Artificial Intelligence in the Sports Industry

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Artificial Intelligence in the Sports Industry

With the increasing availability of AI, advanced bot building platforms, and NLP, chatbots are here to stay and grow in all industries — especially the sports industry.

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The chatbots market is estimated to grow to over $3 billion by 2021. Intelligent customer engagement, the emerging wave of mobile applications, and the demand for automated tools are the top contributing factors to the growth of chatbots. Interestingly, these tiny messengers are coming with a more advanced level of support through a component called artificial intelligence — more specifically, natural language processing (NLP). They are no more a mere chatbot. With this NLP capacity, they are reaching everywhere today. Almost all industries are taking complete advantage of this technology — including the sports industry,

Let's understand this better by taking a look at the following sports-related bots.

Ask Fred: The New Go-To for Wimbledon Fans

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Ask Fred takes Wimbledon fan engagement to the next level.

Wimbledon fans this year will have a good chance to get right into the heart of the game with Ask Fred. Created by IBM, this chatbot can now engage with fans and help them consume content about matches easily and instantly.

For the past 25 years, IBM has been working as the technology partner with Wimbledon Tournament. This year, the tournament is strategically working with IBM to feed the best possible experiences to its fans.

The idea behind this is to “influence the influential audience.”

Alexandra Willis, Head of Communications, Content, and Digital at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, says Fred is their "first foray into putting cognitive into the hands of the fan." Visitors will be able to ask Fred questions about pretty much anything, from what they should be doing during their visit to Wimbledon to where facilities like water fountains are to what makes a good tennis player. The technology understands natural language, reasoning and interacts with users more naturally than traditional systems.

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How Does Ask Fred Work?

By using a natural language interface (NLI), Ask Fred understands what visitors are looking for and is ready to serve them. Any IoT devices connected to the IBM Watson IoT Platform connect with IBM Watson cognitive APIs that are totally designed/trained to understand and respond with information instantly. By leveraging real-time information, the AI can predict winning teams, predict team dynamics, familiarize venue operations, and create the best possible fan experience. The bot is capable of engaging fans by distributing tournament data and insights in just a millisecond.

Communication is shifting from in-person to mobile. Bots interact on their own terms — whenever, wherever, and however. Customers are connected quickly and efficiently with their favorite brand through this small, powerful, interacting technology. As Bob High, CTO at IBM Watson, says:

“AI and humans perform best when they work together and can trust each other.”

Microsoft Bing Sportscaster

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Microsoft has been working on a motto: “Your customer is your business.” The company has been investing big in building a great conversationalist and has created its place in the bot market by tapping into powerful AI algorithms. In fact, back in 2016, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said:

“At Microsoft, we are focused on empowering both people and organizations by democratizing access to intelligence and to do this, we are infusing AI into everything we deliver.” 

Microsoft’s latest venture in AI and machine learning technologies is the Bing Sportscaster Bot. Created for Facebook Messenger, the Bing Sportscaster bot broadcasts sports news to sports fans and provides users with all latest sports information. Users can initiate a conversation with this bot by simply telling the bot the name of their favorite team.

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The bot keeps up with everything across several sports, including NFL, Soccer, F1, NASCAR, Tennis, NBA, Golf, and much more. It can also show information about rosters, games fixtures, results, in-game information, and even predict the winner of a game.

How Does Bing Sportscaster Work?

Bing Sportscaster is an intelligent bot that uses Microsoft Cognitive Services to try to understand what the user is trying to say. Microsoft Cognitive Services includes a collection of powerful AI algorithms that focus on vision, speech, NLP, knowledge extraction, and web search. This powerful set of AI algorithms was created leveraging Microsoft's Azure platform. 

Sky Sports Jeff Bot

This is a personality-based bot.

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U.K. sports fans need no introduction to this bot. Launched recently in January 2017, soccer fans in the U.K. can now engage with Jeff Bot, a chatbot that mimics Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday host Jeff Stelling with real-time scores and updates in a fun and entertaining way. The bot saw 10,000 sign-ups within a day of its launch and gets 35 messages, on average, from each user. It's aimed at keeping fans engaged with the conversation about their favorite Premier League and Championship sides and delivering the latest news, live scores, videos, and key coverage from Jeff Stelling and Sky Sports Soccer Saturday. 

Jeff Bot is developed by Gameon, "the app that talks sports." Alex Beckman, Founder and CEO of Gameon, says:

“People are treating Jeff Bot like a person and that is step one in creating something powerful.”

The company is also planning to expand to engage fans to chat about more sports, such as cricket and Formula One. 

Final Thoughts on Chatbots

Successful chatbots have the following characteristics:

  • Intelligent
  • Responsive
  • Personality
  • Identity
  • Easy to approach
  • Entertaining
  • Up-to-date
  • Delightful

Chatbots will continue to lead the market. In fact, stand-alone chatbots are expected to contribute to 40% of the market by 2022.

As we improve conversational interfaces, communication patterns and business practices are changing dramatically. Self-service and automation are kings. Bots are well-placed in the market to escalate customer relationship management to new heights. Bots have come a long way from just offering conversational assistance. They can generate responses based on few conditional logic and machine learning classifiers. They are transforming to be advisors and even coaches.

What Next?

Customer engagement is being redefined with the power of AI and cognitive computing. AI chatbots are getting so powerful that they can reinvent any business from the ground up. Recent survey findings conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics discovered that nearly 73% of CEOs agree that cognitive computing/AI technologies will play a key role in future business. Almost half of those surveyed will be ready to adopt these technologies by 2019. Big companies like Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google have already plunged into using this technology.

With the increasing availability of AI, advanced bot building platforms, and NLP resources, chatbots are here to stay and grow in all industries. It's especially making its way in the sports industry.

ai, chatbot, machine learning, nlp

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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