UFC gets aggressive with technology to enhance its fights

By DAN GELSTON Markets Associated Press

The UFC is turning to a high-tech platform that could enhance the way fans watch fights.

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The world's leading mixed martial arts promotion has reached a partnership with Heed. The joint venture between WME-IMG and AGT International wants to change the way fans connect with sports at home or at a live event through sensor-measured data.

WME-IMG bought the UFC last year for more than $4 billion.

"Our goal is to revolutionize our sport, our events and ultimately enhance the fan experience," UFC CFO Andrew Schleimer said.

Heed also has struck deals with Professional Bull Riders and Euroleague basketball.

The new format uses sensors that collect data on everything from fan and competitor emotion to real-time event tracking that could change how fights, bull rides or other events are scored.

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"This gives us a solution that is better than the human alternative to judging the difficulty of a bull ride," PBR CEO Sean Gleason said.

Gleason said PBR would roll out a side-by-side system in January and use the Heed technology as a full replacement to human judging in 2019.

"We'll have bull meters or information on G-forces that were applied that are available in television, digital products and social apps," he said. "It helps new fans understand the difficulty and nuances of bull riding."

No bull, PBR believed science can almost reinvent the sport.

Heed will outfit both bull and rider with technology that measures spin, direction changes, kicks and rider control.

"It's not only an informational and educational tool for fans but will help new fans understand the difficulties and nuances of bull rides," Gleason said. "None of us have been on a bull, so it's hard to have a frame of reference to how difficult bull riding is and how athletic it is. This tool will help explain that in scientific data. That will be great for the sport. This is revolutionary, not evolutionary for our sport. We are incorporating technology into the core of our scoring and the competitive results."

At the premier European basketball competition, the EuroLeague, sensors will be deployed in all 16 arenas. They will collect data from fans, players and coaches. Heed will transform this information into video content and performance reports for fans on site and at home through TV broadcasting, social media and other digital distribution channels.

Heed sampled its technology on an old UFC fight that kept a running tally of blocks, jabs, hooks, overhands and uppercuts on the side and bottom of the screen.

"Fight Pass could be a very unique place to have some of these specific content and stories that we're creating with Heed," Schleimer said.

Heed says its technology can track fan or fighter emotions ranging from sadness and surprise to disgust and fear. The UFC said those tools, along with the fight tracking, could help the company stay more informed on a fighter's health.

"We believe there's a tremendous opportunity for us as UFC and for the fighters to benefit from a health and safety perspective," Schleimer said. "Just by virtue of the types of things that we're capturing, we're going to be very much focused on how we can leverage that to enhance our brand, our promotion and our athletes, which we're always looking to do, anything related to health and safety."