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Volume 21 No. 38

Technology

The U.S. Open Tennis Championships is adding instant replay to all of its courts this year, which will make it the first of tennis’ four Grand Slams to do so and only the second tournament with multiple courts to offer it for every match.

 

The Open, like many team-sport leagues have done, will centralize replay in a remote broadcast control center, rather than at the site of play (the four main show venues will continue to have officials in a booth). The other 12 courts will feed into a remote trailer complex housing more than five dozen technicians and replay officials. That complex is housed in a nonpublic area across from the two main stadiums in Flushing, N.Y.

 

“This is one more advancement, or one more innovation, that the U.S. Open is rolling out on behalf of players,” said Dave Brewer, the tournament director. “We have known for a number of years that if we wanted to provide a level playing field we needed to provide the same services to all players if at all possible. Until this year that simply wasn’t feasible from a logistics point of view. It is now, and that’s really why we are expanding to the degree that we are.”

 

The renovation of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center that took five years and more than $600 million will be finished this year, and while most attention has been focused on the new roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium  that debuted in 2016 and the completely new Louis Armstrong Stadium that opens this year, the revamp also wired all side courts for replay. The on-site video simulation, depicting where the ball lands, will air on the digital scoreboards located at each court. The U.S. Tennis Association, which owns and operates the Open, plans to have replay for all professional singles, doubles and mixed doubles matches. Because of cost and logistics, only one other tournament has replay on every court — the BNP Paribas Open, which is held each March in California and is owned by Larry Ellison, one of the wealthiest men in the world.

 

For all other events, however, that means some players get the advantage of challenges and others do not. At the U.S. Open, Courts 4, 5 and 6 are laid out in sequence, and only the middle one had replay in years past. Therefore, players competing on the other two could see what they did not have.

 

The U.S. Open was the first tournament to offer replay, in 2006, and many tournaments followed suit. But even at the main events it is on a minority of courts; for example, seven of Wimbledon’s 18 courts use replay. Last year, the U.S. Open had it on seven of its 16 courts, a jump of two courts from previous years.

 

By some estimates, the cost for having replay at one court for three weeks is $80,000. And other than the main courts, events did not have the space for the booths necessary to house the equipment and personnel. Running the replays remotely solves that issue.

 

“Any time you can level the playing field, it is important,” said Ilana Kloss, a former player and now the CEO of World TeamTennis. “You always want as much equity for the players, the same rules.”

 

The U.S. Open’s replay provider is Sony’s Hawk-Eye system. The company will have close to 50 employees on site in Queens this year, up from about 20 last year.

 

Hawk-Eye uses on-court cameras to re-create the shot, but it is not 100 percent accurate. A new competitor, Foxtenn, last year became the second replay company approved for use in tennis. Foxtenn contends its laser technology is far more accurate and does not rely on simulations.

 

Brewer said he had heard Foxtenn’s arguments but that the U.S. Open is satisfied with Hawk-Eye. 

Artificial intelligence has been creeping into sports for over a year now. Wimbledon was a front-runner last year when it deployed IBM’s AI service, Watson, to identify the names of people in hundreds of thousands of pictures, and the famed tennis tournament will now use the machine learning technology across far more of its event when this year’s edition starts on July 2.

 

In fact, on Monday, Wimbledon will unveil its tournament poster, created through Watson. The poster is a mosaic of more than 8,000 tourney photos through the years. On the digital version, users can zoom in and see the individual photos.

 

Watson took what the event is trying to convey — a merger of tradition and innovation — and arrived at using photos, said Alexandra Willis, head of communications, content and digital for the All England Lawn Tennis Club, which owns and operates the grass court spectacle. The poster commemorates the 150th anniversary of the club. 

 

“AI is going to be so much more pervasive, especially for a two-week event,” she said. “When you are processing huge amounts of stuff, whether that’s data, whether that’s scores, whether it’s content, the ability for AI to support you in doing that is only going to become more and more valuable.” 

 

Wimbledon is also building AI into its partnership with Facebook Messenger. This year fans can use Messenger to send questions remotely, such as requesting a highlight, and get a response driven by Watson. The technology is also involved for the first time this year in identifying cyber threats after more than 200 million such events occurred at the tournament last year, Willis said. 

 

The technology is even getting infused into scoring data. SlamTracker, which records statistics during a match, will now include “momentum points,” the moment at which a match shifted. Watson will comb through millions of points from matches over the years to identify such moments and then apply them to points in this year’s tournament, which fans can then see on wimbledon.com.

 

Just as it did last year, Wimbledon will use an AI-driven highlight system that automatically cuts and edits video clips based on crowd noise, player gestures, lead changes, broadcaster inflections and other cues, with clips created in a matter of seconds without human intervention.

 

IBM is entering its 29th year as a Wimbledon partner.  

Watson, IBM’s AI service, created this poster to mark the host club’s 150th anniversary. Hover over image to see more detail:

The Global Sports Venture Studio, the business incubator program created by the Los Angeles Dodgers and R/GA Ventures, has aligned with a series of top-tier sports entities that will become founding partners of the effort and give them access to early-stage technology startups.

The Studio, formerly known as the Los Angeles Dodgers Accelerator before an expansion and renaming earlier this year, has partnered with Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, Octagon, UEFA, Fox Sports, Levy Restaurants and its E15 analytics subsidiary, Adidas and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Each property and company will have the ability to work with startups selected for the program, and in many cases those relationships will ultimately lead to equity investments.

The Dodgers’ Tucker Kain said the new partners will help drive innovation.
Photo: global sports venture studio

“This group of partners gives us a great deal of breadth and scale throughout the industry to help drive innovation,” said Tucker Kain, the Dodgers’ chief financial partner and managing director of Elysian Park Ventures, the investment arm of club owner Guggenheim Baseball Management. “We see innovation as really a team sport, and the group that has been assembled here is a recognition of that.”

The specific engagements between startups selected for The Studio and the founding partners will vary greatly. But key components will include mentoring from senior-level executives, and the ability to use intellectual property from the founding partners in the development and execution of pilot tests by the startups. As a result, the creation of the group of founding partners is aimed at providing a “last-mile” component of technology development to allow startups to move from theoretical ideas to real-world products.

For the properties and companies, the program allows a way to mine some of the best and latest technology breakthroughs. The Studio intends to engage companies across a wide range of topical areas including emerging media, gambling, data and analytics, augmented and virtual reality, e-commerce, player performance, fan engagement, facility enhancements and esports.

“The Global Sports Venture Studio provides us with a compelling opportunity to tap into emerging technologies and behaviors that promise to resonate with our young and diverse fan base,” said Gary Stevenson, MLS Business Ventures president and managing director.

For MLS, the involvement in The Studio as a founding partner adds to a separate partnership announced late last month in which R/GA Ventures will aid the league in identifying new technologies and opportunities to work with startups.

The Studio does not have any limits on the number of companies it works with or investment levels.