How AI will affect the world of sports

How AI will impact the world of 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 AI 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 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? 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. With 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. 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 it 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: the latter uses one layer of data.

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. In both cases you are probably very wrong. It will affect your job and it will be there quick!

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

The athlete: AI will help performance

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, he will use to realise that one last percentage point that can make the difference.

AI can very likely produce this! 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. Artificial Intelligence will use these datapoints to come up with tailor made solutions for each individual athlete. How and how much he or she should train, what he should eat, how much rest he will need, how he can avoid injuries 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 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 AI such analysis should be much easier.

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.

The fan: engagement levels should be enhanced

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

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

Clubs, athletes and teams will use all kind 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 experience when interacting on different digital platforms. Inside and outside the stadium the fan will benefit from AI. In fact AI should improve convenience levels, content and experience.With the help of AI, clubs, athletes and teams will get to know their fans better with each interaction. This will help them in offering a better product.

The Coach will never be the same

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

With AI, coaches can get help from data analysts that 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 which 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.

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

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 AI, 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 them 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.

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 AI. With the help of wearables and smart sensor assisted apparel 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. Expect much more to come in the coming few years. First movers are having the advantage here!

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 AI will be able to make much better and more accurate decisions than the human referee can. His role in the future will be mainly related to human behaviour and conduct, unless we decide differently ofcourse.

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.

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. I bet that AI will be much better at predicting winners and losers than we humans. You may well remember that AI 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.

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 much more. Coaching may take place though virtual assistants, augmented reality and sensor equipped textiles. With the help of drones and GPS, we will be able to film our own achievements live (see video) etc. The possibilities are endless!

I am sure I have been far from complete, but I think you have at least a better feel of what AI will bring to the table in the near future. If you have any ideas, please share, so we can have an open exchange of ideas on this platform. In the mean time, have a great week!

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.