Digital support for fan experience: How artificial intelligence can help the sports industry

Reading time: 6 minutes

A computer that talks to football fans about booking tickets or shows tennis fans the highlights of the first round of the US Open?

It sounds like a utopian idea from a science fiction film. But by now, such technology is part of reality and is called artificial intelligence (AI). While statistical data has always played an important role in sport, AI has been able to raise the bar significantly. New technologies are more and more able to observe, analyse and learn for the benefit of all stakeholders in the sports business. Fans in particular can get even closer to the action and the game with the new technologies - whether they are in the stadium or at home.

The term artificial intelligence covers several technologies, but they all have one thing in common: the ability to learn. Artificial intelligence collects information in the form of data and analyses it - without any human input. Based on the analyses, the AI acts and can perform tasks or make decisions to solve a problem completely automatically. The new technology can do all that so effectively because it can not only process data at a much higher speed than a human, but also because it imitates human abilities such as logical thinking, learning, planning or creativity.

The AI market in numbers

$ 1.8 B

Global worth of the AI market in 2021

$ 19.9 B

Estimated worth of the market by 2030

30.4 %

Forecasted total annual growth rate (2022 to 2030)

AI in sport

Artificial intelligence is not only useful in medicine or autonomous driving but is also used in sport. It can support communication between fans and the team because supporters increasingly wish for personalised content. They no longer want to be mere consumers, but actively participate, analyse the game, and get in touch with their favourite athletes and teams. One solution to meet this desire are chatbots: a form of artificial intelligence that can respond to the fan and their questions.

A good example of this is Arsenal London's chatbot. With the bot called "Robot Pires" (a nod to the French midfielder Robert Pires), fans can talk to the AI platform via Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Skype, or Slack. Whether it's information on the next matches, behind-the-scenes videos, or statistics on various players, the chatbot has all the information at its fingertips with wit and charm. Such virtual assistants can respond quickly and easily to fans' queries - and if the technology doesn't know the answer, the human "colleagues" can intervene.

More comfort and security in the stadium

Artificial intelligence can be helpful not only in communicating with fans. In Stadiums are numerous possible applications. Several football clubs in the USA, for example, are already using facial recognition to make admission to the stadium more efficient. Huge queues in which stewards need to check tickets that have been scrambled out with much time lost are now a thing of the past. On the AI-supported platforms, fans can upload their portrait photo and the barcode of the ticket before the match day, and at the stadium, cameras at the entrances automatically recognise whether access is granted.

At the stadium, an AI can monitor how crowded the aisles and stands are through the images from the security cameras. If there are signs that there are just too many people in an area that is too small, staff are notified and can then take action to prevent dangerous overcrowding. The behaviour of fans can also be predicted by AI - for example, at what time most fans arrive, so that merchandise, food, and drinks can then be supplied to meet demand as best as possible.

How rights holders and sponsors can use AI for advertising

With globalisation and the world's ever-increasing interest in football, basketball and other sports, the rush for tickets and the merchandise shops is also growing more and more. A larger fan base spread across several time zones - not an easy thing for the e-commerce and support team. So why not take inspiration from Amazon and co. and let an artificial intelligence do the work for them?

With the vast amounts of customer data that can be easily collected and analysed, rights holders and sponsors get to know the fan even better and the marketing for the fan shops or the ads in the streams can be more targeted and personalised with the help of AI. In this way, suitable products and offers can be suggested to the (potential) customer based on their location, their purchase history, or their search queries. With the support of an AI, it is also possible to predict which fans can be convinced to buy with a discount code and which products sell best at which time.

AI supports faster content production

Artificial intelligence can also simplify content production. TV broadcasters and streaming services can use AI systems to produce automated and personalised content. This makes it possible to publish highlight videos within a very short time. 

The best example is the cooperation between Wimbledon and the American IT company IBM. At the prestigious tennis tournament, more than 700 matches take place on 18 courts within two weeks. To be able to present all the highlights of the match in a video immediately after it finished would be impossible and would require a huge team. That's why the artificial intelligence developed by IBM called "Watson" has been used since 2019. It processes live video footage of all matches, analyses match statistics, players' gestures and even spectators' reactions, and decides which scenes should be played out to the fans in a highlight video based on a created scoring system. What would have taken humans hours to do, the artificial intelligence manages in record time and provides fans with the highlights in the official Wimbledon app within two minutes of the end of the match.

AI Watson also provides match insights. For this, countless data from numerous sources - from current statistics to comments from experts - are analysed and predictions are developed based on them. This allows fans to know in advance which player is most likely to win according to the data and what factors could be responsible for this. Match Insights also provides the most relevant quotes from the media and summarises the most important statistics. 

Match Insights via AI

For the Wimbledon final in July 2022, the AI predicted a victory by Australian Nick Kyrgios - but Novak Djokovic actually won. A sign that nothing can be predicted with one hundred percent probability. Nevertheless, AI systems have long since ceased to be an half-baked gimmick. From content production to ticketing, many rights holders have already been able to implement AI successfully and with added value. Even if sport will always remain unpredictable: artificial intelligence is a useful support in many areas of the sports business that can help to keep up with the increasing demands of fans and not lose touch in an ever faster developing industry.

Beyond the Match
The SPORTFIVE Magazine

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