Aldo Agostinelli

Everything began in 2014: the partnership between technology and sport started a revolution. Wearable micro-sensors, AI, the Cloud, the Internet of Things and  machine learning, we are now relying more and more on high precision data analysis. Actually, we are talking about big data analysis. And it is enough to consider that the global market of professional sport has been estimated to be worth 90 billion dollars, to understand what we have witnessed was a real turn of the screw (Global sports market – total revenue from 2005 to 2017). Read it in Italian.

This growing trend, which is expanding into several different professional sport disciplines, started with the partnership between the Baseball Major League and the cloud Player Tracking System, created by MLB Advanced Media together with Amazon Web Service (AWS) (AWS: lo sport entra in una nuova era, quella dei Big Data).

The most iconic example thereof  is the close co-operation between the National Football League (NFL) and AWS: exploiting a clever combination of cloud computing, data science and machine learning, they can now process and turn into valuable information for teams and fans, a huge amount of data concerning speed, positions on the pitch and movement patterns collected since 2015 by the Rfid electronic tags (radiofrequency identification system) manufactured by Zebra Technologies, which have been applied to players’ shoulder pads, and more recently, by the sensors worn by referees, score markers, lighting columns and even inside the ball.
NFL can boast a total of 180 million fans all over the world, “only” 17 millions of whom physically go to the stadium. Which means that 90% of such fans watch matches on TV ( in 2017 NFL matches occupied 37 of the first 50 positions in the chart of the most voted TV programmes ), on line and on their smartphones, with the consequent games and, ça va sans dire, an amazing advertising business.

At the moment, a week of matches generates 3 TB of data which are then available for the teams to use. Each team, indeed, can access their own data ( and not the competitors’ ) to assess their performance, even thanks to the contribution of scientists and internal data analysts hired for this purpose. A part of such data are also available live, directly from CBS broadcast, to explain some of the most interesting stages of each match. NFL has also created a dedicated portalfor their fans, providing statistic data.  (How the NFL and Amazon unleashed ‘Next Gen Stats’ to grok football games).

Following baseball and football, IoT and AI are also being applied to the  Ultimate Fighting Championship, the US association of mixed martial arts (MMA). Moreover, coaches more and more often use big data to understand which factors can improve the performance of Olympic athletes (How Big Data Is Revolutionizing Sports)

Experts have anyway  warned us: what would happen if data concerning players ended up in the wrong hands? While data concerning performance during matches can easily be derived from observations, data concerning training sessions and their life style are more valuable and dangerous. For instance, finding out that a player is struggling to recover from an accident, may negatively affect his price and, consequently, the destiny of his team (The Big Risks Of Big Data In Sports).

However, the solution has already been found and is called security: it will be enough to duly protect data using passwords and encryption!


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Aldo Agostinelli