Tennis is a complex battle of fitness, skills and judgement and nowhere is that ever more evident than during the final of a grand slam tournament such as Wimbledon.
What TV audiences tend to overlook is the analysis of the performances of those on the court, returning serves of over 130 miles per hour instantly. IBM has long been tasked with such endeavor and this week I was lucky enough to have a sneak peak as to the work that takes place from the technology giant.
When talking of grand slams in tennis, there is none greater than Wimbledon. As I write, the tournament has just the men's final left to go for 2016. This year 490,000 tennis fanatics have descended upon the gates of the famous stadium, 28,000kg of strawberries were consumed and Andy Murray keeps Britain’s hopes of success alive as he battles it out in Sunday finale.
But behind the scenes it’s all hands on deck as the 200-strong army of IBM staff (who are also tennis experts) work around the clock to bring us the most up to date statistics, analysis and intel throughout the entire Wimbledon competition. According to IBM there are over 3.2 million data points being recorded throughout the tournament.
But how do they do it?
I was very lucky to not only witness Andy Murray wipe the floor with Nick Kyrgios by before that I was also given an exciting behind the scenes tour, led by Emma Chan, senior managing consultant at IBM and Matthew Candy, vice president & European leader for IBM Interactive Experience, to see with my own eyes, the technology that is re-defining the engagement of this sport.
It’s hard to do this justice because there’s no way we can have any comprehension as to the scale of this operation. In the grounds of The All England Lawn Tennis Club, just along from all of the action, there is a high security unit, and whilst you walk along the corridors and down the metal staircase, it actually feels like you’ve entered into a secret bunker. There is definitely a covert operation feel to the whole experience.
There are a three main rooms in use, including IBM’s Cognitive Social Media Command Centre and this is where the exciting stuff happens. I was initially met with lots of intriguing screens and equipment (that apparently you should not touch) and the teams are working effortlessly to bring us (the public and media) tons of intricate details such as every single point on the court, linking that up with 100 per cent real time accuracy and disseminating the abundance of facts and figures in a format that is meaningful to their global audience of one billion engaged fans.
Included within the centre were different elements of social listening monitoring and any online threat monitoring, data capture analysts working from the balcony through the court's various tracking points, website and app content creators too. It is a veritable hive of real-time activity, that is shared directly with an audience hungry for information.
So next time you hear. sports journalist sounding off some unbelievable statistic, just bear in mind that they are more than likely using this information to inform their reporting.
But no slick operation would be complete without the intelligent intel from Watson, IBM’s AI system (and also a previous Guest Editor of The Drum magazine). Watson is learning everything about anything to do with not only Wimbledon but every other sporting competition around the world. This information is then used sophisticatedly to engage fans in the right way. The social insight is breath taking with a map highlighting where in the world people are actively engaging. Big brother really is watching.
If that wasn’t enough work, the team are also monitoring potential malicious cyber-attacks and it seems like they are on constant alert. It is a case of working around the clock.
After taking all of this in, I don’t think I’ll ever watch Wimbledon without the same appreciation ever again. Between the behind the scenes activity, Apple TV, the new app and their website, there is no question that Wimbledon really are giving their fans a unique rich and immersive experience. Their new campaign ‘In Pursuit of Greatness’ is definitely living up to the name.
And for all fans out there, it’s worth noting that as a result of this robust set-up, the players themselves also have the opportunity to analyse their game (and their competitors) and can watch it all back, specifically paying attention to their flaws and areas needed for improvement. I’m just hoping that Andy Murray takes heed of this clever resource and takes it home today.
Lynn Lester is director of events for The Drum