AWS: Innovative Use of Data Transforms Sports Presentation, Fan Engagement

(Image credit: NHL)

SEATTLE—Sports and statistics go hand-in-hand, but some sports organizations are taking the data behind the statistics to a whole new level, leveraging edge-computing cloud resources, data analytics and a variety of other tools to keep fans, players, coaches, officials and others better informed than ever.

Consider the National Hockey League. Fans watching a game on TV are seeing graphics that identify shots on goal from a specific zone on the ice and how many turn into goals, said David Lehanski, executive vice president of business development and innovation at the NHL, during an online press conference hosted Oct. 26 by Amazon AWS. But what about the quality of those shots?

“The next step is to start to add some analytics around the quality [and] start [to] tell the story that not all shots are the same,” he said.

Lehanski was joined by Andreas Heyden, CEO of DFL Digital Sports, which is responsible for Bundesliga (German Football League) media, and Rob Smedley, director of data system at Formula 1 Management. The three discussed how enhanced data collection and processing using the suite of cloud solutions from AWS is enhancing fan engagement and how players and coaches access and evaluate ongoing contests.

On The Ice
The NHL has invested “a significant amount of time and capital” to deploy a tracking system that generates data as frequently as 50 times per second to track the location of players and the puck at every moment of the game, creating “a million new data points per game,” said Lehanski. 

 David Lehanski, executive vice president of business development and innovation at the NHL. (Image credit: NHL)
(opens in new tab)

For fans, the data is helping the league’s broadcast partners to tell better stories about games as they unfold. The data brings new perspectives to the action and is helping to “transform the fan experience” when combined with video, he said.

For players and coaches, the data is generating stats in real-time that are helping improve their understanding of what’s happening in the game. “You’ll see players literally come off the ice, and they’ll turn right around. They’ll grab the iPad, and they’ll pull up video content and data of what just transpired on the ice,” said Lehanski.

Important components of the tracking system are UHD encoders installed during the offseason in each of the 32 buildings where games are played. They enable several streams at the highest quality to be ingested and transported to the AWS cloud where data and video are aggregated, packaged for different users and pushed out as different content packages to various users. “The real magic can happen when the data and the video are aggregated as one,” said Lehanski.

Edge computing in the cloud has helped the NHL overcome any problems with latency that might otherwise slow the process and make all of this data less valuable, he added.

Fast Data
When it comes to cloud latency, the issue for DFL Digital Sports’ Heyden is there’s too little, he laughingly said.

“Our only problem with latency is that AWS services are so fast that we got complaints from our broadcasters that the push notifications are too fast because data travels faster than video,” said Heyden.

Among DFL Digital Sports’ recent efforts has been changing how it delivers sports data to its partners and how it can enrich its media products in an effort to engage fans more deeply in their favorite league teams.

For example, it has turned the speed of data to its advantage to serve as an alert of sorts on Saturdays when five games are simultaneously played. DFL Digital Sports switches between these games in a way similar to the NFL RedZone and leverages fast data to cue the cuts, he said.

 Andreas Heyden, CEO of DFL Digital Sports. (Image credit: DFL Digital Sports)
(opens in new tab)

“As data travels faster than video, we know that the goal is going to happen, so we can…point the video player in switching between the games before the goal is happening…to the next channel where then the customer is going to see the video [of the goal] with the latency of the video,” he said. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven solutions are also helping DFL Digital Sports deliver better content to its broadcast partners. For instance, AI and the cloud make it possible to send customized highlight cut-downs to broadcast partners in different parts of the world featuring fan favorites of the region mere moments after a game is over, said Heyden. 

Like the NHL, DFL Digital Sports is leveraging the data services of AWS not only to enhance game coverage but also to engage fans in innovative ways. It recently relied on AWS services to help it develop a fully General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)-compliant TikTok-like app to help fans keep up with their favorite teams.  

The average Bundesliga fan follows an average of four teams, and the league has 36 teams, which required DFL Digital Sports to create 65,000 individual taste profiles. With the help of AWS cloud tools, DFL Digital Sports built the app to help attract younger fans by delivering up-to-the-minute stats and info to their smart devices.

A Billion Combinations
Formula 1 is particularly well-positioned to use data to make races more understandable and better engage fans. On-car telemetry collected from Formula 1 car sensors, weather data, time and date data and other data sources literally create a billion or more combinations or data during a two-hour race. 

However, three years ago Formula 1 was failing to leverage that data effectively when it came to attracting and engaging fans, said the race league’s Smedley. To up its game and take advantage of all of that data, Formula 1 turned to AWS for a holistic solution for data gathering, processing and presentation.

Rob Smedley, director of data system at Formula 1 Management. (Image credit: Formula 1 Management)
(opens in new tab)

“With Formula 1, sometimes you see 10% of the story. It’s very, very strategically deep as a sport.... The broadcast feed is only able to show a very small proportion of the track. [I]t’s a 5 kilometer track, and quite often… you’re only seeing a… few 100 meters. You’re only able to show one, two [or] three cars, whatever, in a shot,” he said.

However, partnering with AWS and presenting AWS Insights is making it possible for the auto sport to present a far bigger picture, tell better stories and make sense of races in a way that previously was not possible, said Smedley.

“I think it’s fair to say that…not all of the fan base, especially the athletes and the traditional fans,... really understood this very well,” Smedley said of the initial rollout. “Fast forward three years to where we are now, and if you took away that data… the fans [would have] a completely different viewing experience. So I… think that these [data insights] have become an essential tool for Formula 1.”

The AWS press conference was moderated by Usman Shakeel, head of solutions architecture for media and entertainment at Amazon Web Services.

More information is available on the AWS website (opens in new tab)

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.