AI in Sports

The sports world is an industry that generates billions of dollars in revenue every year. From gate revenues, merchandising, sponsorships, to media rights, the money is everywhere. With AI becoming more popular and common in today’s world, it isn’t surprising that it is being used to transform the sports world. There are countless types of areas in which AI has appeared. I am only going to talk about only three of them because I don’t want to write novel post. Anyways, here we go…

 

  1. Chatbot

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Sports teams use chatbots (virtual assistants) to interact with fans and answer any questions that they may have regarding the team. In 2016, the Sacramento Kings (a NBA team), in partner with Saipen, developed a chatbot known as KAI (Kings Artificial Intelligence). The chatbot is located on Facebook Messenger, and was developed to answer any question somebody had regarding the organization. Here is an example of a conversation that a Kings fan had with KAI.

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In a 2016 Connected Sports Fans report from Avaya, a communications firm, “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.” I think that this is a very useful tool for sports teams to utilize. Implementing chatbot allows for fans to engage more with the team, resulting in a higher level of satisfaction. I believe that chatbots raise the level of fan loyalty because the more a fan is engaging with the chatbot, the more time he is spending thinking about his or her team. This is also a great for business because these devoted fans are more likely to spend money on their favorite teams.

 

  1. Computer Vision (specifically relating to racing)

Researchers are training learning networks to be able to identify each specific car at high speeds that normally reduce the clarity of the images. NASCAR is the most dangerous sport and has been for the past 50 years, with one person dying each season. Safety is the biggest concern for those involved in the sport.

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Argo AI/Ford Motor Company developed self-driving cars using deep learning and is now expanding its application of deep learning to help improve safety measures in the sport.

The design team recognized that the network that it developed was capable of identifying specific cars using images. As the network gained proficiency, it reportedly provided more accurate results than humans in its ability to identify specific race cars. This is extremely important because the network is able to quickly identify a car that is experiencing malfunctions during a race. Drivers are then able to slow down their vehicle and go to the pit stop to get the car repaired, making the sport significantly more safe. To be completely honest I don’t really care for NASCAR that much. The only knowledge I have of the sport is based on Will Ferrell’s hit classic Talladega NIghts, The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, in which I really only learned that he wanted to go fast. However, in the real world the only really time I see NASCAR is from a highlight and that highlight is usually of a freak accident or collision. I think that if NASCAR can develope this AI more it will make the sport drastically more safe.

 

  1. Automated Journalism

AI is changing the profession of sports journalism through automation. The Associated Press (AP) is working with a startup called Automated Insights to expand the media outlets coverage of games in Minor League Baseball (MiLB). The application that the startup came up with is Wordsmith, an AI-driven platform that translates hard data from MiLB into narratives, using natural language. This partnership resulted in the the AP covering 13 leagues and 142 different MLB-affiliated teams. This results in 3700 stories earning money each quarter, which is a 12 times increase from regular manual stories. Because sports stats are all numbers-based, automated journalism is very adaptable. I think that this concept is very cool. Just plugging in numbers and stats from a baseball game and having AI take that information and craft it into a story/recap is unbelievable. Especially for teams that may not have a large following or do not have a designated reporter, delegating the recaps to the AI will allow the reporters on payroll to focus on the more important, high-profiled games.

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Along with these three, there are so many other examples of how AI is used in sports and can be implemented in the future. It will be interested to see how AI is going to be used in the future. What other ways do you think AI can be implemented into the realm of sports?

 

Riddle of the Week:

You can drop me from the tallest building and I’ll be fine, but if you drop me in water I die. What am I?

 

See you for the final blog post in a few weeks!

 

9 comments

  1. danmiller315 · ·

    Your mentioning of automated journalism made me think of the GameChanger app that I have used over the past few years. GameChanger is an app used in many youth baseball leagues that allows you to score baseball games on your phone. For a small monthly fee, fans of a certain team can follow along with the game live on their phone. At the conclusion of every game, the GameChanger app immediately creates a written recap of the game that would be good enough to use for a short article or Facebook post for a youth organization.

    I think something that your post gets to is that a lot of the advancements regarding AI in sports are enhancing the experience off the field. In most cases, it is being used on the business side of sports to increase fan engagement, which is the ultimate revenue driver. Much like “Moneyball” and the increased focus on data analytics took over professional sports in the early 2000’s, I think that is the point that we are at with AI in sports. Teams and related industries alike are trying to not only learn about the technology, but figure out its limitations with regard to the unique business model in professional sports.

  2. graceglambrecht · ·

    Think AI will definitely start being implemented more over the next few years! I think chatbots are becoming really wildly used in sports for updates and customer service in stadiums and it’s really nice to see as long as it’s efficient! Never thought about the safety implications of AI heavily until this post. Nascar is so dangerous and it would be awesome if we can increase safety measures that don’t take away from the nature and competition of the sport.
    The automated blogposts are interesting because of the automated nature. can they be too automated? would it essentially just be a game update blog? either way is an easy way to gain ad revenue and i think if it’s anything like @danmiller315 said, would be a good simple option for content!

  3. murphycobc · ·

    I think the Computer Vision is really cool – and it could totally be leveraged in other sports. I think that safety is something you hear far more about now with the prevalence of concussions, the amount of injuries being repaired surgically, and the level of training athletes undergo. There could be a way to take footage of players and analyze other players and see if they way they are operating is causing injury, showing signs of injury, or could just show the athlete how to perform better based on visual data.

  4. mikecarillo111 · ·

    The Boston Celtics are one team in particular that are involving AI in how the players train, as well as their business initiatives to sell more tickets. One of the initiatives is a new program on the business analytics in which people who have season tickets are contacted. If a season ticket holder doesn’t enter the stadium for three games they are contacted by an AI chatbot to discuss what the organization can do to entice the holder to come to more games. Additionally with the player analytics, there are programs the Celtics are running that can predict the plays that will be run by certain teams with certain players at certain times in the game. I learned this when I heard from speakers on both the business side and player side of the analytics last semester. I totally agree with you that AI will be advancing the sports industry overall, particularly in the next 10 years. Super interesting post with tech I’ve never heard about.

  5. roarkword · ·

    I thought the same thing as @graceglambrecht and that there is probably a potential for too much automation. It’s a neat feature but unless the technology expands in scope and ability to convey information, it essentially becomes an ask Jeeves about the franchise. I would be anxious to see how the chatbot could evolve into a more authentic personality for an organization like the Kings. If ownership really wants to see a return on investment of incorporating these schemes, there needs to be a sense of progression or they do in fact risk being gimmicky. A clunky clunky chatbot could be cool now as a tell all source of info, but maybe that could progress into an AI that is the ultimate King’s superfine, who knows?

  6. RayCaglianone · ·

    That automated journalism that you mentioned is very cool but also a little eerie: I think part of the appeal of sports journalism is the human element. Obviously journalism is meant to be objective, but when it comes to sports I find that my favorite writers have their own mannerisms and trademarks that make them fun and interesting to read. For example, I love the NBA writer Zach Lowe, and I simply can’t imagine any AI bringing the same degree of insight that I get with every column of his. With simple things like game recaps it makes sense (to be honest the AP game recaps already read like an AI wrote them – and not a very good one at that), but I hope that the spirit of sports journalism can remain. And I say that as a person that loves statistics in sports – the analytics revolution is very real.

  7. Nice post. These are definitely frontiers for AI. Incidentally, I did meet one of the owners of the Sacramento Kings a few years back, who was a former Apple exec and Venture Capitalist in Silicon Valley. Maybe that explains their interest in tech.

  8. tylercook95 · ·

    I think it’s interesting that they are using chatbot when Siri does a very similar thing. I feel like if I want to know the score of the game I ask Siri. I suppose since the chatbot is specialized around one topic, being the team it would be better at certain questions than Siri or Alexa, however, I don’t really see the need for this function. Unless like some of the prior comments mention, AI can get involved, I feel as though the chatbot wouldn’t be something I would personally use. Do you think it will stay around due to the brand connection aspect? relationship and engagement building I suppose could be good with the bot. However, if the bot isn’t very humanlike I don’t know if I would feel the relationship kind of connection. Great post!

  9. JohnWalshFilms · ·

    As someone who works in the PR/Marketing world, how comfortable are brands with the use of AI when tweeting, responding to FB messages or comments, etc? Are there any PR nightmares that have occurred from mis-interpreted AI responses, or is that nothing compared to the poor judgment of human PR managers?

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