Mon. Aug 8th, 2022

The sports world has generally embraced wearable technology with open arms, although it’s mostly for the athletes themselves. However, the English football club Manchester City also hopes to keep the biometric data of its fans. The club has partnered with Cisco to create a connected scarf embedded with a biosensor to “gain a better understanding of the emotion at the heart of the world’s beautiful game.”

The connected scarf has an EmotiBit sensor that basically sits on the neck of a fan. According to the Manchester City product site, it contains a PPG sensor, accelerometer, temperature sensor and an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor. These are all typical sensors you’d find in a fitness tracker, and the EDA sensor was one of the standout additions to the Fitbit Sense. It works by measuring tiny changes in your skin sweat to determine your stress levels, which in turn can help you monitor your emotional state. So Manchester City essentially hopes to collect quantified data about its fans’ movements, heart rate and emotional response to a match.

Render of the scarf and the included sensors
The EmotiBit sensor is meant to sit discreetly on the neck of a fan.
Screenshot: Cisco, Manchester City

Does a football club really need a wearable to tell how fans are feeling? You’d think it would be pretty clear just by looking at images of fans facepalming during a missed penalty or the emotional despair caused when Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola makes an unpopular substitution. (Or by reading the r/MCFC subreddit or reading replies on the official team Twitter.) That said, sports teams like quantifiable data. The scarf may be both hilarious and a little bit ridiculous, but given the recent trends in sports technology, it’s pretty common. The club’s official line says it aims to “shape more curated, tailored experiences in the future” and “serve as a study in shared passion.”

At this time, the scarf is part of a limited pilot program, where select fans have been chosen to wear the scarf. According to Reuters, the scarf will also be distributed to some fans of New York City FC, the club’s sister team. The club says it will be available to fans of Manchester City worldwide from next season.

Crazy as the idea may be, the introduction of this kind of portable fan merchandise also raises several questions. Do I have to pay? How much is it? (Probably, and probably more than sensible.) Can it survive the wash, or will you end up with an incredibly smelly scarf after a few games? But also, how will Manchester City protect user privacy, given that the scarves will collect biometric data? We probably won’t know those details until the scarf actually becomes available to the public – if it ever really does.

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