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November 18, 2015

Making Data Talk ─ On Courts, Fields, and Grounds

Posted by Ganapathy Subramanian (View Profile | View All Posts) at 4:35 AM

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers: Back From The Brink

The eminent historian Doris Kearns Goodwin says that long before she began writing Pulitzer Prize-winning novels, she got a knack for recording events in the form of a scorecard whenever her father took her to a baseball game. Baseball, like its older cousin cricket, can be a complicated sport filled with a dizzying array of statistics. There are reams of data on each player, his batting average, runs scored in each game, and the number of home runs in the regular season, just to name a few. Those stats are only the tip of the iceberg.

Indeed, keeping meticulous scorecards and calculating player data caches is one reason Goodwin became as famous a historian as she was a devoted sports fan. She loved using data to analyze events. If only she had the power of analytics that sports fans now enjoy. The truth is, there's always been data surrounding our favorite sports. Think match data from every ATP tennis game going back many decades, or scorecards from very old cricket games that can be found on the Wisden website (or in the annual Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, before the Internet). But until recently, it was not possible to make all this data talk meaningfully. That is because, the available computing power wasn't sufficient to keep up with it all.

Enter the era of a new type of raw computing power. Today, we have a number of open-source data platforms, combining which can help process and attain real-time insights from mountains of data, at the fraction of the cost. For example, combining Hadoop and Spark gives 100X improvement to data processing. And a data science tool like 'R' can work on this for deep forecasts and predictions.

In-the-Moment Insights - The next big thing in fan experience

The average fan today can now sit in the stands and watch his favorite sport while getting 'in-the-moment' insights on a certain player or team. Is a member of basketball's Chicago Bulls likely to close out the game with a winning toss from the three-point line? Will a star cricketer of an Indian Premier League (IPL) team make a winning play like he's done in similar situations on that same pitch? Will a member of Germany's World Cup team smash a soccer ball past the goalie with just seconds to spare?

You may be able to find the answer to all these questions by giving your mobile device (or your television screens) a quick scan. Chances are that analytics platforms will have transformed the world of sports into a collection of real-time insights very soon, engaging every fan. To use an old sports adage, this technology is 'a game-changer' and how!

Exciting developments are underway in tennis, for example. With insights from data derived from Hawk-Eye and sensors (on baselines, sidelines, racquets), fans can expect more and more 'in-the-moment' insights, as opposed to post-match analytics. So if your favorite tennis player usually gets fired up and serves an ace during a tie-breaker, you will be soon able to look at your mobile device and get a computation of the likelihood of that ace being served up - right now - in front of you. It makes that serve even more exciting to watch. Sports analytics is certainly having, well, a field day.

It used to be that a fan pined for seats as close to the court or field as possible to be 'in-the-moment' by sheer vicinity. Now being 'in-the-moment' is a real, tangible thing shared by fans - wherever they might be. A spectator might be standing an inch away from a cricket pitch or be watching the match from a different continent and time zone. But if he has real-time analytics that are pointing to the statistical likelihood of certain players doing certain things in order to score, the game becomes all the more inclusive and exciting.

The mega-powerful computing and analytics platforms I've been describing aren't for the sole benefit of the fans. The computing power of today's platforms can help coaches and players make on-the-fly decisions as to what player to use at what point in the game. It can help a tennis player decide whether to play safe and make sure his serve is in-bounds, or is it time for him to go all out and try to smash an ace right by his opponent.

For organizations like Wisden (cricket), the ATP (tennis), the NBA (basketball), and even the Deutscher Fussball-Bund (soccer), players and fans have so much to gain with the insights they glean from powerful computing platforms. It's an amplification of the professional sports experience.We, the fans, have raw computing power to thank for becoming, in essence, armchair coaches to the teams and players we love. Given our influence over our favorite sports, the next move is on the part of the professional leagues themselves. It's only a matter of time until they leverage these new-found analytics to enhance the spectator experience.

Infosys is Global Technology Partner of the ATP World Tour, providing scores, stats, and insights, powered by Infosys Information Platform (IIP). Infosys is also a Platinum Partner of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals which is being held in London this week (Nov 15-22).

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