How AI Can Democratise Sports

Sports have been practiced and celebrated globally for millennia by people of all walks of life, but few athletes ever get the spotlight. Most athletes have little chance of gaining any visibility or recognition for their physical achievements, no matter how awe inspiring. But automation technology is now gradually changing that reality, capturing sports activity wherever it may be, and offering every player a place in the limelight.

Early sports primarily focused on war preparation. Over time, rock-, spear-, and stake throwing gradually made way for group activities involving a ball, including both men and women. And as ancient historical sources indicate, sport wasn’t just an exclusive activity for the strongest male athletes, but rather a fun pastime that anyone could engage in.

So, what happened? How come our world doesn’t celebrate all sports, and all athletes? Specific sports and players have traditionally commanded mass public attention. A century ago, the most popular sports were baseball, horse racing, boxing, and cycling. Back then, the NFL and NBA, which presently command TV ratings, did not even exist.

Societal change, guided by technological progress, a shift in public tastes, and new trends in media led to a change in the focus on sports as well. Cycling faded as a U.S. spectator sport as many people switched to cars for transportation and that in turn boosted the popularity of auto racing instead. The NFL’s popularity grew as TVs made it into practically every American home, where tens of millions saw how well the sport fit the new medium. And eventually media trends also had their influence. To engage a younger viewership, ESPN created the X Games, which both fed and created an appetite for more individualistic and so-called extreme sports. 

Individuality and visibility are what lead our society today, and that trend is both enabled and supported by technology, media and public focus. Social networks gave individuals worldwide a platform through which to share themselves with the world, leading to the democratisation of media presence, albeit via the Internet. New AI-based camera systems are now doing the same for sports and players globally as well.

Using this new technology, “people have the power” to democratize sports, affording visibility to more athletes, competing in a greater variety of sports, across a larger audience globally. Small colleges and high schools can use AI-powered automated cameras to stream and share their sports team’s events with far-flung audiences, including family members and talent scouts.

When it comes to systematized and automated exposure of niche, grassroots, and school sports – and, importantly, the athletes who compete at that level – Pixellot leads a revolution. Strategically located in the void below professional and popular sports production where more than 200 million sports events worldwide gain little to no exposure, Pixellot offers an alternative. The company’s camera systems are currently installed at more than 25,000 courts and fields across the world and offer athletic programs valuable access to automated game production and highlights, for training and commercial purposes

In the US alone, Pixellot enables live viewership of more than 100,000 games per month and has produced more than 2 million games, spanning the “Big Four” North American sports – football, basketball, baseball, and hockey – as well as soccer, softball, lacrosse, volleyball, and more.

Most notably, AI technology powers a virtuous cycle, encouraging audiences to want to see more grassroots sports events and a wider array of athletes. By providing an unprecedented number of streamed sports events, automation generates increased demand and creates opportunities for athletes to appear on screen before families, communities, and scouts at the next level.

Technology has a direct impact on the popularization of a wider variety of sports and plays an active role in democratising the sports world in general.

Yossi Tarablus, Associate Vice President Global Marketing, Pixellot

Founded in 2013, Pixellot is the world’s largest producer of live sports content. Today Pixellot’s AI-Automated technology solutions streamline production workflow by fully automating live sports capture, distribution, analysis, and monetization of over 150,000 games per month from +70 countries across the globe.

The Value of Digital Transformation in Sport

Sport is an industry unlike any other, a fact that is both a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, it is an industry fuelled by passion, from the deep and almost unconditional love that a fan holds for their favourite sport or team. Any other industry would long for that kind of emotional engagement.

On the other hand, passion is something we cannot depend on. Sport has long relied on fans passing their affections from one generation to the next, and times are changing. With a world of digital entertainment options now available to global audiences, sport must compete like never before to earn its place in the hearts and minds of today’s consumer.

This requires sports organisations to build an understanding of digital engagement techniques, driven by data, to avoid being left behind. This is the premise of digital transformation, a term that has become hugely popular in recent years but one I still think is confused.

True digital transformation is not about adopting new technology. It’s about systemic and cultural changes that are focused on extracting value over the long-term for the benefit of an organisation, its fans and its network of commercial partners.

Be fan-obsessed

To begin with, it is important to understand that fans, not technology departments, are key to success. We must avoid assumptions regarding what content to show, what platforms to create or which demographics to target. Sports fans are diverse, they are full of surprises and should always be given the chance to express their preferences.

By investing the time and resource into tracking individual fan preferences and analysing the data they share, organisations gain the intelligence that helps create worthwhile digital experiences. As we enter the world of web3, demand for these experiences will only increase, which means every part of an organisation, from the venues it operates to individual back-office processes, should be optimised for digital consumption and data generation.

There are three key areas where organisations can begin building this data-driven approach.

  1. Direct fan relationships

Online streaming, mobile gaming and social media is defining how fans consume, purchase and interact; it is now an expectation that digital experiences are widely available.

Modern fan engagement should therefore be shaped around platforms that enable these constant, multi-channel connections, enabling single sign-on authentication and gathering first party data.

Whatever platforms you are using, more value can be extracted by analysing its data and comparing it to other parts of your ecosystem.

Using business analytics, you can build a complete picture of how fan communities are behaving, leading to better monetisation. Last season, we saw data-driven fan campaigns deliver up to 700% ROI for sports properties and deliver millions in direct sales.

  1. Digital competition management

After years of relying on manual tasks, new digital tools can drastically cut the time needed to achieve objectives while bringing in a wider range of stakeholders than was previously possible.

With new digital tools comes data, which if analysed correctly can shed new light on how different processes are performing, opening the door to major new savings or future innovations.

  1. Enhancing the value of content

This practice of generating data from all areas of the competition creates opportunities to apply new information to the content itself, helping to maximise its value.

Spectacular amounts of real-time data can be captured from live matches, which can then be shared with relevant stakeholders to speed up decision making and improve analysis, be it for coaching or wider business strategy. Meanwhile for broadcast content, the ability to incorporate new data can enhance storytelling and drive a new level of engagement with viewing audiences.

A data-driven future

With a data-driven approach like this, the value of technology comes to life, opening the door to major new savings, future innovations and of course, investment.

Whether you are running a single digital platform or a whole suite of services, it is essential that they can be connected to a single data-based ecosystem, allowing information about fans, competitions and content to be centralised. This is a process that can often require specialist guidance and ongoing support, but it is the step that will keep sporting organisations on the right track.

The story of sports technology is just getting started, so it is important that we lay the foundations right and seek the right support where needed. By creating systems and cultures that can incorporate new products and extract information over time, we will deliver the value required to maintain the passion of fans and deliver previously unimaginable returns.

Tom Woods leads Marketing and Communications at LaLiga Tech, the technology division of Spanish football’s premier division that is leading the digital transformation of sports and entertainment with a range of unique, modular technologies offered under a single data-based ecosystem.