Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Monday, January 20, 2020
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Let’s Go (To the Cloud) Mets! 

Big-time professional sports are increasingly turning to networking and analytics technologies as they seek to enhance the "fan experience." New, publicly financed sports palaces now come with networking features designed to connect fans to their team, allowing team owners to sweep up more data about what fans are talking about or whether they'd be interested in purchasing another $15 plastic bottle of warm beer.

The latest example comes courtesy of the long-suffering New York Mets, the Major League Baseball team that has not had a winning season since 2008. Despite a state-of-the-art ballpark in Flushing Meadows, Queens, Citi Field, attendance has plummeted to about 2.1 million fans from a high of more than 4 million in the team's last winning season.

If the product on the field isn't doing well, the management thinking apparently goes, focus instead on ballpark technology. Hence, the Mets announced a deal this week with the business analytics software and cloud services vendor SAS Institute "to better understand and engage with their fans."

"This analytics initiative applies a data-driven approach to discover what fans want and how they behave so the team can design experiences that appeal to them on a personal level," SAS said in a statement announcing the deal.

One would imagine "what fans want" would most likely include Mets' victories, always a sure-fire way to put fannies in the seats. But the Mets, like all sports franchises, are in the entertainment business. Teams are searching for new ways to engage with increasingly distracted fans to find out what they are thinking and what they might want to purchase next – regardless of the score on the field.

Like other cloud-based analytics vendors, SAS is seeking to tap into the vast amounts of fan data generated at sporting events. Then, they provide the tools customers can use to crunch it in order to keep the fan coming back.

The SAS cloud analytics platform is delivered via its software-as-a-service infrastructure. The Mets will use a data analytics platform SAS calls Patron Value Optimization "on all fan-related data," a company spokesman said. The platform is already used in the gaming and hospitality industries to track customer preferences. It can even provide predictions about how much a returning patron might spend on their next visit.

The high-end version of the SAS platform also can be used to manage marketing campaigns.

SAS claims more than 250 products that support Linux, Windows, and Unix variants along with specialized appliances like Teradata and Greenplum data warehouses.

SAS claims other big data tools like its Visual Analytics platform can make sense of billions of rows of data using an in-memory analytics engine. The data engine is being used for applications like analyzing risk in an unnamed global bank's investment portfolio, the company said.

"While we are capable of supporting as many users as possible on any given hardware platform, we don’t typically talk in terms of concurrent users," a company spokesman said. "Analytics are more about number of variables, rows of data and processing times."

The Mets declined to speak about the fan data initiative.

Among other things, the fan databases compiled by SAS platform and other business analytics tools can be used for team loyalty programs designed to keep the turnstiles spinning and the concessions stands humming.

These cloud-based analysis tools also are being marketed for their ability to access data in any format along with unstructured data from nearly any source. Increasingly, that means social media and video. That feature, SAS claims, means its tool can be integrated into an existing enterprise data infrastructure.

Along with the Mets, customers for SAS analytics platforms include the National Hockey League's Toronto Maple Leaf's and the National Basketball Association's Orlando Magic.

SAS and its foray into spectator sports illustrate the growing nexus between scalable cloud computing services and the broader use of business analytics across organizations. To meet growing demand, the 30-year-old North Carolina company recently expanded its on-demand IT offerings with two new datacenters that support its enterprise hosting, SaaS and cloud computing services.

Cloud analytics vendors like SAS also have capitalized on the wireless networks in ballparks and arenas that capture fan data from the moment they buy a ticket to the final stop at the concession stands. Sports franchises are increasingly using data crunching technologies to sell more stuff to their captive audiences.

Other teams have taken similar tacks. The San Francisco 49ers' new football palace in Silicon Valley was designed to sweep up vast amounts of fan data to help promote engagement and a team loyalty program. Some franchises even provide fans sitting in pricey corporate skyboxes with tablet computers or offer apps so fans can order hot dogs on their smartphone.

Sports franchises like the Mets that are struggling to compete with other entertainment options will continue to look for ways to leverage all that data sitting in the stands regardless of the home team's win-loss record.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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