For the Fans

For the Fans

Technology advancements are shaping the sports experience for fans.
Alyson Powell Key
May 29, 2018
The field of sports data analytics has been around for 15 years, most notably for capturing and examining player data in baseball. The Oakland Athletics are considered the first professional sports team to use data analytics, as shown in the 2003 book and Academy Award-winning movie Moneyball. With an influx of new and more complex data, statistical tables are no longer as effective. Data visualization, a more recent phenomenon in sports, is a way of clearly and efficiently communicating information through the use of imagery–statistical graphs, plots, and infographs.

Journalists and other communicators have used visualization for years to summarize sports statistics. Coaches and trainers use it, too, for training regimens, understanding injury patterns, and mapping the movement of players on the court and field.

WATCH: Using six cameras installed in the catwalks of every NBA arena, SportVU software tracks the movements of every player on the court and the basketball 25 times per second. / YouTube
 
With the growing popularity of fantasy sports leagues, fans are becoming more engaged with player stats and performance and getting in on the data vis action. We're also more visually literate—comfortable digesting bar graphs and scatter plots—according to School of Interactive Computing Associate Professor Rahul Basole.
 
“People are getting more data savvy and hungry, and the tools have gotten easier across the board,” said Basole. “We are visual creatures. We like to have [data] summarized visually and in an aesthetic and compelling fashion."

Basole also says there’s just simply more data out there on a wide range of sports, ready to be analyzed. He and fellow interactive computing Professor John Stasko are currently examining ShotLink data from the PGA Tour, which tracks every shot from every player across all courses. The organization has made the raw data available to academic researchers for novel analyses.
 
"Our goal is to visualize ShotLink data to make sense of individual player performance as well as their overall patterns across time and different courses,” said Basole.
 
He and Stasko plan to visualize the data in an interactive dashboard for a user-oriented perspective. "As with many domains, vis alone is not the sweet spot for sports. It's great for communicating and presenting; it's also great for sensemaking. But it's the combination with analytics that can truly provide insights."
 
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From USB-enabled cup holders and massive LED scoreboards and displays to the fastest wi-fi at any sporting venue in North America, SunTrust Park is considered one of the most technologically advanced stadiums in the country.

“We view technology as an enabler," said Greg Mize, senior director of marketing & innovation, Atlanta Braves. "One of our sayings is, ‘Don’t pursue and integrate technology for the sake of technology.’" It has to provide value for fans in the form of entertainment, engagement, or information according to Mize. "Our goal is to create the best experience for fans as possible, and technology plays a massive part in that.”
 
SunTrust Park and the Battery Atlanta are using artificial intelligence to help visitors navigate shops and services, and augmented reality technology to educate visitors about historical artifacts on display at Monument Garden.
 
Georgia Tech is also partnering with the Atlanta Braves to enhance the fan experience at SunTrust Park. Last season, graduate students studied how long visitors waited in concession lines and how long it took to prepare their food. The Braves then used this research to streamline the process.
 
Georgia Tech's Interactive Media Technology Center (IMTC) is using augmented reality to give fans an in-depth look at SunTrust Park and Braves players. A high-resolution camera feeds a live view of the entire baseball field to a computer located in the Verizon Lounge. Using a 55-inch touchscreen, lounge visitors can explore the stadium and the live game by interacting with augmented reality (AR) graphics integrated into the camera video feed. Interactive AR graphics include showing the current lineup on the field and individual player statistics. They