Sports Teams Embrace Analytics and the IoT


(Image: Cora Reed/Shutterstock)

(Image: Cora Reed/Shutterstock)

In my last sports-related post, I explained how the National Hockey League (NHL) is using IoT devices to provide the league with deeper insights about the players and the game while immersing fans in new stats and spectator experiences. The NHL is not alone. In fact, IoT devices are finding their way into all kinds of sports for the benefit of leagues, players, and fans.

For example, the National Football League has been placing sensors in player's shoulder pads to track their location, speed, and distance traveled. Last year, it experimented with sensors in footballs to track their motion, including acceleration, distance, and velocity. That data is being sold to broadcast partners.

Meanwhile, young football players who hope to play the game professionally are tracking themselves hoping to become more attractive recruiting targets.

NBA Teams Score with Insights

The Golden Gate Warriors and Miami Heat are getting some interesting data from wearables and other sensors that track the movement of players and the basketball used in a game. Now it's possible to analyze how players shoot, how high they jump, and the speed at which the ball travels, among other things. One thing that trips me up about it is how some of that data is visualized by the coach.

Picture this: The player clips a device to his shorts or wears the device on his wrist so his coach can understand the trajectory of the ball and get statistics about a player's movements on a cell phone. The new insights help coaches and their teams understand the dynamics of the sport better, but I wonder how practical Basketball by Smartphone App is, given the speed at which the game is played.

Sensors placed somewhere on the players and in the basketball also provide information about players' movements on the court over time. The visualization looks a like a plate of spaghetti, but within that are patterns that reveal players' habits, such as the area of the court the player tends to favor.

Beyond Moneyball

Former Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane is considered the father of sports analytics because in 1981 he was the first to change the makeup of a team and how a team played the sport based on what the numbers said. This is commonly known as "Moneyball" (thanks to the book and movie) or "Billyball."

One interesting insight was base time. The more time a player spends on-base, the more likely that player will walk to first base rather than strike out.

However, Beane's early experimentation also demonstrated that numbers aren't everything. He was fired the next year (in 1982) for overworking pitchers. Stated another way, the stellar turnaround year was not followed by a similarly strong year.

These days, sensors are enabling Major League Baseball (MLB) statistics 2.0. For example, sensors in baseball bats provide insights about the speed and motion of a swing and the point of impact when a ball hits the bat. In the dugouts, coaches and players can get access to all kinds of insights via an iPad during the game. The insights enable them to fine-tune the way they play against the opposing team. It's also possible to track the movements of a specific player.

Have You Noticed a Difference?

Analytics are helping sports teams play their games more effectively and die-hard fans are getting more of what they crave -- insights.

Are you using analytics to improve your own athletic capabilities and competitive edge? If so we'd love to hear about it in the comments section.

Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer

Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers big data and BI for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include big data, mobility, enterprise software, the cloud, software development, and emerging cultural issues affecting the C-suite.

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Re: Human variability
  • 4/5/2017 5:50:40 PM
NO RATINGS

I've never been much of a sports watcher but put some unusaal stats into the game and maybe it would make it a bit  more interesting to folks like me? Looking at "how players shoot, how high they jump, and the speed at which the ball travels," would at least be an interesting way to compare players and teams if maybe not really helpful in predicting wins though.

Re: Sensory infatuation
  • 4/4/2017 4:40:48 PM
NO RATINGS

..

Jim writes


 One drawback to those sensors being implanted in future athletes at a young age. That new generation will endure the same level of disappointment that most of use faced when we were cut from teams, didn't make the big leagues etc.


 

Seems to me Elon Musk is trying to take this to the next step beyond sensors with his project to directly integrate human brains with computers. So then I could see micro or nano-size computers implanted into kids' brains in early childhood. More affluent families could probably afford to buy their kids bigger, better supercomputer chips, so getting into MIT or Yale and qualifying for Mensa should be a snap for them ...

..

Re: Sensory infatuation
  • 4/4/2017 3:31:50 PM
NO RATINGS

@Lyndon. One drawback to those sensors being implanted in future athletes at a young age. That new generation will endure the same level of disappointment that most of use faced when we were cut from teams, didn't make the big leagues etc.

Those sensors will highlight for the "future us" just how slow they run, how low their vertical leap is, or how many splinters they get sitting on the bench.

Re: Sensory infatuation
  • 4/4/2017 1:26:06 PM
NO RATINGS

Uh-oh, Lyndon... analytics may be giving way to eugenics! This has some eerie resonance with the way certain eastern European countries identified and trained "gifted" atheletes back in the '70s.

Re: Human variability
  • 4/4/2017 1:10:31 PM
NO RATINGS

Thanks, Jim... and that humanity piece is where predictive analytics begins to break down: using historical data to chart trends, likelihoods and affinities.

Exhibit A in the case against predictive analytics: The many sophisticated tools and algorithms that couldn't even accurately forecast who would win November's election, not to mention badly overstating the margin of (non-)victory.

Sensory infatuation
  • 4/4/2017 6:06:41 AM
NO RATINGS

..

Lisa writes


The clip-on sensor is a good example of an early version implementation.  Better implementations are non-invasive.


 

On the other hand, I can envision a not-so-distant future where interest (or obsession?) regarding athletic performance leads to the routine somatic implantation of complex, comprehensive micro-sensors. Early childhood might be an optimal time ...

..

Re: Human variability
  • 4/2/2017 11:23:43 PM
NO RATINGS

Great points, Terry. Those athletes are human.

Re: Human variability
  • 3/31/2017 8:21:18 PM
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Right... so many sporting intangibles that can't be tracked on a spreadsheet or analytics app: how the athelete(s) slept the previous night, who's coming down with something, who's nursing a slight injury, who got some bad news right before game time, who's a little hung over, etc. 

Ask a champion in any sport: The will to win and the ability to find another gear to make that happen is what distinguishes one athlete from another. And so far, it's impossible to do any kind of numerical analysis or tracking of those champion qualities.

Re: Human variability
  • 3/31/2017 3:45:53 PM
NO RATINGS

A lot of this has been experimentation.  What is being tracked will likely grow in the years to come, providing more variables that can go into the equations.

The clip-on sensor is a good example of an early version implementation.  Better implementations are non-invasive.

What I find interesting is the physics of scoring and plays.

I certainly agree that the human element is too complex to model accurately.

Re: Human variability
  • 3/31/2017 2:10:10 PM
NO RATINGS

Agreed. I don't think computer models can accurately predict a team's success. Human factors play a major roll. Computers haven't quite mastered humanity...

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