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From Better Fan Experience to Injury Prevention—3 Ways AI is Revolutionizing Sports

If you go almost anywhere in the world—from the streets of Beşiktaş to Brooklyn—you’ll see kids sporting the jersey of No. 30 for the Golden State Warriors, Steph Curry. In fact, Curry ranks... - Machine learning predictive analytics with no-code
16 February, 2023
Est. Reading: 7 minutes

If you go almost anywhere in the world—from the streets of Beşiktaş to Brooklyn—you’ll see kids sporting the jersey of No. 30 for the Golden State Warriors, Steph Curry. In fact, Curry ranks as basketball’s most beloved player among self-identified NBA fans—with a net favorability rating of 67. 

Yet, the darling of the NBA was nearly out of the game back in 2012-13 due to a series of ankle injuries.

Luckily for Steph, AI is revolutionizing sports.  Keke Lyles came to Golden State as Director of Performance and used STATS LLC SportVU cameras and Catapult Sports GPS accelerometers to track Curry’s movement.

Reading the data, Lyles then decided to change Curry’s training by focusing on building up his hips and core with traditional exercises—such as the single-leg hip airplane and deadlifts. 

Keke is now considered by insiders to be the unsung hero that helped Steph Curry go from a potential bust to a two-time NBA MVP (‘15, ‘16), a four-time NBA champion (‘15, ‘17-18, ‘22), and the face of the NBA.

Help Athletes Prevent Injuries with AI

When Keke Lyles left the Warriors—who play in the Bay Area—many people thought of his resources as luxury only available to a team lucky enough to play in high-tech Silicon Valley. Nearly a decade later, Lyles is the director of performance at Uplift Labs, a company that analyzes an athlete’s movements to improve their skills and reduce their injury risks. 

This time Lyles hopes that—with only a pair of  iPhones and tripods—that he can bring the benefits to the masses. Most motion capture systems rely on expensive suits and intricate calibration. Uplift recreates footage of athletes in 3D and then inputs actionable insights into the biomechanics of the movements.

“It’s two phones, no markers, no calibration, just walk in and go to work,” said Lyles. “That saves probably like 70% of the time.”

Some NBA teams prefer their own in-house platform to monitor fitness and prevent injuries. Just 140 kilometers (87 miles) northeast of San Francisco, the Sacramento Kings became the first NBA team to form an alliance with Connexion, an AI-powered health and fitness technology platform.

Connexion provides the Kings with a walk-in kiosk that implements multiple AI sensors for touchless, automated health assessments. The Kings use this technology to measure and analyze everything about a player’s main physical attributes, including:

  • Posture
  • Lateral balance
  • Body movement

The platform also provides an ample app marketplace which help players prevent injuries, enhance playing performance and fitness levels—and even lengthen their playing careers, especially at a time when the average NBA salary is $9,662,447 USD.

Can AI Really Help Deliver an NBA Championship?

While AI helps players stay healthy—can AI and an analytical approach to basketball really help teams win an NBA championship ring? The Toronto Raptors think so. Here’s their approach:

A Data-Driven War Room: In 2016, the Raptors were set to open a new practice facility in Toronto—and felt that hanging papers with magnets on the wall and reviewing stand-alone datasets in Excel would no longer get the job done. They tapped IBM to build them a new data-driven command center to organize their data, especially scouting reports. The room has an incredible nine screens hosting data captured from advanced cognitive technology from IBM’s Watson.

Drafting and Trade Strategy: The key to the Raptors data strategy—as with all good machine learning projects—is finding important trends over a select period of time. When it comes to drafting new players, teams need to overcome current team deficiencies and ineffective players. Next, scouts must match these weaknesses with data on the strengths of college players and free agents who can improve the team in these specified areas. 

Using this approach, the Raptors chose current star forward Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick in the first round, a major success for a player taken so late in the draft. 

Watson Personality can also develop instant profiles of other teams’ players by using linguistic analytics to understand player personality and social characteristics to predict if they will mesh well with the current team after a potential trade. A seemingly meaningless angry Tweet by a player after a game can come back to change their career or the path of a team. 

Scouting professional athletes with machine learning and AI isn’t only for the biggest leagues in the world—platforms such as Scoutium analyzes soccer players from Germany, Poland, and Turkey by collecting match recordings from hundreds of cities, towns, and villages. This helps democratize AI and gives young players a real opportunity to be discovered.

Shot Analysis and Load Management: To improve their shooting, the Toronto Raptors also installed the Noah Shooting System, which uses machine vision technology to measure a player’s shot from any spot on the court and delivers instant audio feedback to correct the shot’s arc, depth, and left-right parameters. The data is stored online and empowers players, trainers, and coaches to work on their shot and develop proper muscle memory. 

Finally, the Raptors have started using so-called “load management”—which has everything to do with data. The team had star player Kawhi Leonard use a wearable GPS—which enabled the team to closely monitor the ways he moved to pinpoint performance irregularities that could indicate an injury. By monitoring recovery, strain, and sleep, the team let Kawhi sit out 22 regular season games. The result? Kawhi and the Raptors beat Steph Curry and the Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals and brought the first NBA Championship home to Canada.

Can AI Get More People Out of the House and Back Into Stadiums?

These days, a lot of people prefer staying home. It’s much cheaper and more comfortable for many people to watch Netflix or catch the big game on their own couch in front of their new hi-def TV. The drop in U.S. ticket sales for sports is telling:

  • Each major U.S. league (NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL) saw a decline in total attendance from 2008 to 2018. The COVID pandemic only made things worse. 
  • While the NBA is making more money with higher ticket prices—the number of paid fans at arenas has dropped 7.1% to 13,603 per game.
  • Major League Baseball (MLB) attendance for 2022 is down almost 6% from 2019—the last year before the pandemic.

So, what can teams do to get more people back into seats at live sporting events? Teams are using AI and data-driven solutions to improve the overall fan experience in the following ways:

Moving Lines Faster: Fans of the NFL’s historic Cleveland Browns have complained for years that gameday lines are too long—they wait for up to an hour and miss the opening kickoff. The team listened and implemented Express Access powered by Wicket to give fans a quick and easy way to enter FirstEnergy Stadium. Express Access uses facial authentication technology and computer vision analytics that allow for a quick and touchless way to enter the stadium. What is more, the team offers additional fan features and VIP opportunities for those who enlist—and always promises to never sell fan data. 

Keeping Fans Safer: The Browns have also introduced yet another way to reduce game lines: Evolv Express®. Evolv Express uses powerful AI sensor technology to identify weapons, provide data insights that inform staff to bolster stadium security posture, and support the busiest gates. Now, fans no longer have to open their bags or even stop walking. The Los Angeles Rams have also introduced Evolv Technology. 

Wi-Fi Works Wonders: The New England Patriots are considered the model franchise in the NFL. It starts with their commitment to every detail, from training methods to Wi-Fi access for their fans. In 2012 the organization made a commitment to ensure that the entire stadium receives Wi-Fi. By 2019, the Patriots broke Industry Records with a peak data transfer rate of 23.24 Gbps during their home opener. 

Yet, advanced Wi-Fi isn’t just about fans checking the latest player and fantasy stats or posting selfies on social media. Without reliable Wi-Fi for every fan, it’s impossible to:

  • Fulfill Mobile Orders: Tottenham Hotspur built one of the smartest, most-connected soccer stadiums in the world. It also was the first cashless stadium in the world—and fans can buy food and merchandise with contactless cards, mobile phones, or wearable devices. This makes for shorter lines and lets the club know in real-time which products are selling best.
  • Make Pro-Active Concession Stands: The Sacramento Kings claim that their Golden 1 Center is the most advanced basketball arena in the world. The franchise uses AI to make sure hot dogs don’t run out at each concession stand and can even inform the clean-up squad to mop up spilled beer or soda. 
  • Engage Fans with AR (Augmented Reality): The Los Angeles Rams, meanwhile, claim that SoFi Stadium is the most technologically advanced NFL stadium—but also the most advanced stadium in all of America. Already completely cashless, using Evolv and Digital Twin Technology, SoFi understands that NFL games actually only have 11 minutes of on-field action. 

Hence, the Rams have introduced ARound, the next generation of Shared Augmented Reality with real-time stadium AR, which uses in-venue broadcast integration on SoFi Stadium’s Infinity Screen.

And what about the fans who still would rather stay at home? The ARound Connected Fan Community allows fans at home to connect with those in the stadium. Other technology, such as Tilt Five, sets up a holographic gaming table device that gives you a 3D space with a simultaneous 3D-rendered bird’s-eye view of the pitch—right on your own coffee table.

Finally, the NBA is using machine learning to create better highlights for fans who missed the big game. Machine learning identifies a game’s best moments—via visual, audio and data cues—and has already generated more than 13 million total clips and highlights in a single year. This not only gives fans better insight into the games—it’s also being used by scouts to look at opponents and helps teams know the right player to draft. 

For NBA fans, the league’s new app is data-driven and totally AI-powered. Machine learning generates a flywheel that starts moving to deliver more insight into what fans really want to see—based on their app interactions, behaviors, and reactions to the content.

That is the true power of AI and sports. Whether it’s scouting, injury prevention, WiFi innovation, or personalizing apps, the power of machine learning can augment healthier players, smarter teams, and more connected fans. 

ML Studio makes AI accessible for organizations that need to solve real-world business problems by providing clients with a robust and ready-to-use End-to-End AI platform that doesn’t go off budget.

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