A discreet glass door of the Palacio de los Deportes, in the middle of Calle de Goya, in Madrid, is the gateway to the future. A universe of inventions to revolutionize the sports industry is hidden behind it. It is the headquarters of the GSIC, an acronym for Global Sports Innovation Center, a global innovation center for sports promoted by Microsoft, which has analyzed, since its creation in 2015, more than 1,500 startups from around the world. The objective: to increase the capacities of the sector with technological solutions for sports institutions. Its general director, the Argentine Iris Córdoba, a lawyer specializing in public policies and digital economy already considered one of the 100 most influential women leaders in Spain, according to the ranking what the magazine does Mujeres y Cía. “We want to reduce the gap between large and small companies startups so that the latter have a real opportunity to offer their products ”, he specifies.
In 2015, when the GSIC was inaugurated, Córdoba realized that the project could go well when in a meeting in which it was looking for its first partners, Nieves Segovia, president of the SEK Educational Institution to which the Camilo José Cela University belongs , said: “Innovation, technology, education and Microsoft. Where do I sign?”. Since then, large organizations such as LaLiga or Real Madrid have served as a tractor. Almost the entire sports industry has passed through their offices. Since its creation, the GSIC has had more than 350 members, including large companies and small businesses, from 40 countries and is about to open a new headquarters in Singapore to extend its influence in Asia.
For small entrepreneurs, the GSIC offers a real meeting space. To its largest partners, such as LaLiga, the possibility of having innovative solutions to improve the competition and their clubs. It is a guarantee to always be up-to-date when it comes to technology in sport. Minerva Santana, Director of Innovation, Strategy and Technological Transformation at LaLiga for four years, points out: “Since 2016 we have a global agreement with Microsoft to support our digital transformation and become an organization that bases decision-making on data analysis ”.
From this collaboration was born, for example, an initiative to detect the best technological developments in the sports industry, The Original Inspiration Center, by LaLiga supported by GSIC and the “Startup Competition 2019″, which was organized last year to identify the latest innovations before anyone else. “We arrived much faster at the novelty”, reflects Córdoba. 279 projects were presented, including that of Olocip, the company owned by footballer Esteban Granero, which solves management problems of all kinds with artificial intelligence.
“It all started with a former analyst that I had when I was at Real Sociedad,” recalls Granero, who at 33 now plays for Marbella FC after also working for Getafe CF, Real Madrid and RCD Espanyol de Barcelona. “The coaching staff wanted to know what we could do with all the game data collected by the systems we used then,” he says. “I told them to give me the data and let me think. And I thought about it too much, ”says Granero. He realized that they had a very good data capture, sometimes even excessive, but that the treatment was very basic, very descriptive and he wanted to seek conclusions. He went to the Polytechnic University of Madrid because he considered that there were the best research groups in Artificial Intelligence and he met those who would later become his partners. Soon after they created Olocip. It was 2015. The company now has 25 employees.
“One of the first things we offered, always with the intention of creating concrete knowledge from data analysis, was to set up a model that understood what was happening in a match and that could make a projection of what could happen”, explains Barn. “So we could identify what we could do: change a player or modify the strategy, for example.” They can now also predict which transfers would best suit a team for each position. Granero and his team later realized that the model was applicable to all levels of an organization beyond a playing field. Olocip was one of the finalists in the competition organized by the GSIC and LaLiga.
More than 1,500 projects have passed through the GSIC that included proposals on sponsorship, eSports, business strategy, fan loyalty, improvements in sports performance, virtual reality … “The only thing we ask to be part of our center is that companies count with a product, which are constituted, with some clients and a minimum turnover, to generate a sales space. We are not an incubator ”, clarifies Córdoba. They also ask the startups that its solutions are aligned with Microsoft technology to be able to work with any client worldwide.
To Orwell, a startup virtual reality that is also part of the GSIC ecosystem, recruited her at an international meeting of the sports industry. This is another of the fundamental showcases to enter the circuit. Andrea Antonelli, the Italian architect who founded the company in 2014 with the purpose of offering immersive experiences in different events, had come into contact with LaLiga in 2018 at the Soccerex in Miami, one of the most important business events in the football industry . “Soon they came to Italy to find me so that we could make a version of a football game that we had, but customized for LaLiga,” he recalls. They installed the game so that fans could enjoy it in some El Corte Inglés centers in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and Valencia.
A few months later, this time through the GSIC, María José Silva, head of LaLiga Experience, an initiative to show international subscribers of television operators how to experience a LaLiga Santander match, contacted them to put together a new format and include it in the experience of journalists and influencers of the channels people who came to visit Spain. “They created a game that fit our storytelling. We wanted the experience of a LaLiga Santander player to be lived and Orwell developed a soccer test with virtual reality so that they could measure their skills, ”says Silva.
The paths to enter the radar of the large sports institutions are varied. From the GSIC promoted by Microsoft they work to facilitate this route, but they are also in charge of training all the players in the industry. Since the pandemic began, they have sent content to LaLiga clubs, for example, to improve their digital transformation practices and have produced a report highlighting the most relevant initiatives of sports organizations to deal with the crisis, such as the virtual stands of television broadcasts of Spanish football matches.