Big Data and analytics have been big trends in sports for some time now. In this post I want to look at the impact Big Data and analytics have on tennis, and in particular the fan experience.
Tennis has always been a statistics-heavy sport. In 1991 the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) began to use umpires to collect stats with the intention of improving the fan experience. Today, fans are accustomed to being able to access up-to-the-second information and updates on players’ performance and match outcomes. This is seen as essential in encouraging TV and courtside audiences to engage with the game, drive up the viewing figures, and make tennis more attractive to potential sponsors and advertisers.
The adoption of Big Data analytics has stepped things up a notch. IBM sponsors the Grand Slams and also provides real-time streaming analytics through its Slamtracker service. Statistics and insights can be pulled by users in real-time and shared and discussed between friends over social media. IBM has said that more than 50% of the service’s data usage comes from mobile traffic, which sheds light on how audience behaviors are changing.
Outside of the Grand Slams, the ATP, which hosts the World Tour Finals and Masters tournaments, has recently unveiled its own stats portal at ATPworldtour.com.
“Ultimately we want to be able to have a conversation with our fans during a live match,” Murray Schwartzberg, ATP’s Vice President of IT and Digital, tells me. “What are the insights we can give them? If a player is injured, what’s the likelihood he will come back? What will he have to do to come back? Is someone’s performance better than it was the day before? Is someone’s performance against a particular opponent better than it was the previous time they played?”
This is all made possible by gathering a vast amount of information from live matches since the start of the 2015 season, including historical match data and ball tracking data. In order to drive fan engagement in this way, however, data alone isn’t enough.
“We are trying to put the data into context,” says Schwartzberg. “The audience is used to seeing a lot of scores and statistics, but what does it all mean? We want the broader audience to understand the context of the game.”
So during a match, the system is able to tell a story – what is the likelihood that a player will come back from losing three games in a row? And how is this affected by his opposition – how likely is it that his opponent will allow a comeback to happen? What is the impact of the playing surface or the weather? Or the fact that his opponent is serving with a higher than average velocity?
Putting all of these data points together in a way that makes sense is the key to telling a valuable story. And, as with all good organizational use of analytics, this is driven by a fundamental business need – keeping as many eyes as possible glued to the on-court action.
The use of analytics in tennis is a great example of why it’s smart to use and invest in new and emerging technology to augment and enhance traditional entertainment channels, rather than replace them. Broadcast TV and radio audiences may be in decline but there are still huge numbers willing to tune in, as long as they can tweet while they are doing it.
The new system is the product of a partnership with Infosys, and has been built from the ground up to tackle the challenges presented by the changing ways in which fans consume and interact with sports as entertainment. It is based on open source technology – a factor which Schwartzberg tells me was crucial.
“The challenge that we had is that traditional tools were cost prohibitive,” he says. “Because of advances in open source, tools which can do the job are not only affordable but they are very effective. The disruptive nature of these tools has allowed us to do things that even just a few years ago we could only dream about. All you need is vision and time.”
Bernard Marr is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, strategic performance consultant, and analytics, KPI, and big data guru. In addition, he is a member of the Data Informed Board of Advisers. He helps companies to better manage, measure, report, and analyze performance. His leading-edge work with major companies, organizations, and governments across the globe makes him an acclaimed and award-winning keynote speaker, researcher, consultant, and teacher.
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