How AI will affect the world of sports

10 ways how Artificial Intelligence will impact sports in a big way

Buckle up if you are active in sports! One way or another you too will be affected by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and deep learning. Some people are underestimating the impact of it but by doing so, they make a huge mistake. Sports is one of the business segments that will be affected most! We discuss which user groups will have to get used to this phenomenon and how Artificial Intelligence is impacting the world of sports.

Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and deep learning


Artificial Intelligence: a smart thinking machine

First things first! Do you actually know what Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and deep learning are? For those that have heard of it, but not know exactly what it is, let me try to explain it in simple terms.

Artificial Intelligence is what the word suggests. It is an intelligence that is artificial! It is programmed by humans in order to perform tasks done by humans and requiring the human intelligence. Tasks that lends itself for AI are for example speech and image recognition, decision making and analysis. So yes, your Siri and Alexa are applications of artificial intelligence. Basically everything which can be translated into data lends itself for AI. So, is it a smart thinking machine? Bang on! That’s what it is.

Machine learning: the more examples, the smarter it gets

Ok! So You know now what AI is. What about machine learning and deep learning then? What do these have to do with AI? Good question!

Machine learning is a subset of Artificial Intelligence. Basically, rather than giving a computer a set of instructions, you give it a bunch of examples. You start to feed the machine! With all these examples it starts to recognize patterns and comes up with a solution itself. The more examples the machine gets, the smarter it becomes. That’s what machine learning is! It learns from the data it gets. If you continuously stream classical music, it is unlikely that it comes up with punk music suggestions. If you feed it with sports, it is unlikely to come up with arts. Machine learning lends itself particularly well for repetitive tasks.

Deep learning aiming to mimic human brain

Deep learning goes a level deeper. I read somewhere that deep learning is machine learning on steroids and aims to mimic the human brain as much as possible. It uses different subsets of data to make structured decisions and that’s where the main difference is with machine learning: machine learning uses one layer of data whilst deep learning uses several layers, much like our own brain!

AI will have a huge impact on sports

sports and AI
Source: Forbes

Ok, enough is enough! Now you know the basics! You probably realise that all of us will be impacted big time by the changes this will bring to our society, good and bad! You may think, it will not affect my job by that much and that it will take a long time before it is widely used. In both cases you are probably very, very wrong. It will affect your job and it will be there quick!

Most industries will be affected by Artificial Intelligence, whether you like it or not. Sports is one of the industries that will experience huge changes in the future accross the board. In my opinion AI is one of the most important of the 11 trends in the sports world. Below we briefly explain which groups and segments in sports will be affected. Let’s go!

1. The athlete: AI will help performance levels

Sports is all about how to improve yourself and maximize your performance. It is all about the actors. The athlete is the main performer here! Every help he (or she) can get, will be used in order to realise that one last percentage point that can make the difference.

Artificial Intelligence can very likely realize this last percentage point! How? For example with sensors! Sensors can basically measure everything. Think about body functions, biomechanics, heart rate, breathing, lung capacity, muscle movement, posture etc. This athlete specific info provides extremely useful datapoints which can be analysed by AI. Artificial Intelligence will use these datapoints to come up with tailor made solutions for each individual athlete, whether you are a pro or an amateur. How and how much he or she should train, what he or she should eat, how much rest will be needed, how to avoid injuries, how to move more efficiently etc, etc.

One solution for all no longer exists…..

You may remember the Milan lab of AC Milan, the club that aimed to optimize the performance of its players and to extend their careers. Everything was basically measured; from the food the players ate to the time they went to bed, from stress to having had sex before the game or not etc. This was done in a time when AI did not exist yet. With Artificial Intelligence such analysis should be much, much easier, whilst the number of datapoints can be significantly increased.

For example Player A will perform better with diet 1, whereas player B will perform best with diet 2. You get the picture I guess. It all depends on the individual datapoints of each single athlete. No one solution for all! Player healthcare, nutrition, physics and medicine are crucial for performance and AI will play an important role in this in the near future.

2. The fan: engagement levels should be enhanced

With the arrival of AI there will also be huge changes for fans and their engagement levels.

Clubs, athletes and teams will use different subsets of data and statistics they gather in order to provide their fans with unique content. No doubt there are plenty of fans who are willing to pay for this content. Chatbots and voice technology will provide a much better fan experience when interacting on different digital platforms. Inside and outside the stadium the fan will benefit from Artificial Intelligence. In fact AI should improve convenience levels, content and experience.With the help of Artificial Intelligence, clubs, athletes and teams will get to know their fans better with each interaction. This will help them in offering a better product. So, what should you think of?

AI will for example provide live background data on players, statistics etc. It also means that second screens (both in the stadium and at home) will become the new normal! This should result in a richer viewing experience.

But there is more. Fantasy games and betting (see 8) can be played real time from a fan’s seat because he has all of the data at his fingertips! Artificial Intelligence will also provide fans with pro-active tailor made interaction. In the future a fan no longer will be just a fan. Instead he will be a specific person with a specific fan profile. AI will recognize who he (or she) is, what fan profile he or she has, what preferences he has, what he has purchased in the past, which events he has been visiting etc.

With the help of AI the fan will get a personal treatment like never before, making him or her a VIP and providing him with a great experience. Moreover Artificial Intelligence should improve stadium logistics, crowd and security management enhancing the customer journey of the fan. After having ordered your ticket with the help of AI, your AI assisted car will drive itself to the stadium, drop you off at the entrance and find itself a parking spot. You won’t have to queue as AI powered crowd management systems will take care of congestions assisted by facial recognition etc.

Also interesting to read: how to improve fan engagement in the future

3. The Coach will never be the same anymore

Coaching with Artificial Intelligence will be entirely different from coaching without it. Say farewell to the old fashioned way of coaching and say hello to the new!

With Artificial Intelligence, coaches can get help from data analysts which can assess specific qualities of players and how these qualities can be used in a team. AI will also help in identifying how a player can improve himself. As far as the opponent is concerned, AI can analyse tactics and patterns of another team in a way that the human eye can’t. This should help the coaching staff to come up with a solid gameplan. Some coaches are already using AI for these purposes and they definitely are benefiting from it.

Moreover Artificial Intelligence will help the coach in spotting talent. Scouting and recruitment used to be pretty subjective but AI can now be used to measure the potential of talent. Again, AI will be particularly helpful with metrics which cannot accurately detected by humans. Scouts and talent spotters, use it or lose it!

4. The stadiums and venues will transform in deep learning cities 

The stadiums and venues of the future (see blogpost) will not be like they have been before. Future stadiums will be technological fortresses and datatemples. With the help of Artificial Intelligence and facial recognition, crowd management and smart ticketing will become commonplace. AI will detect the behaviour of each individual fan and provide them with tailor made experiences with the help of AR and VR.

Think about chatbots that will assist you, about holographic experiences with your favorite player, stats and info the way you want it delivered, interactive screenshots of yourself, advertising aimed at you. Think about drones that will automatically detect the right camera angle for replays and highlights, so you can see these in the most optimal way. With the help of AI stadiums will transform into small deep learning cities, which should improve the experience of the fans and the product offering.

5. The sports equipment industry: smart wearables and textiles will be the name of the game

The sports textiles and equipment industries will also be impacted by Artificial Intelligence. With the help of wearables and smart sensor assisted apparel (see blogpost) and equipment, software will be able to detect sport specific metrics. This trend will be demand driven. Athletes want to have the latest state of the art technology in order to drive performance. Consumers want to mimic these top athletes and especially GenZ (see blogpost), who loves technology, will be game here!

Many sports manufacturers are already jumping on the bandwagon, whether it is with smart wearables that can analyse your achievements with AI or with textiles that improve your yoga moves or golfswing. Big disruption to be expected here! Expect much more to come in the coming few years. First movers are having the advantage here!

6. The referee: role will be changed

Refereeing will not be the same anymore as it used to be. In fact a lot has already been changed. With the introduction of hawkeye, Video Assistant Refereeing, goal line technology etc, there have already been huge changes. It is just the beginning! In the future Artificial Intelligence will be able to make much better and more accurate decisions than the human referee ever can. Don’t be surprised if robots will take over in the future with accurate AI driven decisions.

Does it mean, there is no role left for the referee? No! I believe he will stay around, only in a different role. The role of the referee in the future will be one that is mainly related to human behaviour, emotions and conduct (which AI is still not fully capable of), unless we decide differently of course.

7. The media: content will never be the same anymore

Sports media will also feel the impact of AI. What to think of automated journalism. Yes, it can already be done! Sports articles can be written by AI platforms. I challenge you to spot the difference!

But there is much more. Think about the timing and content of advertisements shown during a game. AI will determine this based on for example crowd excitement levels. The latter also will determine which highlights will be broadcasted and which not. Based on the events on the field, AI systems connected to drones can be used to choose the right camera angle to display on the viewers’ screens. As the video below shows, this can provide some breathtaking views.

8. The Betting industry: the judges will be out

Sports analytics and betting…..basically it is a no-brainer! AI will have a huge impact on the betting industry. All these juicy data can be used for prediction purposes and analysis. I bet that Artificial Intelligence will be much better at predicting winners and losers than we humans are. You may well remember that Artificial Intelligence predicted not only the right unlikely winner of the superbowl 2017, it also predicted the right score! It will be interesting to see how the betting industry will deal with this.

9. You and I: our sporting lifes will never be the same anymore

By reading the above, it becomes clear that you and I will face huge changes. You may like it or not, those changes will come. In some cases it will improve our experiences and convenience levels. In many cases, we will see an improved product offering. However, as has always been the case, some may long towards good old times.

As far as our own sporting activities, those will also change. Wearables and sensors have already entered the arena. In the future we will see many more changes. Coaching may take place though virtual assistants, augmented reality, holograms and sensor equipped textiles and hence heavily disrupt the profession of coaching. With the help of AI assisted drones and GPS, we will be able to film our own achievements live (see video) etc. Wouldn’t that be fun. Artificial Intelligence being our friend! The possibilities are endless!

10. New sports will come to the fore developed by AI

Not surprisingly, there have already been efforts to use Artificial Intelligence in trying to create new sports. Nvidia and a design agency called AKQA fed neural network data about sorts that already existinto a computer in order to come up with a new sports. And yes, they were successful. The sport is called Speedgate and is a mix of rugby, field hockey, soccer and more. Watch the video below and you will understand. It is quite fun actually. Don’t be surprised if many more sports will be developed with the help of AI. Sportifying existing games will be one of the segments where AI can offer a lot of help.

Also interesting to read: Sportification new mantra of the game industry in the next ten years

I am sure I have been far from complete, but I think you have at least a much better feeling of what AI will bring to the table in the near future. If you have any ideas, please share them with us, so we can have an open exchange of ideas on this platform. You can also drop me a mail discussing the subject of sports in the future. In the mean time, have a great week!

This article was originally published on November 12, 2019 and has been updated

Published by Jan Kees Mons

I am Jan Kees Mons. Just call me JK, that’s easier I guess. I am a Dutchman living in the heart of the city of Amsterdam. Right now I am living on my own. However, not for much longer, as I plan to live together with my lovely girlfriend.

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