How Tech Benefits Wimbledon

Wimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world; the first Wimbledon championship was in 1877. Because the event has existed for more than a century, it is both venerated and made fun of for its stodgy associations. Grass courts, all-white dress code and strawberries and cream make for a quintessential British experience. It’s fascinating, then, that Wimbledon is embracing new technology.

This year’s Wimbledon was full of tension and drama: angry exclamations over the poor conditions of the tennis courts, concerns about match-fixing and surprising upsets in tennis matches. (Don’t say that the oldest tennis tournament is devoid of scandal and controversy.)

But the on-court drama wasn’t the most interesting component of Wimbledon this year. Wimbledon 2017 was, once again, the stage for artificial intelligence software, and in particular IBM Watson to test out its newest gadgets. While the iconic tennis tournament had dabbled with technology and big data in the past, this year IBM turned up the tech component quite a few notches.

Now, Watson is tasked to work in any industry that requires predictive analytics or problem solving.

Watson is an artificial intelligence (AI) effort from IBM which is “trying to make it easier for companies to apply these [AI] techniques [into workplaces], and to tap into the expertise required to do so,” explains MIT Technology Review.

TechRepublic created a primer on all things IBM Watson, which can be read here. But the gist of this hard-to-pin-down technology is that Watson utilizes natural language processing to analyze massive amounts of data. Watson’s ultimate goal is to process data and react as if it were a human or, rather, the best possible version of a human (no swearing allowed). Appropriately, Watson’s original goal was to win Jeopardy!, which it ended up doing in 2011.

Now, Watson is tasked to work in any industry that requires predictive analytics or problem solving.

So what is big data analytics? NGDATA explains more.

And so, Wimbledon brought on IBM Watson to fuel the tournament’s IBM bunker. The bunker, which is closed to the public, gobbles up any and all data from Wimbledon and processes it to optimize the Wimbledon mobile app, improve remote spectatorship, amass reels of highlight clips and power Fred, Wimbledon’s AI bot.

READ: Microsoft’s Quest to Humanize Virtual Assistants

Welcome to the 21st Century

According to Cision’s PR Newswire, “Sports and entertainment companies compete on compelling content, which is why personalising and reshaping the fan experience is a top priority for telecom, media and entertainment companies. Wimbledon is embracing this change in their pursuit of being the best tennis tournament in the world.” In this case, “best” is in clear alignment with the leveraging of technology.

Let’s get our minds around some of the coolest tech that’s helping Wimbledon break out of its fussy, very traditional, slightly outdated mode.

  • IBM Bunker

    The IBM operations bunker is a temporary setup but it is the place where Watson processes “some 3.2 million new data points per championships.” Accordingly, the bunker is where the magic all happens; that is, where the data scientists are housed. Forbes Magazine explained that, interestingly, the majority of the data scientists “whose job it is to number crunch their way through every digitally captured move, play, ball bounce and judging line call throughout each match” are former tennis professionals.

  • Cognitive Highlights

    On the consumer-facing side of things, according to Digital Trends, IBM rolled out Cognitive Highlights this year. Cognitive Highlights is the company’s attempt to “use artificial intelligence to give fans front-row seats to all the biggest moments from the tournament.”

    With Cognitive Highlights, the creators of the machine and the organizers of the tournament can reduce the time it previously took to create highlight reels and easily upload them onto a live video feed. The highlights will combine on-court data footage with spectator response and players’ reactions to give remote viewers the chance to experience Wimbledon matches in as close to real-time as possible.

  • SlamTracker

    E&T Magazine, a publication for engineers, explains that the appeal of utilizing IBM Watson is to turn “millions of data points in the right way … from mere statistics into insights that enable fans to get under the skin of a game.” That right way seems to be IBM’s SlamTracker app, which spectators can use to point at their favorite tennis pro and immediately view their stats.

    According to Forbes Magazine, IBM’s SPSS tool forms the foundation upon which the SlamTracker was built. And for good reason, as SPSS’ predictive analytics tech “mines over eight years of Grand Slam Tennis data … to determine patterns and styles for players when they win.” The intention is to equip spectators and fans with the same kind of data that tennis players have, helping them understand “what it will take to win in a game where margins for winning and losing are becoming increasingly exacting.”

  • Fred, the Digital Assistant

    And last, but definitely not least, Wimbledon’s newest offering this year was “Ask Fred.” Named after three-time champ Fred Perry, Fred is an AI-powered mobile app that will act as a guide for the first-time Wimbledon-goer. Fred leverages natural language processing as well as an interactive virtual map of the venue to assuage the newcomer to the ins and outs of the tournament.

Personalizing the Wimbledon Experience

IBM and Wimbledon have been partners for the past two-plus decades. Both have clearly benefitted from each other’s presence: Wimbledon can accommodate both longtime fans and technologically savvy newcomers, and IBM can test out the latest Watson feature during the event.

It may be true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But if you equip that old dog with new capabilities, he will make up his own more efficient tricks.

As mentioned above, personalizing the game experience is crucial to keep the attention spans of fans and spectators alike. Wimbledon is taking deliberate steps to meld the tradition that keeps the tournament distinct with consumer-facing technology that ultimately betters the visitor’s experience. (This is true regardless of whether that visitor is on the greens in London or watching the event on their TV or mobile phone.) Exclusivity and old-school traditions are giving way to bettering the experience of anyone, regardless of location and means, who wants a glimpse into Wimbledon.

Similarly, companies can leverage technology to improve the experience of their customers through a variety of software. Big data and predictive analytics can help improve pain points in conversions and serve up a personalized experience that helps distinguish themselves from their competitors. Targeted ads, drip emails and optimized web pages are just some of the examples of personalized technology that can ensure a prospective customer’s loyalty.


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