From Gaming to Streaming: The AI Wave Hits Sports

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AI will revolutionize how sports properties manage and monetize their legacy IP. If done well, this will strengthen the bonds between fans and teams like never before, while also creating new avenues for #sports media and content.

Creating New Content

The immense value of live sports rights has prompted a surge of sports-adjacent content that supplements game coverage (think Inside the NBA on TNT) or replaces it entirely (like Drive to Survive on Netflix). This trend coincides with myriad new D2C streaming services vying for market share, including several owned and operated by sports properties themselves (FIFA+, NFL+, MSG+, etc.).

The net result is high demand for compelling sports-themed stories. That’s essentially what teams’ and leagues’ legacy IP is – a treasure trove of narratives, debates and storylines that capture consumers’ attention. Documentary fatigue, however, is very real. That’s a problem #artificialintelligence can help solve by creating a new sub-genre of sports.

Imagine a scenario where #generativeAI cleans and digests the extensive data collected on iconic athletes over the years. Through supervised machine learning and visualization, those insights could create a new wave of simulation games where the likes of Larry Bird, Bill Russell and Jayson Tatum face off with Patrick Ewing, Walt Frazier and Jalen Brunson.

Whether you’re talking sports at a barber shop, up in the bleachers, or inside a director’s box – we have all embraced those ‘what if’ debates. Now, we have technology that can mine terabytes of data to bring these scenarios to life. If framed and promoted correctly, this is a recipe for compelling content.

These AI-driven simulations will never replace actual live sports and all its imperfections. We are, after all, social creatures who enjoy watching talented individuals push the limits of what’s possible in competitive settings. But if these hypothetical faceoffs are part of a marketing push to promote the next meeting of New York Knicks, Inc. and Boston Celtics in the NBA Playoffs, you’d better believe I will tune in.

Empowering Historic IP

Natural language generation (a subfield of AI) can help create robust narratives for archived games that give modern fans more incentive to watch them.

Legendary NBC Sports head Dick Ebersol pioneered storytelling in sports, famously saying:

“Every game [has] an epic story to tell…The way to capture audiences for unfamiliar sports was to tell the stories of the athletes competing: to pique their curiosity and give them a rooting interest.”

AI can make historic sports content more intuitive and consumable at a time when most fans need more than on-field/court action to hold their attention. By prefacing archived games with the 4 C’s of #storytelling (Curiosity, Context, Characters and Conflicts), rights owners can extract more value from their legacy IP, bringing more viewers to their owned content platforms.

I see a future where these organizations have their own archives – similar to WWE on Peacock or UFC Fight Pass – where historic games are coupled with captivating narratives, either in short written form or a multimedia ‘trailer’ format. Alongside storytelling, AI’s creation of robust #metadata can help fans navigate the platform, decide what they should watch, and receive more intuitive recommendations. Without AI, this process would be incredibly resource intensive. With AI, the cost comes down dramatically.

Fueling Sports Betting

While #sportsbetting has been on a steady growth trajectory in the US since PAPSA Act’s repeal in 2018, AI can enable a specific type of betting that has gained traction more recently: in-play betting, aka microbetting.

Comprised of bets placed after a sporting event begins, microbetting is forecast to exceed $20 billion in annual betting volume by 2027. These bets focus on the outcome of a next play (think hit, ball, or strike on the next pitch, or whether a player runs for a first down on the next play).

AI’s strong computational power and ability to process historical performance, player statistics and other relevant datasets in real-time should help set high-quality lines for a variety of “microbets.” The speed, precision and adaptability of these algorithms eclipses anything a human can do in the same timeframe; adding another layer of gratification to the sports viewing experience for consumers.

AI will dramatically impact the competitive side of sports too, improving a team’s ability to recruit effectively, informing coaching decisions, supplementing contract negotiations, mitigating injury risk and creating more value from the data collection tools teams have already licensed.

Augmenting Video Games

AI’s ability to ingest different datasets and expel cogent actions can also take sports video gaming (2K, Madden, FIFA, The Show, etc.) to new heights – especially when playing against the computer. Instead of standard difficulty settings and pre-programmed movements, transplanting data-backed insights into games could enhance virtual teams, allowing them to adopt more authentic styles and the distinct characteristics they’re known for in the real world.

Jose Mourinho’s AS Roma, for example, performs wide pressing traps, aggressive center-backs and counter attacking as part of a defensive playing style. In contrast, Xavi Hernandez’s FC Barcelona exhibits a possession-based philosophy where offense is often started from the back and players drop deep to receive and redistribute the ball.

Some of the more basic elements (e.g., tactical formations) are already evident in sports-themed game titles, but customization to this level of detail does not yet exist.

The caveat here is that effective AI needs LOTS of data, more than any single organization has available. Ironically, AI’s demands might bring sports organizations, leagues, federations and rights holders closer together. If they are to truly ‘level up’ consumer offerings for the most immersive experiences possible, collaboration may supersede competition.

Final Thought

There’s a palpable tension when people talk about AI that I haven’t seen since the early days of the internet – a mix of fear and skepticism that masks some of the amazing ways this technology could improve fan interactions with their favorite sports properties. Through the lens of #ChannelChange, however, I’m optimistic and excited to see how this latest wave of innovation will create value and revolutionize content consumption.

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