Sports+Technology Convergence '06: Coming together of sports, technology emphasized at debut SGMA event

Sports and technology sat at the same table and broke bread instead of glaring at each other across the room at the first SGMA Sports+Technology Convergence Oct. 24-26, in La Jolla, Calif.

Sports and technology sat at the same table and broke bread instead of glaring at each other across the room at the first SGMA Sports+Technology Convergence Oct. 24-26, in La Jolla, Calif.

"What's the reason most people give for inactivity?" asked SGMA executive director Tom Cove at the opening session. "Technology, screen time, computers, Internet, video games… 'Technology is killing our industry.'

"Technology is not the enemy," he continued. "It's the catalyst for the industry to move forward. If we don't embrace technology, we will become a commodity…. Is it a threat? No. It's the future of our whole industry."

With the theme for two days of lectures, keynotes and interactive displays set, just over 100 attendees joined about 40 presenters and speakers to discuss the two industries, show their wares and projects, and fuel ideas about how technology can become a better ally in the future.

"This conference has been extremely valuable to us and has confirmed our thinking in the movement toward and integration of technologies in our products," said Winston Shih, advanced products manager for The North Face.

"You see representatives from Brooks and Burton here, as you would expect," Shih said, "but also Motorola and Windows and Verizon -- who would have ever thought you could have a conference that successfully melds the two seemingly disparate industries into a meeting of common ground for future growth?”

The conference was the first of its kind and a first for SGMA, with a second-annual already being planned for fall 2007, again in California, said SGMA's director of marketing Kalinda Mathis. Also in 2007 will be the association's new Spring Market June 11-13 in Las Vegas, while a Fall Market originally announced for a fall 2007 debut has been put on hold.

"This has definitely been worth it," said Bill Sotis, vice president of product and marketing at Horizon Fitness. "It's been really positive, with provocative topics. It just makes your mind race (about things you can do).

"There are some real practical applications and strategic directions we'll take out of this," he added.

Fittingly, there were no stacks of paper handed to attendees with schedules, lists of attendees, surveys and reminders. Instead, each was handed a PDA to refer to for conference items and was reminded to make sure management had their cell phone number to be able to receive text messages with updates. Unfortunately (especially since this conference focused so much on technology), the PDAs and the software didn't work so well, with reception dropping off just outside the door and in many rooms, frustrating many attendees, who didn't pick them up the second day. SNEWS® as a matter of fact managed to pick up a broadcast from who-knows-where with a questionnaire about managing lumbar spondylosis.

In addition, each attendee received technology in a goodie bag, including the XAVIX interactive video game and port to learn either bowling, tennis or baseball, and a Microsoft Xbox basketball game, as well as other promotional items, including an Accusplit pedometer.

Speakers and keynote talks, which SNEWS® will address in another story next week, included futurist Jim Carroll, inventor Ray Kurzweil, and retail analyst Jim Crawford.

Microsoft's Peter Moore, vice president of interactive business, wowed attendees with a keynote on Oct. 26 that showed flashy and realistic video clips of games. He also said that the company's studies show that male Xbox players, 18-34, are more likely to participate in sports and read sports magazines than those who do not use the Xbox.

"We aren't," he said, "the anti-Christ."

SNEWS® View: We must say that this rather intimate meeting was a fascinating break from hearing about sports, fitness and outdoor gear over and over again -- this DC motor, that midsole compound, the components of a watch, a new stove burner or the new pattern of an elliptical. Rather, we heard about how technology is -- or could -- interact with sports gear, manufacturers' websites and product development. We too left feeling rather energized about the possibilities and saw many tête-à-tête meetings held in one corner of a room or courtyard, most likely talking about some development or possible partnership. Its small nature was very nice, allowing about 100 attendees to divide comfortably into three break-outs each time slot and to fill a small banquet room or theater for meals and keynotes. But we'll bet that won't remain the pattern, since we know the word will get out about the benefits of this meeting; 2007 will likely be twice this size.

Of course, one negative was the cost. Held at the Estancia Resort & Spa north of San Diego in the exclusive oceanfront town of La Jolla, the location was super in its facilities -- fully wired for the technological aspect, with a theater that nicely accommodated multimedia all-conference presentations, well-groomed grounds and elegant full-course meals. But the early reg fee for members of $2,000 (meals, room and conference) and the fee after Aug. 25 of $2,500 could have made some cringe. (Non-SGMA members cost about $500 more.) Not staying at the resort only saved about $500 on three nights. A thousand bucks a day (not including airfare) could be seen as a bit over-budget for some small companies and particularly for retailers, who would have gained a load of information from the conference's talks and displays.

What was fascinating to us was the constant chirp, beep and bong of cell phones, pagers, PDAs and computers in the background of many talks and lectures. Although you'd think the crowd attending would be technologically savvy enough to turn devices to silent or vibrate and polite enough to not take calls or surf emails, it almost seemed that many felt it was simply OK to ignore that etiquette since this was, well, a technology conference. We, however, found the rings, dings and hushed back-of-room cell conversations rather annoying.

Although many attendees walked away brimming with ideas and energy, some who were already high-placed product developers told us they wished there had been some higher level discussions and roundtables for those already more immersed in the arena. We suggest perhaps labeling sessions for intended audience or setting up tracks to help guide attendees. In addition, the conference was geared toward concrete take-aways, and speakers had been apparently told to be sure to include information that someone could use the next day in the office. It's always satisfying -- and mandatory -- to walk away from a show or conference with bits that you can immediately act on, but some in attendance also expressed a desire for some far-flung discussions that could take attendees and their thoughts to places five or 10 years down the road.

Being only the first year, we want to come back to where we started: This was a superior meeting and concept that we are glad to hear will continue. Now, especially as it has the opportunity to grow, the SGMA has a chance to nurture it to the next level. SNEWS® will be there next year, and we hope you will be too.