How AI is changing sports


The use of technology and statistics in the sports industry is nothing new. In fact, for some decades now, professionals in the field have used the data generated during these activities to help athletes perform better.

However, in the last several years, there was a revolution. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) became part of some of the main sports and sports leagues in the world, such as soccer, Formula 1, and football.

The emergence of these technologies has taken the use of statistics generated through sports to a new level in the industry because they provide an almost infinite amount of information. With this information, data scientists, engineers, members of confederations, technical commissions, and other professionals can create new training programs, develop safety and health measures for athletes, analyze details of the opponent, enrich television broadcasts, provide real-time data to viewers and even predict when a goal will happen.

Enhancing the fan experience

The National Football League (NFL), Formula 1, Bundesliga, and Six Nations Rugby are just a small number of sports leagues that we help, using technology to overcome challenges and increase their pace of innovation.

Alongside improving business efficiency, we cannot forget that it’s the fans that keep the industry alive. AWS enhances the fan experience before, during, and after games through rich data, insights and second-screen experiences. From interpreting action on the field to predicting goal-scoring opportunities in the Bundesliga or kick predictions for the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship, many sports customers are leveraging the power of AWS to better develop data insights within their respective sports and to enhance the performance of the individual players.

For example, we recently launched F1 Insights powered by AWS, racing performance stats in which data is automated, collected and analyzed to better understand the split-second decisions of individual drivers and pit crews. As part of these insights, Formula 1 is using Car Performance Scores to showcase how each race car compares in a head-to-head comparison with a competitor. This score isolates an individual car’s performance, taking into account factors like cornering performance, straight line performance and car balance to produce a score that will be understood by fans at home. With these, fans will have a better understanding of how different cars perform in direct comparison to each other and where they rank in the Formula 1.

All of the sports teams and leagues we work with have varying needs and we aim to find the right solution for every single one, no matter how big the project. For instance, the Bundesliga has built an advanced statistics platform called ‘Match Facts’ that covers historical data from over 10,000 Bundesliga games. This solution will deliver data in real-time, providing a new user experience and visualization on mobile devices. One of the new Match Facts, xGoals, allows soccer viewers to quantitatively evaluate goal-scoring probabilities based on several conditions on the playing field. To evolve the experience even further and enhance fan engagement, Bundesliga is also leveraging existing data as well as interaction data to enable real-time recommendations and adjustments based on the user interactions with Bundesliga platforms. This leads to a more personalized and engaging fan experience, and spectators can better understand the strategy behind decisions made on the pitch.

Keeping fan experiences alive during Covid-19

The sporting industry was drastically brought to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, organizations are increasingly turning to cloud-based solutions, not only to weather the effects of the pandemic, but also to help rigorously change fan engagement and experience during this time.

In early 2020, the NFL had invested millions of dollars in creating a major fan experience for the 2020 NFL draft and COVID-19 put all that investment in jeopardy.

With the support of AWS, the NFL was able to develop a reliable, secure way of hosting the first virtual draft during lockdown, and we partnered with the league to create the most watched NFL draft in its history. AWS’s security and scaling capabilities meant that fans still had the opportunity to witness the moment a player’s name was called, and the reactions associated with that moment from the player, coaches, team personnel, and the Commissioner. The NFL’s goal was to provide everyone with a unique and fun experience while still making sure the draft ran normally.

Helping to support performance

Alongside the fans, performance is everything and this is another area where tech can have a huge influence. Alongside the NFL, we announced the development of the “Digital Athlete,” a virtual representation of a composite NFL player which will enable us to eventually predict injury and recovery trajectories. The “Digital Athlete” has the potential to revolutionize injury detection and prevention in the NFL and beyond.

Additionally, F1 is using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) in a project that leverages AWS’s high-performance computing (HPC) to reduce the development time of the next-generation F1 race car. The CFD project used over 1,150 compute cores to run detailed simulations comprising of over 550 million data points that model the impact of one car’s aerodynamic wake on another. The scalability of AWS meant that Formula 1 was able to reduce the average time to run simulations by 70 percent – from 60 hours down to 18.

So, what’s next for the industry?

Technologies like AI and ML present virtually infinite possibilities. Through the use of rich data, we help teams innovate around training, performance and safety to further develop key components of the game.

The industry will continue to incorporate different forms of technology from how athletes train, maintain health, fitness and safety, to how fans interact with the game and keep up to date. Technology will be at the core of this innovation and will change how fans consume and experience sports across the world. Technology truly is changing the game and AWS is at the heart of that change.

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