Big tennis data: IBM serves stats to hungry masses at Australian Open

By Rosie Baker | 14 January 2014

IBM has launched a virtual reality game and iPad app that uses real time data from players at the Australian Open. It's all part of a play to show how businesses can use data. And it's big: the firm has 50-plus people on the ground in Melbourne crunching the numbers in real time, such is the hunger for data from the fans, claimed the firm.

The Return Serve game uses Oculus virtual reality glasses to allow people to return the serve of the player on court in real time. It then analyses the data to offer pointers to improve performance.

Visitors to the Open can play the game and it is also available at a handful of sites across Australia including the Westfield mall in Sydney's Pitt Street.

Rather than slow death by presentation, Angela Gallo, head of sponsorship at IBM Australia and New Zealand, said the tournament gives IBM a way to show what it can do with data collection and analysis for its business clients.

“It's being able to do all these great things and take our clients behind the scenes and really show them what we can do in an exciting way rather than boring them to death with power point presentations. Every sponsor has a different objective. We collect, share and analyse data but with our marketing activity we're trying to help people experience the data. Return Serve is a way to help people see how amazing data can be and what you can do with it."

IBM has also created the first iPad app for the Australian tennis tournament, which uses the data IBM collects to connect fans with their favourite players.

The app includes a social sentiment tool which analyses tweets about players in real-time to offer a positive or negative analysis of the discussion on social media.

IBM is a long time partner of the Australian Open. The tech firm also has a partnership with each of the other grand slam tournaments but the way it uses the data it collects to build digital platforms and apps is different for each, says the man who developed the app.

Patrick Childress, IBM Interactive project manager said that the Wimbledon app, for example, is more about the location of the tournament and so includes a 360 degree view of the ground to give tennis fans an "immersive" digital experience.

But for the Australian Open, it's the stats, scores and draws that fans want, so this drives the digital experience, according to Kim Trengrove, who heads up Tennis Australia's digital and publishing division.

Trengrove said more than 80% of traffic to the site is around match and player stats, so the content team uses the data collected by IBM to drive the content direction.

Tennis Australia is expecting more than 50% of traffic to the site to come from mobile devices this year, with more coming from tablet devices than in previous years.

IBM has a team of 50 to 60 people including statisticians collecting and analysing data in real time at the Melbourne Park ground and has doubled the number of courts on which it collects data because there is a "hunger" for the data from fans, said Childress.

IBM also powers the Slam Tracker programme which uses eight years worth of data collected - 40 million data points - from the four grand slam tournaments to analyse players' performance and pinpoint areas of strength and improvement.

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