Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In Depth: How IBM is changing sports analytics

In Depth: How IBM is changing sports analytics

In Depth: How IBM is changing sports analytics

Statistics are everywhere. And in sport especially, where broadcasters and coaches are increasingly turning to detailed information on teams and individuals with the aim to either fill more airtime and create interest or analyse and increase performance.

IBM has launched a new platform to take data and analytics to a new level for the benefit of watching fans and has teamed up with the body behind the England team and English rugby union, the Rugby Football Union (RFU).

Alongside the RFU and IBM's Analytics technology, the 6 Nations rugby tournament is also involved in the project. The tournament is currently taking place involving teams from England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, France a nd Italy and has its penultimate round of matches this weekend, with the final round of matches on 16 March.

England vs Italy

IBM is no stranger to sport and powers the statistics delivery at the Wimbledon tennis championships as well as The Australian Open and The US Open. As well as scores, the company also provides a mass of other information during the tournaments ranging from schedules to player statistics, serve speeds and match insights.

All are captured, analysed and distributed to media and officials. Last year IBM also debuted a new Wimbledon website including Live@Wimbledon â€" live highlights of matches as they happen, streamed to mobile devices.

The rugby partnership is what the company calls "a long term collaboration" which will last for the next five years and will include the next Rugby World Cup in 2015. IBM says the move represents "a growing number of partnerships between analytics and top flight sport".

Statistics "a game changer"

"In sport, data is a game changer," says Martin Guillaume, Media and Sports Leader for IBM in the UK and Ireland. "IBM is powering new experiences with advanced realtime analytics. By doing this, we offer a new way to enjoy the game, by uncovering insights that matter, enhancing the fan experience and providing vital feedback to players and [those who need it]."

Many services-based companies such as IBM are increasingly talking about Big Data â€" essentially the idea that so many devices and systems now produce data, everything from your phone to the GPS in your car to your bank records. All this data needs to be stored somewhere and, often, brought together. IBM believes that humans now create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data a day; 9 0% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.

In sport, technology means that we can get increasingly involved in the game and better understand what is happening. Statistics are now a huge part of the all sport and rugby, like football/soccer, tennis and other sports, is embracing this move. Not least because of the greater insight it enables coaches to have on player performance too â€" in essence, it enables a greater competitive edge.

IBM TryTracker

The system that's being used for the 6 Nations revolves around a new platform, called the IBM TryTracker, available on RFU.com. You can access this and view real time stats and insight into the performance of both the team and individuals on the pitch. Fans can also interact with each other during the match using social media.

YouTube : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnshQnmn5t0

IBM is also employing something called Predictive Analytics technology. This takes into account historic and current data to provide in-game stats and live insight.

The live tracking during the game is called, rather grandly, a Momentum Chart to tell the story of the match as it's played. The system identifies key moments, decisions and turning points based on each part of the game. Key players are referred to somewhat ridiculously as Key Influencers by the TryTracker but the idea is the same; player's actions are analysted to reveal which are having the biggest impact on the game.


One key idea is that the system can help fans better understand what their team needs to do to win the match before it has even started. The system essentially produces several predictions before match day. IBM calls these 'the keys to the game'. As the company says, it's "three crucial areas of performance specific to each team. If a side hits their target in these aspects of the game then they are more likely to increase their chances of victory".

Englannd France

For this weekend's England vs Italy game (1500GMT on 10 March at Twickenham), IBM is predicting these keys for both teams:


  • Average more than 4.6m per carry (running with the ball)
  • Make more than 5 line breaks (through the opposition's defensive line)
  • Complete more than 90 percent of tackles


  • Attempt at least 8 kicks at goal
  • Offload at least 8 times (moving the ball on after a player is tackled)
  • Force at least 14 turnovers (when a team loses possession in a ruck or a maul)

The 'keys' are agreed upon by analysts from the RFU and IBM, along with experienced former Bath captain and England International (21 caps) John Hall who is now a professional sports analyst. IBM releases the three 'Keys to the Game' every Thursday ahead of the weekend match.

The IBM TryTracker can be accessed by all mobile devices and tablets.

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//PART 2