In Blog / Sport

Artificial Intelligence will change the Sports universe

23 November 2021
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In the last few years, technological progress has taken over our society, changing habits and ways of living. We are witnessing a growth of digital platforms, app and technological devices that are collecting from every one of us an incredible amount of profiling data, sometimes without being conscious of it. These stored data and all the information collected are powering the new technological breakthrough given by Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

Then, what is Artificial Intelligence?

AI is an emerging technology that aims to learn from human intelligence’s behaviors and put them into particular hardware and software systems to give to machines typical mankind characteristics, such as to identify objects, take decisions, drive a car, generate marketing functions. Everything without human intervention, but simply learning from their actions and the data available to act in autonomy.
Today, AI is present in every device we use, from a smartphone to a computer, from a tablet to a car, from Netflix to Alexa.

How this technology is taking action in sports

The sports industry as well has been deeply influenced by AI. Basically, because of the sector typical feature to place a consistent amount of data and measurable elements, which allow artificial intelligence to develop.

The applications in the sports environment are different:

  • umpiring: supporting umpires in taking the right decisions during a match. This happens through a few tools that we have already seen in action, such as VAR (Video Assistant Referee) in soccer or the hawk-eye in tennis or the Video Check in volleyball;
  • training and coaching: supporting athletes and their coach during summer training sessions, to monitor physical conditions and sports performances. These data once collected and analyzed, allow to schedule dedicated training sessions to reach physical goals and to adjust the match’s preparation. All this happens very often with the support of wearable technology (smartwatch, applications, GPS etc.) but not only.
  • scouting and recruiting support in evaluating the way fans enjoy the live event. The AI helps to choose the best frames which make the visual experience even more authentic and immersive for the supporters. Furthermore, thanks to this technology, it will be possible to give spectators statistics regarding performances or technical decisions in real-time (as already happen in Formula 1) for a more effective engagement with the audience;
  • media and fan experience: clubs are frequently employing virtual assistants like chatbot to reply to fans’ questions regarding competitions, statistics, ticketing or parking at the stadium. At the same time, AI has been used to create more appealing video highlights using the crowd noise recorded during the event (tested already in Wimbledon).
Artificial Intelligence is here to stay

The progress that AI is giving to humanity is not an end point. This smart technology is developing every day, data collected are increasing exponentially and the costs of the technology to store them is decreasing proportionally. In addition, the processing power which allows data to be aggregated and elaborated is raising. This framework allows AI and its applications to develop with success.

What is the latest news in sports?

The development in the sports sector has great potential.

Starting from the athletes, the goal is to collect and analyze as much data as possible related to their physical shape, gathered from the training sessions or during the match. On the other hand, is essential comparing these data with the best benchmarks coming both from the past and from the studies of experts to define strategies and training most accurately and efficiently as possible.

As a consequence, these methods will help coaches and sports technical who will have more parameters to define the preparation of every single athlete. In addition, the integration with AI is perceived as an assistant: studying and analyzing live the game tactics, AI could suggest in real-time the best solutions to put in action or predict faster the players that might help.
This technology is not so far if we think that NFL is experimenting with it now.

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Processing data in this direction could enable the discovery of new strategies or provide suggestions on how to diversify teams during the transfer market.

We have already mentioned before the progress made in the field of virtual umpiring with VAR and hack-eye. In different tennis tournaments, for example, artificial intelligence has been implemented to define instantly if the ball is in or out of the field of play, at the moment it touches the ground, therefore with no need to have line umpires. This technology, for sure, allows the referee to take more fair decisions overall.

Also, the interaction with the audience could be influenced by offering a tailor-made experience which adapts to live score and to the fan expectations, offering, in business terms, some services or promotions based on the audience sentiment: if my team or my favorite athlete is winning, my mood will be positive so, I would be more willing to buy a product or, on the contrary, it would be better to receive a discount.

The PwC report: “Artificial Intelligence – Application to the Sport Industry” recaps very well, in the hereunder graphic, the fields in which AI could be used:

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The areas of action are divided into Pre-Game, In-Game and Post-Game. As we underlined, in the first phase in preparation for competition, AI will take action in the training and coaching process, monitoring the performances and the athlete physical conditions during training, suggesting a dedicated diet or planning the right game strategy. In the In-Game phase, so during the match, assistance systems to referee and coaches will take the stage. In conclusion, the final Post-Game phase will focus on interactions with fans, on dedicated content or, for example, on the engagement with eSports, waiting for the next competition.

The Artificial Intelligence Partner takes the stage: Acronis case study

Acronis is a company that deals with Artificial Intelligence and which decided to ally with the sports industry. The firm is a global leader in data protection, cybersecurity and data analysis and gives solutions through AI and ML (Machine Learning).
The company founded in Singapore boasts many international sporting partnerships. Some examples come from Formula 1 with William Racing, from baseball with Boston Red Sox, from hockey with Dallas Stars and from soccer with many top clubs such as Atletico Madrid, Arsenal, Manchester City, Ajax and the Italians FC Internazionale and AS Roma.

This last announcing the agreements with Acronis explain: “The sport of football is constantly evolving, and we have entered an era in which we are more dependent than ever before on data to make game-winning calls." - said the club Chief Operating Officer, Francesco Calvo. AI/ML technology is a major factor of the partnership. Not only is it being applied in data analysis, but it is also a core part of many of the solutions that A.S Roma will be using to protect their systems.”

How AI will be managed in the future?

As we saw, artificial intelligence is the response to different needs on multiple fronts is giving useful tools to coaches and athletes who want to measure performances, is helping referees to make the right decisions and is responding to supporters’ necessity to be always connected, guaranteeing customized contents.

Therefore, AI offers many opportunities and different implementations, but it will be crucial for a sports organization to plan and manage this technology effectively and strategically to achieve the expected results.

A few questions immediately arise, for example: if AI would control a match taking perfect decisions, would obtain any success within the fans? Or would the competition be less appealing?
The human element to make the wrong decision under pressure is certainly an engagement factor for the supporter, positively and negatively, and generates enthusiasm or frustration. Would total use of AI be a risk for fan engagement?

Probably it might be good to find a balance between the human factor and technology, but only time and experience will give us the answer.

Stay tuned!


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