Big Data at the USTA: Game, Set, Data Match

By Samuel Greengard

For all the talk about big data there’s actually very little action. However, one organization that has achieved net gains with the technology is the United State Tennis Association (USTA), which just crowned its 2012 champs. Throughout the U.S. Open, the organization tapped predictive analytics, cloud computing and mobile technologies to connect fans and media with data and transform the sport in ways that would have once seemed unimaginable.

The USTA, using an assortment of IBM tools and technologies, delivered streams of match data, access to live video, highlights and real-time statistical information to tennis fans via dedicated iPad, iPhone and Android apps. For example, a viewer might want to know how many fewer points a player tallied while winning a match or the percentage of break point conversions occurring during a match.

The big data system also provided predictive analytics capabilities. This included, among other things, what factors were most important for a particular player in winning or losing a given match. And it factored in information about current weather conditions and the effect on player hydration and performance.

The end result was an ability to deliver an insider’s view of who had the advantage on court and who was most likely to win a match—well before match point. Some of the statistical and analytics data was also displayed onsite at the Tennis Center via the IBM Game Changer Interactive Wall.

“Our goal, among other things, is to be innovators for the sport of tennis and sports in general,” says Phil Green, senior director of advanced media for the USTA. “We hope to provide new and revolutionary tools that transform the way people follow the sport. Today, fans from across the globe crave information immediately on the device of their choice. It’s an opportunity to connect them to the sport and to the USTA more effectively.”

In addition, the USTA extended the data analysis into the social media sphere. IBM applied sophisticated analytics software to millions of public tweets generated during the U.S. Open in order to assess which players were fan favorites and to gauge overall sentiment trends.

The USTA was integrated with eight social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Google+. Ultimately, this type of data can help businesses determine how to make better business and marketing decisions and connect to customers more effectively, Green notes.

The organization draws and aggregates the data from a number of sources, including proprietary databases and public sources of information such as Twitter hashtags. More than 20 years of historical data is stored in the cloud. In 2011, the Website and mobile apps attracted about 15 million unique visitors and approximately 54 million overall visits.

“The way fans watch and follow sports is changing,” Greene points out. “Big data will play an increasingly important role in supporting the overall fan experience. We’re attempting to take tennis and the U.S. Open into the future by making the experience as interactive as possible.”