The popularity and commercial success of professional sports no longer rests largely on what happens at the stadium. These days, multiplatform fan engagement is essential. Sports fans increasingly connect to their favorite teams and competitions by live streaming games on various devices, communicating with sports brands and fellow fans via social media channels, joining online forum discussions, playing competitive fantasy sports games and more. The availability of in-depth, real time player performance statistics and intelligent match analysis sits at the core of this revolution.
Recent research by analyst Deloitte suggests that sports teams could build on this engagement to not only increase overall fan satisfaction but also achieve better financial outcomes. In particular, the research report states that by enhancing the broadcast experience, the eight leading US sports/leagues including Major League Soccer (MLS), the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League (NHL) could bring fans much closer. According to Deloitte’s global fan experience survey, The future of sports broadcasting: Enhancing digital fan engagement, more than 60 percent of fans relate a great broadcast experience to becoming more engaged with the team and being more likely to both watch and attend a game, with nearly 40 percent feeling closer to team sponsors.
In an era where digital interactions between professional sports and their fans are rapidly rising — even if live match attendance figures have in some cases declined; the Intelligencer magazine, for example, reported a ten percent drop in crowd sizes during the first two months of the 2018 Major League Baseball (MLB) season compared with the same time period in 2017 — exciting opportunities exist for sports industry stakeholders to significantly boost fan engagement, and in turn revenue streams, by providing enhanced game data on the go. Data-driven “infotainment” is set to become one of contemporary sports most lucrative products.
Advanced movement tracking
To offer the comprehensive, customizable information devoted sports fans crave, organizations will rely on the ability of advanced wireless technologies to accurately track the movement of athletes and equipment such as balls and pucks, then immediately convert this raw data into meaningful insights. The Finnish domestic professional ice hockey league, Liiga, and its television broadcaster, telco and local pay-per-view company Telia, recognized the potential to monetize their assets by taking fan engagement to higher levels. Liiga has partnered with Finnish software company Bitwise and its commercial package, Wisehockey, a player-and-puck tracking system that automatically delivers highly detailed and real time Cloud-generated analytics for passionate fans of all 15 Liiga teams across 15 different venues.
Wisehockey is powered by location finding firmware supplied by Quuppa, a Finland-based developer of real time location service (RTLS) solutions. Using an advanced ecosystem comprising sensors, tags and locators that communicate wirelessly thanks to Nordic’s nRF52 Series SoCs, Quuppa’s Intelligent Locating System tracks the position of fast moving players and pucks with accuracies down to a few centimeters. Raw location data is used to generate proprietary Cloud analytics and present bespoke information to spectators within the arena itself and to external customers/subscribers via their television screens and smartphone/tablet apps.
The technology is currently being used to generate an impressive range of data such as which player has the hardest shot, how fast the puck is travelling, and how fatigued certain players are. The platform even provides live heat maps, analysis of overall team performance and mobility, and an AI-produced ‘game momentum’ metric based on combined actions.
The Liiga-Wisehockey partnership is very much ahead of the curve in a sport where the players and the puck move with incredible speed and viewing limitations present a serious challenge for optical tracking solutions using infrared markers and camera systems. But while the Finnish ice hockey league was the first commercial implementation of Wisehockey, direction finding technology is capable of spawning unique fan engagement applications with immense commercial possibilities elsewhere. Major international sports markets including soccer, basketball and rugby — or indeed any sport involving the elements of shooting, passing and player movement — could be next to take advantage.
AI-powered content optimization has already entered other sports. In tennis, for example, the Wimbledon Championships have been curating “most engaging video highlights” packages using AI-powered image and acoustic-based insights from the IBM Watson supercomputer. The addition of direction finding to such systems will allow viewers to enjoy complete interaction with the sport and decide for themselves what constitutes the highlights of a game.