IBM has been behind the scenes at the world’s oldest tennis tournament for 30 years

IBM has been behind the scenes at the world’s oldest tennis tournament for 30 years

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When hundreds of thousands of fans descend upon the storied courts of Wimbledon in July, they won’t just get to see the world’s best tennis matches. They’ll also experience some exciting innovations.

IBM has worked with Wimbledon for the last 30 years in a relationship that highlights how technology can enhance the game of tennis. It’s an example of IBM’s focus on helping its clients transform their industries.

From simple stats to real-time highlights

Early in its relationship, IBM largely just provided stats and data for the 3D graphics at Wimbledon, according to Sam Seddon, Wimbledon Client and Program Executive at IBM. Today, IBM harnesses its AI and Cloud capabilities to design the digital experience, help protect Wimbledon from cybersecurity threats, and provide fans with real-time performance metrics.

In 2017, IBM unveiled a system that could automatically curate highlight packages via artificial intelligence. IBM used Watson to analyze things like the crowd’s cheers, players’ celebrations, and match data to turn out high-quality highlight packages in as little as eight minutes. That first year, there were 17 million new video streams on social media as a result of the AI-powered solution.

This feature is getting two significant upgrades in 2019, according to Seddon, who’s been leading IBM’s work with Wimbledon since 2012. He said Watson has learned to better recognize sound acoustics, particularly when it comes to the strike of a ball. This means IBM can create even tighter crops and better highlights packages for the quick turnaround that’s required.

Focusing on mitigating bias in AI models

“If you’ve got a crowd favorite playing on center court, AI listens to the noise of the crowd and sees the player gesticulating,” Seddon said, noting that those would be clear signs it was worthy of a highlights package. But, “if you have an unknown who’s playing equally if not better, that might not get picked up.”

To help check that the models are not biased toward specific players who may be more popular and therefore skew scores, IBM is using Watson OpenScale when it knows a particular player has a loud fan base or uses wild gestures. Seddon said one of their priorities this year is to try to make sure every player gets the highest quality highlights package.

Tennis fans around the world

Another new offering for 2019 is the progressive web app — this will help expand the number of fans around the world who are able to fully experience Wimbledon.

“There could be millions of people in India who are interested in the championship but don’t necessarily have access to high-quality network connectivity,” Seddon said. “The progressive app will let those fans view Wimbledon content on a lower bandwidth”

When designing technical solutions, Seddon said it’s important to think about the different kinds of fans — everyone from general sports fans to tennis enthusiasts to casual watchers who love the concept of Wimbledon but might not know much about tennis.

IBM’s SlamTracker tries to take into account all three groups. At a basic level, SlamTracker tells fans what’s going on in the match, what the relevant stats are, and what the score is. At a deeper level, it analyzes approximately 20 million data points from the last eight years to help understand the performance profiles of each player in a head-to-head match, what they need to focus on to improve, and who has the momentum at any given point in the game. “It’s helping fans get in the shoes of the tennis coach,” said Seddon.

All of these tech solutions help to create a unique relationship with the fans, who appreciate the fact that the app informs them in under a second about the latest insights and scores. “They can be the first with the news,” said Seddon.

Technology behind the scenes

As much as these innovations can enhance the fans’ experience, there are other pieces of technology that the fans never see — including IBM Cloud and Watson for Cyber Security — which help to protect Wimbledon’s digital properties from cyber threats. Last year, IBM detected and blocked over 200 million security threats.

These kinds of tech solutions aren’t just present at Wimbledon. Seddon said many of the Watson-powered capabilities are used by other IBM clients across industries, from banking to energy, to help them uncover insights and make better-informed decisions.

Looking ahead, Seddon said he anticipates more personalization on Wimbledon.com and the Wimbledon app. They’re already experimenting with that through the My Wimbledon loyalty program, which provides an interesting opportunity to engage with fans. Seddon is also excited about the future possibility of opening up the archive to fans so they can experience important moments throughout Wimbledon’s history.

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