Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Thursday, October 21, 2021

IBM Serving Aces to US Open Tennis Fans 

Using AI, IBM Watson and hybrid cloud, IBM is expanding the real-time data insights available to fans of the US Open Tennis tournament so they can get even deeper, match-by-match details on their favorite players and rounds as the event unfolds.

IBM has been working with the US Open and its host, the United States Tennis Association (USTA), for 30 years to help bring the matches to tennis fans. For 2021 the company has enhanced its digital offerings with new IBM Power Rankings that fans can use to see what the data is saying about players ahead of upcoming matches. Among the newly available insights are “Likelihood to Win," "Ones to Watch," and "Upset Alerts."

In addition, the first-time US Open Fantasy Tennis experience was also launched on the website using IBM Watson Discovery. US Open Fantasy Tennis lets fans create a fantasy team of tennis pros that they can follow throughout the two-week tournament, complete with Match Insights that will let fans make the most informed fantasy selections for their teams.

The Ones to Watch feature, which provides a pre-tournament perspective of players where the IBM Power Ranking places them five or more positions higher than their respective tour rank, was tested earlier in 2020 during the Wimbledon event. In that pilot, IBM Watson identified player Matteo Berrettini as a “One to Watch,” and he made it through to the tournament's final.

IBM uses a wide range of its technology capabilities at the US Open, from digital fan experiences to cyber security, digital property support and more, using a hybrid cloud infrastructure bringing together IBM Cloud, Watson for Cyber Security, and IBM Watson's enterprise-grade AI capabilities, according to IBM.

The new IBM Power Rankings with Watson and Match Insights with Watson run on IBM Cloud with Red Hat OpenShift using AI and natural language processing to analyze data and offer key insights ahead of each of the tournament's 254 singles matches.

John Kent of IBM

“Digital is playing an increasingly important role in engaging fans and delivering value to fans,” John J. Kent, IBM’s program manager for its sports and entertainment partnerships, told EnterpriseAI. “AI is playing a critical role in helping transform the way people work. So, when we think about match insights, it is a pre-match fact sheet or cheat sheet that you can do at scale with the use of AI. That helps the USTA generate more content which will engage the fans more, including things like the Power Rankings to help you understand and contextualize who is hot, and who is not, among who is currently playing.”

The IBM Power Rankings provide more information than the similar rankings supplied by the USTA and the Association of Tennis Professionals organizations, he said.

“You can look at their ATP or WTA rank and that is really a point of view in terms of their potential ability, but it is a 52-week perspective,” said King. “Our Power Rankings take into consideration how recent the performances are, mining the conversation about those players, the volume, and correlating that to predict what their current rank should be based on performance.”

IBM introduced the Match Insights with Watson feature earlier at the 2020 US Open, and then added its new enhancements for 2021. The IBM Power Rankings with Watson features debuted earlier this year at the 2021 Wimbledon Championship event.

To gather and sort these insights and data points for fans, AI is used to pull together the commentary about what people are saying about the players in the media, said Kent. That data is then processed using natural language generation to create statistical performance numbers that are then turned into words. Context about the matchups is then added along with other details, such as a player’s likelihood to win, he said.

AI is changing the way people work,” said Kent. “Ordinarily, a human would have to write that story. Here a human can double-check and embellish that.”

While this is all being done in this case for the US Open, these techniques can be used for anything in business, said Kent.

“The same kinds of natural language processing capabilities are being used by companies to build chatbots,” he said. “We have worked with healthcare companies to have some chatbots that handle millions and millions of calls and streamline operations for their businesses.”

An IBMer for 38 years, Kent has spent the last 20 years managing the company’s relationships, digital strategy and related digital platforms for Wimbledon, US Open Tennis, the Masters, ESPN Fantasy Football, Pebble Beach and the Grammys.

Kent said that statistics for the number of fans who use the new US Open digital services will not be known until after the event.

“But we are cautiously optimistic that fans will engage more in this content,” he said. “And we do have web analytics to track usage of various features and functions. At Wimbledon we did see a growth in consumer engagement.”

The 141st US Open runs through Sept. 12.

In related news, IBM has also announced fan experience updates to its ESPN Fantasy Football app, powered by AI and IBM Watson. IBM is launching customizable and more simplified projections and player comparisons in the app's Trade Assistant with Watson feature to make the plaftorm more engaging for users. The updates also adds improvements for last season's launch of the app's Trade Assistant with Watson feature. Using the updated version, ESPN fantasy football players can now customize trade preferences, get personalized trade recommendations and view data-driven metrics to transparently explain suggested trades.

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