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Advancing the Game: How AI is Set to Transform Football

May 1, 2024

Artificial intelligence is reshaping our daily lives in profound ways. Since the introduction of generative AI to the general public in 2022, we’ve witnessed its impact on a grand scale. Traditional models from companies like OpenAI, Anthropic, and Google Bard, which build foundational technologies, are now familiar features in our digital landscape. While these models offer broad applications, they are trained on the same data sources—primarily the open web—leading to a convergence in their functionalities and outputs.

As the AI landscape evolves, the next wave is emerging: domain-specific expert AI. These specialised systems promise to deliver nuanced insights and capabilities tailored to specific fields, setting them apart from their more generalist counterparts. In the world of sports, especially football, this shift towards specialised AI is not just on the horizon; it’s already underway. These systems integrate specialist AI models, such as player ratings, physical traits, and transfer valuations, into a foundational framework, enabling seamless interaction in natural language while providing real-time domain expertise.

The impact of these new models will be significant as they offer the best of both worlds – high quality domain specific information within a broad corpus of expertise and language understanding. According to Allied Market Research, the global AI in sports market was valued at $2.2 billion in 2022 and it is projected to increase to $29.7 billion by 2032.

Against this background, I highlight some of the key transformative challenges that AI is set to address in football.

Tackling Social Media Abuse

One of the most pressing issues for athletes today is the risk of online abuse. According to FIFA, over half of all athletes report experiencing this form of harassment, which significantly impacts their mental health and performance anxiety. While social media platforms offer a space for fans to connect with their favourite players, they can also be arenas for harmful behaviours and cyberbullying. To combat this critical issue, AI solutions can be employed to monitor social media and other digital platforms in real-time. These technologies are capable of identifying and flagging abusive or threatening content directed at players. Traditionally, this task has relied on human reporting, but AI systems can monitor these interactions on a much larger scale. By utilising advanced algorithms, these AI systems can automatically initiate content takedown procedures and alert the relevant authorities, ensuring a swift response to protect athletes. Furthermore, this technology aids sports clubs in proactively identifying players who are at high risk of receiving abuse, enabling timely interventions and support to safeguard their well-being. This broader application of AI illustrates how technology is being leveraged to create safer online environments for athletes, enhancing their ability to focus on their sport without the added stress of online harassment.

Enhancing Fan Engagement Through Personalised Content

In the modern digital era, sports teams are increasingly pivoting from traditional physical revenue streams—such as tickets, merchandise, broadcast rights, and sponsorships—towards enhancing fan engagement through digital direct-to-consumer (D2C) channels. This strategic shift not only diversifies revenue but also broadens connections with a global fanbase, extending beyond traditional boundaries. For example, FIFA report five billion football fans around the world, with Latin America, the Middle East and Africa representing the largest fan bases. However, no club from outside Europe is ranked in the top 30 revenue generators in global football.

Creating New Digital Experiences with ReplayAI

We have also developed ReplayAI, a tool that transforms fan interaction with the game through the use of probabilistic Causal AI technology which involves analysing and modelling potential cause-and-effect scenarios. ReplayAI enables fans to pause real-time events and delve into various “what-if” scenarios—like imagining the outcomes if a catch was dropped in cricket or a penalty wasn’t overturned by VAR, exploring the potential outcomes of decisions or actions not taken during a match. This interactive technology not only captivates fans during live games by extending the excitement beyond the typical 90-minute match but also offers educational insights into the strategic complexities of football.

Moreover, ReplayAI allows fans to retrospectively consider historical scenarios, such as imagining the implications if Zidane had not been sent off in the 2006 World Cup final, or if a VAR decision had gone differently, potentially altering the outcome of crucial matches. Imagine, for instance, the ramifications for Real Madrid had they succeeded in signing Harry Kane—could such a move have helped them secure another Champions League title? ReplayAI not only enhances current viewing experiences but also redefines how historical events are discussed among fans, filling engagement gaps beyond the 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon. 

Pushing Sports into a Technology-Driven Era

The adoption of these advanced AI technologies signifies a broader shift in the sports industry from traditional broadcasting to a more technology-driven approach. These AI tools offer clubs unprecedented ways to protect and engage players and fans. This shift promises to usher in a new era focused on technological innovation rather than solely on broadcast viewership.

Through these initiatives, we are developing a future where AI and sports continue to evolve in tandem. This symbiosis between cutting-edge technology and traditional sports can unlock new potentials, offering both challenges and opportunities that will redefine the industry standards. As we continue to develop and refine our AI offerings, the goal remains clear: to ensure that football and sports at large not only keep pace with technological advancements but lead the way in adopting them.

By Professor Nick Jennings, SentientSports. For more information about SentientSports please visit

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