IBM and Wimbledon: The tech that takes you closer to the tennis. Brought to you by Wimbledon Insights

The relationship between IBM and the Wimbledon Championships is now entering its 24th year, following IBM’s appointment as the official IT supplier and consultant to the All England Lawn Tennis Club. From an initial service providing scores and statistics to the BBC, IBM’s involvement with Wimbledon has grown to cover a range of tracking, analysis and information services that broadcasters, coaches and players use every day, and that now allow the rest of us to get even closer to the action.

In 1994 IBM unveiled Player Report, a set of innovative services that delivered detailed statistics to players and coaches so that they could analyse their own performance, and that of their opponents. In 1999 courtside serve speed displays used radar information to bring instant information on the speed of every serve. In 2000, the Wimbledon Information System made its debut; an intranet-based, on-site resource for players, press and the public. This contains a wealth of information including the detailed point -by-point statistics captured for every match as well as order of play, results, and player biographies, but also historical data going back to 1877 and the first ever Wimbledon match.

By 2007, IBM was providing Match Analysis DVDs to all singles players on the Centre and No 1 Courts at the conclusion of the match, combining point-by-point video with statistical information that enabled players and coaches to view and analyse the game. Then in 2008, IBM introduced SlamTracker, providing live online scoring for matches in action and allowing fans to track their favourite players’ progress through The Championships. In 2011, IBM trialled SecondSight, a system that tracked the speed and direction of players as they moved around the court. Not only could we map the action, point by point, but with the data rendered in 3D, we could view each match event from a range of different angles.

SlamTracker: Predictive Analytics at Play

These days IBM doesn’t just provide technology to watch and score each match, but technology that can help the fan experience even further with rich insights presented in a visually compelling way. Introduced last year, IBM SlamTracker was enhanced with a “Keys to the match” feature. Using over eight years of Grand Slam tennis data and 41 million data points, IBM is able to find the patterns and styles of play for particular head-to-head matches (or between players of similar styles if the players in question have not met before).

In the run-up to a match, the data for one player is compared to that of his or her opponent, along with players of a similar style to determine the ‘keys to the match’: the three targets that player has to hit if they want to enhance their chance of winning. These keys are selected by analysing 45 potential match dynamics – 19 offensive, 9 defensive, 9 endurance and 8 style – to identify the ones that will be vital to each player in this specific match. Meanwhile, once in the match the players’ actual performance is tracked against a set of key performance indicators, creating values for each player’s ‘momentum’ and mapping the key turning points and what caused them.

SlamTracker runs on the same SPSS Predictive Analytics software IBM uses to help some of the world’s largest businesses work and sell more effectively. In YO! Sushi, for example, predictive analytics enable the company to monitor the effectiveness of customer promotions, and restaurant managers identify best-selling dishes and waste less food. It’s also the same software used in education to spot learners at risk of dropping out, or in public services to identify those young people at most risk of unemployment after they leave school.

This year SlamTracker is back, and you can see it in action HERE. What’s more, you’ll be able to get a detailed look at the predictions before the day’s biggest match with a post-match analysis to follow.

IBM: Bringing Wimbledon closer to You

Throughout its long association with Wimbledon, IBM has also used technology to bring the Championship and tennis fans together in new, exciting ways. In 1995 it launched wimbledon.org, a ground-breaking website that transformed the way sport was presented online. In 1996, this was followed up with SlamCam, an enhancement that allowed visitors to tour the ground virtually, 24/7, through robotic cameras. The introduction of the first version of SlamTracker in 2008 gave fans a detailed view of The Championships they’d never had before, while 2009 bought us the first Wimbledon iPhone app, bringing live match data straight to your smartphone.

Last year saw the redesign of wimbledon.com, featuring live match play in a site that highlighted the beauty of Wimbledon to the world. This year sees the first Wimbledon iPad app. Developed by IBM and launched by the All England Lawn Tennis Club, it features 360-degree and birds-eye ‘fly-in’ video content in a stunning interface, plus other unique content such as time-lapse photography from the Centre Court roof .

Yet bringing the tennis close to the public is a two-way thing. Last year IBM started analysing social sentiment through tweets, charting which players were being mentioned, and which were getting the most positive feedback. IBM’s Content Analytics software uses an index of tweets to look for terms specific to tennis, the players and The Championships to identify trends, and sort tweets by the frequency of adjectives being used. The software then scores each tweet with a value ranging from minus five to plus five, creating a ‘sentiment score’.

Last year IBM harvested tweets from 20th June to 11th July, and analysed over 1.3 million messages from the day of the final alone. That day saw 490,000 tweets mention Andy Murray, with 42 percent favourable. Roger Federer saw 487,000, with 29 percent of those scoring positive. This year, IBM will be tracking Social Sentiment every day of The Championships.

Stuart Andrews

Want to find out more about the Data behind the Championships? Find out more here: wimbledoninsights.com

Photo: Getty
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The EU’s willingness to take on Google shows just how stupid Brexit is

Outside the union the UK will be in a far weaker position to stand up for its citizens.

Google’s record €2.4bn (£2.12bn) fine for breaching European competition rules is an eye-catching example of the EU taking on the Silicon Valley giants. It is also just one part of a larger battle to get to grips with the influence of US-based web firms.

From fake news to tax, the European Commission has taken the lead in investigating and, in this instance, sanctioning, the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon for practices it believes are either anti-competitive for European business or detrimental to the lives of its citizens.

Only in May the commission fined Facebook €110m for providing misleading information about its takeover of WhatsApp. In January, it issued a warning to Facebook over its role in spreading fake news. Last summer, it ordered Apple to pay an extra €13bn in tax it claims should have been paid in Ireland (the Irish government had offered a tax break). Now Google has been hit for favouring its own price comparison services in its search results. In other words, consumers who used Google to find the best price for a product across the internet were in fact being gently nudged towards the search engine giant's own comparison website.

As European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager put it:

"Google has come up with many innovative products and services that have made a difference to our lives. That's a good thing. But Google's strategy for its comparison shopping service wasn't just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals. Instead, Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors.

"What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation."

The border-busting power of these mostly US-based digital companies is increasingly defining how people across Europe and the rest of the world live their lives. It is for the most part hugely beneficial for the people who use their services, but the EU understandably wants to make sure it has some control over them.

This isn't about beating up on the tech companies. They are profit-maximising entities that have their own goals and agendas, and that's perfectly fine. But it's vital to to have a democratic entity that can represent the needs of its citizens. So far the EU has proved the only organisation with both the will and strength to do so.

The US Federal Communications Commission could also do more to provide a check on their power, but has rarely shown the determination to do so. And this is unlikely to change under Donald Trump - the US Congress recently voted to block proposed FCC rules on telecoms companies selling user data.

Other countries such as China have resisted the influence of the internet giants, but primarily by simply cutting off their access and relying on home-grown alternatives it can control better.  

And so it has fallen to the EU to fight to ensure that its citizens get the benefits of the digital revolution without handing complete control over our online lives to companies based far away.

It's a battle that the UK has never seemed especially keen on, and one it will be effectively retreat from when it leaves the EU.

Of course the UK government is likely to continue ramping up rhetoric on issues such as encryption, fake news and the dissemination of extremist views.

But after Brexit, its bargaining power will be weak, especially if the priority becomes bringing in foreign investment to counteract the impact Brexit will have on our finances. Unlike Ireland, we will not be told that offering huge tax breaks broke state aid rules. But if so much economic activity relies on their presence will our MPs and own regulatory bodies decide to stand up for the privacy rights of UK citizens?

As with trade, when it comes to dealing with large transnational challenges posed by the web, it is far better to be part of a large bloc speaking as one than a lone voice.

Companies such as Google and Facebook owe much of their success and power to their ability to easily transcend borders. It is unsurprising that the only democratic institution prepared and equipped to moderate that power is also built across borders.

After Brexit, Europe will most likely continue to defend the interests of its citizens against the worst excesses of the global web firms. But outside the EU, the UK will have very little power to resist them.

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