ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND THE FUTURE OF SPORTS: PART 2
Two-Part Series on AI in Sports
According to Forbes, the sports industry in North America is expected to reach $73.5 billion in net worth by 2019. Television coverage and streaming rights have set records each time league deals are up for renewal, creating bidding wars between cable networks for the last programming to assure live viewers.
And now Silicon Valley’s tech giants have peaked their interest in sports — not only in media coverage but for finding ways to incorporate their technology. Over two articles (Read Part 1), we’ll cover ways artificial intelligence tech, in particular, is impacting sports now and in the future.
Real-Time Game Analysis and Play Calling
In 2015, two students from North Carolina State built a model to predict if a team would call a pass or run play. When they tested this model, it picked the correct play type 92% of the time. Other analysis firms are right behind them, using AI to scrape tons of data to find patterns in play calling. Could the future of in-game coaching be using an app to predict the next play?
Given a large set of data, computers can learn from past actions and outcomes. If everyone always punts on fourth-and-long, the computer will know “punt on fourth-and-long.”
The processing power of AI is being used to remove the human element of game officiating. For amatuer tennis players, a GoPro-size device called In/Out can be fastened to a net and detect when balls are out, with 99% accuracy. After scanning the court lines before a game starts, the device uses cameras similar to ones used in smartphones to track the ball.
Since 2015, AI has assisted minor league baseball officials call balls and strikes with increased accuracy. Umpires in baseball are often criticized for the subjectivity of strike zones from one to another. But in this setup, cameras focus on the batter’s box and are connected to nearby supercomputers. An official sits behind a computer and announces the call listed on the screen. This tech could be extended to other baseball calls, like home runs and foul/fair ball calls.
Other sports like soccer and hockey (goals are verified by sensors on the goal line), track and horse racing (to determine winners in close races), and cricket could benefit from AI-assisted officiating.
AI automation is ready to shake up sports journalism. The Associated Press is expanding coverage of Minor League Baseball by using AI software to translate stats from box scores into narrative stories. As a result, AP has increased its reporting capacity 12 times, to 13 leagues and 142 teams.
AI can also automatically generate game highlight video packages, scanning full-game footage to identify impactful plays and events. As more and more sports networks launch — from NBC, Fox, CBS, college conferences, and sports leagues — the use of AI can make coverage more efficient and require less human workforce.
What the Future Holds
And these solutions are just the beginning. With the investments made in sports and the public’s desire for more technologically-enriched experiences, we’re sure to see more applications of artificial intelligence in the future.