be done digitally in order to be effective. Estimating physical distance to another person is just not accurate enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Asking players and team personnel to adhere to the CDC guidelines without providing them with the proper tools is not only unreasonable, it’s unsafe. A commitment to sustainable digital technology such as KINEXON SafeZone assures that your organization is at the forefront of modern health & safety methods that will become standard in sports’​‘new normal.’
  2. Communication is key. Without the proper introduction to physical distancing or contact tracing technology, athletes and team personnel may immediately dismiss the idea. Often times it is difficult to see the bigger picture of a public health crisis when you are not personally impacted. In order to overcome this hurdle, be transparent with the benefits of opting-in and the consequences of opting-out. Allow your players and team personnel to come to the decision on their own. In the case of the German Basketball Bundesliga, players were not informed ahead of time about SafeZone. This caused an understandable temporary panic. However, once the organizers had an opportunity to explain the functionality of the wearable, it became an easy decision to use it.
  3. The choice not to invest in a reliable solution could be devastating. Opting out of using a digital contact tracing system could be a literal game-changer. If for example, the star player on a BBL team decides not to wear the SafeTag the night before a knockout game and another athlete in the tournament tests positive for COVID-19, he would be forced to quarantine for 14 days because he would have no way of proving he hadn’t come in contact with the infected athlete. That is why having technology that can properly digitally document contacts could be the most important safeguard a team could invest in. The reality of the new normal’ is that proper nutrition, preparation and game-planning could all be for nothing if your players aren’t able to participate.

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