FLUSHING, N.Y.—Each year, IBM works to improve on its performance at the US Open tennis tournament—this year by adding new and enhanced analytics, social, mobile, big data and cloud capabilities to bring a unique user experience to fans both onsite and around the world.
For more than 20 years, IBM has collaborated with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) to continuously improve on the way millions of fans experience the US Open. This year, new technologies are helping to capture, analyze and deliver real-time scores and insights to fans of the 2015 US Open, which is currently taking place here.
Moreover, IBM is exploring ways to deploy its Watson cognitive computing technology to enhance the fan experience, both for those courtside here at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and for those watching from home or keeping up on the action and scores on their mobile device, said Noah Syken, vice president of global sponsorship and client executive programs, in an interview with eWEEK.
Last year, IBM used Watson to predict cloud traffic so the company would be better prepared for spikes, Syken said. However, Watson’s role has expanded this year.
“Right now Watson is learning on US Open data, and by the end of the week you’ll be able to query Watson on the US Open and get all kinds of data on each player, including statistics, sentiment analysis, how they’ve been trending socially and how fast their fastest first and second serve was,” Syken said. “Watson also will be able to provide all kinds of information on the overall tournament itself,” he added. IBM is loading Watson up not only on data from this year’s tournament, but also historical data from past tournaments.
As a cognitive computing system, Watson has the ability to “learn” by ingesting all forms of data, both structured and unstructured. The system, delivered through the cloud, analyzes high volumes of data, understands complex questions posed in natural language and proposes evidence-based answers. Watson continuously learns, gaining in value and knowledge over time, from previous interactions. The Watson technology represents a new era in computing where systems will understand the world in the way that humans do: through senses, learning and experience.
Syken said IBM began training Watson on tennis tournament data at the 2015 Australian Open, where the company used Watson-powered robots as an interface to the Watson system rather than a Web app. The robots, Niki and Nikita, are products of IBM’s partnership with SoftBank. In February, IBM and Tokyo-based SoftBank launched a global alliance to bring Watson to Japan. The alliance involved teaching Watson to understand Japanese and represented a major milestone in IBM’s efforts to accelerate the adoption of cognitive computing.
Since then, Watson has moved into many new areas and vertical markets, from health care to retail to travel to cooking to financial services and customer service, and now to sports such as tennis and fantasy football. Last month, IBM announced it is helping Edge Up Sports, a sports information and analysis site, develop a Watson-powered application for fantasy football.
Downstream, IBM is looking at employing Watson as a sports broadcast commentating assistant, most likely initiating with the US Open next year, but then spreading to other sports IBM supports, such as the US Open golf tournament.
“With Watson at their fingertips, broadcasters could rattle off facts and statistics that would exhibit an encyclopedic knowledge of the game,” Syken said.
Meanwhile, for this year’s tournament, Watson is mining the Twitter feeds and social contexts of all the players in US Open, Syken said.
According to IBM, the two-week-long US Open is the most highly attended annual sporting event in the world. To support and accommodate the spike in traffic to the USTA’s digital platforms as the tournament progresses, IBM Cloud offers continuous availability and scaling potential to manage unpredictable spikes in traffic throughout the tournament.
IBM provides an end-to-end technology infrastructure to power the US Open experience that captures, analyzes, publishes, stores, monitors and secures the historical and real-time data that is at the heart of the US Open fan experience. The experience is underpinned by a combination of hardware, software and services, including IBM Power and System x systems, IBM Cloud Orchestrator and the SoftLayer infrastructure from IBM, said John Kent, vice president of global sponsorship and client programs at IBM, during a tour of IBM’s infrastructure systems at the US Open. These technologies enable IBM to help the USTA rapidly meet changing fan demands by dynamically adding capacity to the hybrid cloud environment that powers the tournament’s digital platforms.
IBM Brings Watson to the US Open
Indeed, IBM is teaming with the USTA to bring together the predictive analytics, cloud, mobile and social technologies to enable tennis enthusiasts to follow every US Open serve, volley and match point in real time.
For instance, this year, for the first time, IBM’s streaming analytics technology will automatically identify and alert the USTA to record-breaking player achievements and milestones in real time, enabling significant championship stats and personal career highlights to be shared with fans via social media, Web and news sources.
IBM also enhanced its SlamTracker application to provide deeper analysis of player and ball position data to offer a better understanding of emerging player and match dynamics. This feature augments match analysis by uncovering hidden performance patterns that impact player performance and dynamics that influence the outcome of a match.
IBM SlamTracker provides live scores and statistics during matches. The application offers up information on aces, serve speed, winners and other key statistics in real time to give fans an immediate, accurate visual sense of a match in progress. SlamTracker provides US Open fans with useful analysis, insight and engagement as the match unfolds, including ball and player movement via a simple dashboard. Analyzing where a ball lands and how far a player runs in a given match offers a dynamic dimension to match analysis that uncovers patterns and insights into player performance that impact the outcome of a match.
IBM has added a Social Share feature to SlamTracker to enable fans to instantly share emerging match insights with friends and followers via Facebook.
In addition to analyzing real-time data, SlamTracker delivers historical player, match and tournament data. IBM also has embedded social sentiment data into SlamTracker, providing an analysis of Twitter conversations about players while they are on the court, including measurements of volume and tone of the sentiment over the course of the match.
SlamTracker analyzes more than 41 million data points from eight years of Grand Slam tennis match data to identify performance indicators called the “Keys to the Match” that can affect a player’s ability to succeed. During a match, SlamTracker synthesizes the real-time data, including serve statistics and winning shots that allow fans to interact with the data to gain deeper insight into match dynamics.
“Year after year, IBM’s technological expertise creates an incomparable mobile and digital experience for US Open tennis fans,” Nicole Jeter West, senior director of Ticketing and Digital Strategy at the USTA, said in a statement. “We’re excited to partner with IBM again to push the boundaries of fan engagement and entertainment to bring the US Open to life and promote the game of tennis to fans across the globe.”
Throughout the tournament, fans can instantly access a vast range of tennis stats and information, including scores, in-depth analysis and live video. The IBM Interactive Experience in collaboration with the USTA develops mobile apps for iOS and Android devices, placing match stats and tennis court action at fans’ fingertips to enhance their overall US Open experience. The US Open mobile apps also offer an interactive second-screen experience for fans watching the tournament on TV.
Moreover, IBM designed and developed the US Open tournament Website, USOpen.org, with new data sets and advanced data visualizations that are powered by IBM SlamTracker analytics and cloud computing technologies.
IBM notes that the same IBM mobile, analytics, cloud and social technologies that enable the USTA to connect with millions of global tennis fans throughout the tournament also help IBM’s customers in every industry. Big Blue says many businesses can learn from how sports organizations are using analytics, cloud computing and other technologies to better understand and improve their daily operations.
For instance, during most of the year, the USTA runs like a small business, but during the two-week US Open tournament it becomes a demanding data- and performance-hungry organization that rivals a large bank, hospital or retailer, IBM said.