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Volume 20 No. 42
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Elizabeth O’Brien, IBM

lizabeth O’Brien applies IBM’s broad range of technology services to solve the business needs of her sports clients.

Elizabeth O’Brien
IBM // Program director, sports and entertainment partnerships

Given Big Blue’s massive platform, her role is key for developing solutions her clients can understand and the reasons that it makes sense to use the technology.

The U.S. Tennis Association, a longtime partner, is one example. Using Watson, IBM’s artificial intelligence system, the tech giant has made it easier for USTA personnel to do their jobs more effectively during the U.S. Open tennis tournament.

At this year’s event, Watson, a cloud-based technology, helped officials accumulate the best highlights to showcase on digital and broadcast media by analyzing “pressure points” tied to crowd noise and player gestures from hundreds of matches taking place across 17 tennis courts.

The system’s ability to instantly identify images tied to the tournament’s most exciting moments saves a lot of time for officials posting those highlights on websites, social media and broadcast channels, O’Brien said.

Last year, the USTA applied the same technology for publishing photos on its website of players and the multitude of celebrities attending the U.S. Open, which draws 700,000 spectators over two weeks and is the most highly attended annual sporting event in the world.

Separately, IBM uses the technology to help tennis fans navigate the U.S. Open’s mobile application by installing a “cognitive concierge” to answer their questions about the event and how they’re planning to spend their day at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

“The challenge right now is how to bring Watson to bear in meaningful ways for the USTA,” O’Brien said.

— Don Muret

  • Where born: New York.
  • Education: Middlebury College, B.A.; NYU, M.S.
  • Attributes I look for when hiring: Creativity and flexibility.
  • Best advice I’ve received for career development: Be open and curious.
  •  Sports business industry can foster a healthier work-life balance by: Sport as a category is inherently healthy and the lessons we learn in sports are often life lessons, so working in sports actually helps me maintain healthy priorities.
  • If I had it to do over again, I would: Savor every moment and hope to be as fortunate as I have been in this go-round.
  • Woman in sports business I’d most like to meet: Michelle Obama. Her Let’s Move initiative fosters healthy participation in sports — and youth participation in sports feeds professional sports.
  • Is discussion about challenges women face working in sports necessary or played out? Community is essential in all things — the community of women in sports and industry in general is a great means of support and insight — so no, the discussion is not played out, although I’d focus on insights and lessons in addition to challenges.
  • Cause supported: Special Olympics.