“AI in Sport? It’s only going to get bigger, faster and (hopefully) better”
September 14, 2023
The time has come to embrace AI in sport – whether we like it or not. David Granger, content director at Cinch looks at where we’re heading and where things can occasionally go wrong.
The Emirates Stadium is wrapped in flags, images and banners celebrating Arsenal’s former players and past glories, but eyes were firmly on the future this month as it hosted an event examining the state of artificial intelligence. And where we’re going.
Generative AI for the Creative Industries had among its delegates, representatives from our hosts Arsenal, Scuderia Ferrari, Manchester City and Wimbledon to learn more about what AI is currently doing and how it’s going to affect sport in the future.
Because we’re currently in a period of early adoption and – as we had with the internet, with ecommerce and with social media – there are going to be mistakes made, errors and failures which seem almost comic to the outsider.
One blunder which made the headlines was the headlines created by an AI-generated sports reporter.
It seems like a decent idea – report the facts of a match, but do it using artificial intelligence, cut out the writer’s fee, the travel time and expense and the cost of a half-time hotdog. In the US, Gannett newspapers had been using an AI service, according to the Washington Post, which created high school sports reports.
The concept went viral though when some of the reports didn’t exactly pass muster. An example? Well, it’s been deleted now, but this is one heck of a report:
“The Worthington Christian defeated the Westerville North 2-1 in an Ohio boys soccer game on Saturday.”
So, it’s not all plain sailing for the early adopters.
However, the next phase is when the lessons from these early adopters are noted and learned and the next phase – I’m going to call it as the early adapters’ phase – get hold of the technology. And this is already happening.
For the sceptics, however, we can already see examples where AI is advancing the fan experience (FC Barcelona’s chatbot), virtual training, augmented reality at baseball stadiums, virtual training for cyclists, Manchester City’s virtual fan experience or the NFL’s augmented reality. It’s affecting how we train for, prepare, participate in and spectate sport. And things are only just getting started.
From the conference speakers, there are several areas which need to be addressed by every organisation:
Acceptance – from the chief executive to the junior ticket office operator, like social before it, AI needs to be understood and accepted
Integration – making sure AI is used to make our lives easier
Governance – ensuring no sensitive team, federation or athlete is uploaded into prompts
This week also saw the launch of the 2024 Sports Technology Awards – if ever there was a content which celebrated the advent of AI, it’s this one. Take a look at last year’s winners and the majority are either explicit in their use of artificial intelligence or it’s used in their offering.
AI is not going away – quite the opposite. Whether we like it or not – and it certainly has its detractors – like social and websites before it, what once seemed far-off, foreign and futuristic, is very quickly going to be the mainstream.