By Steve Kurtz
There’s been a push for sports organizations to find ways to prevent injury, especially in the NFL. The most direct reason for this is the obvious attempt to keep players as safe as possible, but as more and more teams experiment with injury prevention, it’s becoming clear that there’s a financial advantage as well.
Injuries are expensive. Last year alone, salaries for injured players and their replacements cost the MLB a whopping $665 million. The NBA spent nearly $358 million on injuries, with $44 million of that coming from the Los Angeles Lakers. And in the NFL, where the average salary is approximately $2 million, starters missed a record-breaking 1,600 games in 2013.
That’s a lot of dough. Teams are spending millions on reacting to injuries, so it’s a given that investing in prevention would result in massive savings.
A few teams have already started leading the charge, including the Philadelphia Eagles, the Green Bay Packers, and the Philadelphia 76ers. In the NFL and NHL, improving helmet technology to help reduce concussions is among the chief concerns. In 2014, the NFL announced the winners of its Head Health Challenge II, in which millions of dollars were distributed to research teams working on methods to prevent, measure, and detect brain injuries.
But this is just one piece of the injury prevention puzzle. By investing in comprehensive injury prevention, teams from all leagues have the opportunity to dramatically reduce the cost of salaries for injured players.
Most teams already use tried-and-true measures, including dynamic and static stretching, stabilization and strengthening exercises, taping, ice and heat therapy, and ultrasound. But the most effective injury prevention programs use a blend of traditional and innovative methods.
There are a number of new technologies that are catching hold throughout the industry. Many of these new tools involve measuring performance and physical data, then using the gathered information to identify player exhaustion, performance limits, and injury.
New programs and technologies are available to track player data, including heart rate, speed, distance traveled, player load, and deceleration and acceleration force. This data can be used to make a profile of each individual’s training and recovery needs.
Another new method involves the measurement and analysis of glycogen levels in muscles. Muscles are scanned using a normal ultrasound, uploading the information to the cloud. From there, a program determines the amount of glycogen that’s present in the muscles and provides suggestions on how to increase those levels for optimum performance. Detection of low glycogen levels can be an early indicator of soft tissue injuries. In addition, monitoring glycogen levels in healthy muscles and comparing them to damaged muscles can help ensure proper recovery when injury does occur.
The result is simple: more accurate training parameters, reduced bench time, and reduced spending on injured players.
An effective injury prevention program doesn’t cost that much to implement because many aspects of it are already woven into the fabric of existing team operations. But the returns can be substantial.
In an internal case study, a pro team went from averaging 20 soft tissue injuries per season (costing $20 million in injured player salaries) to a total of three soft tissue injuries over the next two seasons after implementing improved injury prevention procedures. That resulted in less than $3 million being paid out and only $30,000 in incurred costs, leading to $17 million in savings for the team.
These numbers don’t even account for the increase in revenue due to avoiding drops in TV viewers and ticket and concessions sales when team favorites are hurt.
When teams build injury prevention into their operations, they make their players’ safety a top priority. But it’s also a great way to improve the health of their bottom line. Talk about a win-win.