By MICHAEL HICKINS FOR ORACLE For most of us, sports represent our opportunity to experience the sublime on a daily basis. That might explain why even
By MICHAEL HICKINS FOR ORACLE
For most of us, sports represent our opportunity to experience the sublime on a daily basis. That might explain why even normally level-headed people go bonkers when it comes to their teams (like yours truly for the New York Yankees). There’s something else, too: Sport at the highest levels reveals the art of the possible, the awe-inspiring triumphs of athletic endurance, strength, speed, and skill.
Modern technology allows athletes, teams, and fans to experience those feats like never before, in the form of stats that track exit velocities, spin rates, win probabilities, etc. While this trend isn’t new, what is new is that cloud technology is bringing such information to people in more precise depth than ever before.
The impact of sports technology in everyday life is akin to the innovations created by NASA’s space program, including LASIK surgery, insulin pumps, solar cells, camera phones, and, yes, Tang powdered drinks. Only in this case, high-performance computing, predictive analytics, and real-time video streams are now accessible to us mere earthlings thanks to the transformative influence of cloud.
For instance, the national teams competing in the SailGP championship series, using Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, can cost-effectively analyze more than 80 billion data requests generated over the course of eight races. Those data points are transmitted to Oracle’s London cloud region for analysis and distribution to teams’ headquarters and to broadcasters worldwide, all within two-tenths of a second. Software called Oracle Stream Analytics uses machine learning to correlate patterns gleaned from the 30,000 data points an F50 catamaran sends every second of a race, helping teams determine optimal in-race strategies and providing fans with deep insights.
CLOUD’S FASTER, CHEAPER MANDATE
Cloud technology also makes it possible for fans to experience greatness in ways they haven’t before. Amid the COVID-19 lockdown in the U.K., a record number of fans were still able to watch—and place real-time bets on—the 28 horse races taking place in March at the four-day Cheltenham Festival in Gloucestershire, England. As many as 478,000 concurrent users viewed the races thanks to real-time streaming video powered by Phenix Real-Time Solutions, running on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.
Phenix streams video at “broadcast scale,” notes Cofounder and Chief Software Architect Dr. Steffan Birrer, who says the most challenging part of scaling is adjusting to the rate of change of viewership—especially difficult with a horse race, for which a large number of people tend to tune in within a three-minute window before the competition. “You have to be able to predict that initial volume—that’s a science in itself—but you also have to be able to react as more people come in,” Birrer says. “And you can’t do that manually. That’s almost impossible within three minutes because by the time you understand what’s happening, it’s already too late.”
ANALYTICS TO THE MASSES
Arguably the world’s most-watched professional football (soccer) league, the Premier League is also working with Oracle to provide broadcasters across the globe with a variety of match stats derived using Oracle Cloud technology. Starting next season, broadcasters will feature insights that highlight a team’s probability of winning at any point in a game based on years of match data; track a team’s momentum by determining the likelihood of scoring based on a combination of historical and in-match data; and follow team tactics as they evolve by analyzing offensive and defensive formations.
Formula 1 team Red Bull Racing Honda, another recent convert to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, plans to expand its use of data science and analytics to inform the growing and diversifying engineering work undertaken on the Red Bull Technology Campus.
My first insight into the power of analytics in sports came from Ted Williams, one of the best baseball hitters ever. In his 1970 book The Science of Hitting, Williams divided a virtual strike zone into 77 baseball-sized zones. He used color-coding to present his historical batting average for a ball thrown into each of those zones, to show which pitches he would swing at and which he would let pass.
Williams also discussed other analytic approaches, including what he argued was the optimal swing path for a bat, showing that a slight uppercut would produce better results for a batter than a level swing. Call it analog analytics if you like.
This kind of information is now available instantaneously to everyone – from athletes to business leaders managing supply chains, inventory, or customer service – because they are using cloud-based, analytics applications that are available in real time, at a significant discount to software managed in corporate data centers.
Michael Hickins is a senior director of communications at Oracle. He is a former editor at The Wall Street Journal and eWEEK, founding editor of CIO Journal, and is a husband and proud father of three. He has also published numerous works of fiction and non-fiction.