RANKING THE EXPERIENCES

When it comes to playoff atmosphere, one Houston team stands out

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Over the past couple of years I have been lucky enough to attend multiple playoff games for all 3 of Houston's major sports teams. My attendance at the Texans playoff game this past Saturday completed that big 3 circuit and inspired me to write this little piece ranking the playoff atmospheres for all 3 teams.

Third Place – Texans

Given the supposed reign as sports kings of this town I was struck by the lack of intensity at NRG on Saturday. I am not talking about the players, though their lackluster performance certainly contributed to the feeling in the stadium later in the game. Overall the stadium just lacked the buzz I have felt at Astros and Rockets playoff games. Maybe it is because the Texans weren't largely perceived as championship contenders unlike the other two teams. However, I would think the seemingly rabid appetite for football in Houston would have countered that. Quite honestly this playoff game felt no different than the regular season game against the Dolphins I attended this year. The loudest I heard the stadium is when they played "I've got friends in low places" over the PA when the Texans were down 21-0. I'm definitely not one of those "you aren't fan enough" kind of guys but it was surprising to feel the level of disinterest in the stadium from kick-off on Saturday.

2nd Place – Rockets

The Rocket have always struggled getting people in their seats for tip-off, or for most of the first quarter for that matter. This was no different in the playoffs. The big screen operator had to put those not wearing their free t-shirt on camera to publicly shame them to join the crowd of red (or whatever color the shirt was that night). However despite the struggle to get fans to arrive on time and wear the desired color, once butts were in the seats Toyota Center got loud. The intensity on the court, especially when 3 pointers were falling, translated seamlessly to the crowd. Despite the (stupidly) long duration of the NBA playoffs the zeal of the fans never seemed to wane. Even at second round games against Utah last season fans were engaged and making themselves heard. Overall Toyota Center has an underrated playoff atmosphere.

1st Place – Astros

Minute Maid in the playoffs is still the loudest stadium I have ever been in, including college and professional football games. People generally show up on time and the tension before the first pitch is palpable. Every hit or strikeout elicits explosive fan reactions. Additionally, I found the crowd on their feet far more than I ever have at football games. Baseball gets the rap of taking too long and being boring, but playoff baseball is an entirely different animal. I can confidently say the loudest sound I have ever heard in my life is when Alex Bregman hit the game winning double in Game 5 of the World Series (this includes the crack of thunder that blasted me from a lightning strike about 100 feet away). I thought my eardrums had burst. A playoff game at Minute Maid makes the playoff games I have experienced at NRG seem like they were rec-league competitions.

ROOT FOR THE HOME TECH

Astros executive addresses innovations in sports

Courtesy photo

This article originally appeared on InnovationMap and was written by Natalie Harms.

Over the past decade or so, sports franchises have seen a boom in technology integration. The fact of the matter is that both the teams and the players need to tap into tech to have a competitive advantage on the field — and especially when it comes to the business side of things.

"Technologically advanced companies want to do business with technologically advanced companies," says Matt Brand, senior vice president of corporate partnerships and special events at the Houston Astros. "Old cats like me need to realize you have to stay current or else you're just going to get passed up."

Brand was the subject of a live recording of HXTV — the video arm of Houston Exponential — at The Cannon. He addressed several trends in sports technology, and shared how the Astros are approaching each new hot technology.

The Astros are pretty ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, Brand says, and the trick is keeping a pulse on potential game-changing technology far in advance of implementation.

"The things that we're developing now in 2019 and 2020 are the thing that are going to help us in 2024 and 2025," Brand says.

The approach to technology in sports is changing as younger players enter the scene.

"This generation of players want all the technology they can get," Brand says. "They want what's going on up to the day."

From esports to sports betting sites, here's what the hometeam has on its radar, according to brand.

The evolution of pitching technology

One aspect of the game that's been greatly affected by technology is pitching. Brand says that pitching coach, Brent Strom, is better able to do his job nowadays that there's better quality video and monitoring technologies. Brand cited the transformations of former pitcher Charlie Morton and current pitcher Ryan Pressly. Both saw impressive transformations in their pitching ability thanks to Strom and his technology.

"Brent has the ability to take technology and blend it with the craft," Brand says.

The players as industrial machines

One way the franchise thinks about its players is as machines — in the least objectifying way, surely. But Brand compares baseball players to major, expensive oil and gas machines, and in heavy industry, it's very common for a company to drop $30 million or more on a machine. Of course the company would schedule preventative maintenance and service appointments to protect their investments.

"We've got players now who are high performance machines," Brand says, citing players like Justin Verlander. "We want to make sure we have the best technology and the best care around them."

From doctors and nutritionists to the latest and greatest technologies, implementing the best practices is a good way to protect your assets.

Wearables and sleep technology

Another trend within sports is tracking sleep using technology. Wearable devices to track sleep and health are widely used, says Brand, but the Astros weren't comfortable with the constant monitoring.

"They feel like it's an invasion of privacy," Brand says. They feel like the data would be used against them when it came time to negotiate their contracts.

But prioritizing sleep is crucial in a sport where players travel across the country playing 162 games a season. Brand says investing in the players' sleep equipment is something they make sure to do.

Esports

Brand says, somewhat controversial, that esports is pretty low on the franchise's priority list, and there's one reason for that: Money.

Continue reading on InnovationMap to learn about a movement coming in marketing and betting within sports.

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