How AI is transforming sports
By Ekow Duker
Last night at a glittering ceremony in London, FIFA bestowed its annual awards on a crop of the best football players and mangers on the planet. With every sports fan also moonlighting as an armchair coach, it should come as no surprise that researchers are looking at how AI can help drive performance on the field. Deep learning algorithms, when trained to ‘understand’ a game of soccer for example, could detect and analyse mistakes with improved accuracy and recommend changes in tactics much quicker than a human could.
The seminal 2011 movie Moneyball that depicts the efforts of the Oakland Athletics Baseball team and their general manager Billy Beane, to transform the team’s performance through data, provided us with a foretaste of such innovation. Nowadays, sophisticated data technologies and artificial intelligence not only help to drive performance on the field, but also enhance the experience for the fans.
In a world where sports fans are increasingly digitally connected, astute sports teams are using technology to expose their players’ training stats, diets, commentary and profile to their fans. A recent article published on techemergence.com finds that “sports teams are using virtual assistants to respond to fan inquiries across a wide range of topics including live game information, team stats and arena logistics”.
And according to a 2016 report published by communications firm Avaya, “a digitally connected fan is becoming a [sports] venue’s biggest online influencer.” The report goes on further to state that “stadium owners and teams that provide more personalized digital experiences through stadium apps, digital offers direct to mobile phones, and game information on digital boards, can increase fan engagement and generate new revenue opportunities.” Virtual assistants or chatbots are also being used to provide fans with information on ticketing, match day parking and generally help fans to keep up with their team.
Another area where AI is enhancing the fan experience is through automated sports journalism. AI driven platforms are being used to translate match data into natural language narratives and thereby dramatically increasing a media outlet’s coverage. According to the Associated Press which applied one such platform to Minor League Baseball in the United States, this increased its reporting capacity to cover 13 leagues and 142 teams, or a 12-fold increase over their manual reporting efforts.
With the sports industry generating billions of dollars in revenue every year, the use of data in sports is here to stay. The questions remains however, whether the richest sports franchises will come to monopolise the best data scientists and gradually pull away from the pack. Dr Ronaldo anyone?