Handheld stopwatches and stopwatch apps are the preferred sports timing solution in situations, where an automated timing system is

  • too expensive,
  • not feasible, for example, because there is no reliable means to detect start and stop events,
  • available, yet a coach, supporter or fan does
    • not have immediate access to live timing results,
    • wants to preserve specific split times asap, or
    • needs to add further data such as stride/stroke rates to split times that the automated timing system cannot collect for individual athletes.

However, for many kinds of sports there are sophisticated sports timings solutions available and sufficient to track and display timing data live automatically. This is the beginning of an overview over such timing solutions and systems, and the timing service providers installing and maintaining such systems at sports events. After all, the ultimate goal of handheld timing is to eliminate handheld timing, towards a fully automated timing.

Timing Equipment and Service Providers

Sports events require rather specific timing equipment and even the most innovative timing systems still need a small staff to be present at the live event to

  • ensure the timing system’s proper working as well as
  • manually indicate to their otherwise automated system special events such as the overall start or individual false starts.

Sports timing systems often come branded by one of the major luxury watch companies or sub-brands such as Omega (part of Swatch Group), TAG Heuer (part of LVMH group) or Seiko. However, sports-specific equipment that these brands are attached to is almost always too special to be part of the general product line of the hosting brand. A TAG Heuer makes money by selling luxury wrist watches and not equipment to time one of the few global sailing competitions, for example. A Chronelec adds the special equipment needed for such events for TAG Heuer.

Various timing service providers take the timing systems provided by specialist producers, install the systems at event sites and supervise event timing on competition day. Usually these timing service providers are independent of brands and also equipment producers. As an exception within the top watch brands, Omega/Swatch with Swiss Timing (and its subsidiary, German Timing) maintains their own service provider for event timing in-house (or at least within the group). Here is a more complete, work-in-progress overview of timing service providers.

The Purpose of Sports Timing for Luxury Watch Brands

Why have their brand on special event timing systems then? It’s all marketing. The flair of national championships in the likes of track and field or swimming communicates performance and being the best, golf or sailing events add exclusivity and premium appeal. Typically, a parent group of watch brands also has multiple brands with different sports positionings. Different kinds of sports, with different needs when it comes to timing solutions, give the brands’ a certain edge and differentiation versus other brands. For example, LVMH has Hublot as a brand sponsoring football (soccer) and Formula 1 mainly, whereas TAG Heuer associates itself with marathon running, skiing and motorsports, too, amongst quite a few other sporty disciplines. Here is a more complete, work-in-progress overview of luxury watch brands and their affiliation with sports.