Are AI performance insights helping shape a new future in sports?


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Opening thoughts

Technology, data and sports analytics have been swirling around in their own orbits for decades. Many sports scientists have tried a plethora of combinations to maximize positive outcomes for their teams. Artificial intelligence offers a whole new dimension to this, as coaching teams, staff and players seek out technology to help them develop their game.

The sheer volume of investment in the AI industry is now causing many more people in sports science, coaching and performance insights to sit up and take notice. But, on the whole, will AI have a net positive or negative effect? Let’s have a look at some of the bold predictions and facts surrounding this mysterious new technology.

Technology in sports – how does it work?

We’d be here a long time if we explored every facet and corner of sports technology and how it works. The earliest days of sports technology ranged from video-assisted referees in rugby to supercomputers trying to predict the outcome of games. While it might have been big news at the time, and sports betting companies might have been intrigued to see how supercomputers arrived at many of their predictions, ultimately, they became fads of their era. 

However, AI has reignited the idea of automated score predictions. The theory is that far more sophisticated technology will be able to break down much larger portions of data, balance the nuances like player injury, suspensions, head-to-head records etc, and arrive at far more accurate predictions. 

Of course, this will be unique to any particular sport, with NFL computer picks and boxing picks, for instance, having very different approaches and programming. As with anything with a human element and many different moving parts, AI will not be able to predict the outcome of every NFL game – at the risk of stating the obvious. However, it will be a step above how computers have dissected potential matchups in the past.

How it could change performance insights

Zooming in on the much smaller scope of performance insights, we begin to see just how impactful AI is set to become in all professional sports. AI technology will have a number of critical characteristics. Still, for any sport, whether an individual sport or a team one, there will be set pieces of data that AI will use to unlock some high-quality insights into performance. 

Firstly, it’ll crunch millions of gigabytes of data and explore trillions of possibilities in a matter of minutes. AI technology is developing at such a magnificent speed that it can interweave the sort of information that computers currently can’t digest.

Let’s take a look at NFL stats as just one example – player form, their performance at specific grounds, how injury-prone they are and how consistent they can be against different types of opposition players are all performance insights that are still somewhat limited, even in the digital age of the internet and basic, initial AI. 

Will AI change the face of sports?

In short? Yes. AI is going to change every facet of our lives. Although it’ll have a more significant impact on some areas than others, sports is one industry that will utilize the technology to its maximum capacity. 

Stretching beyond basic and advanced performance insights, AI will be able to scout for new players worldwide, based on essential characteristics. In fact, this process has already started in soccer. AI will not only expedite this further but add such sophistication to it that many analysts believe it’ll be used exclusively by all sports franchises, teams and coaches within the next two decades – essentially making 95% of scouts redundant.

This is the tip of the iceberg; expect to see it play a more significant role in VAR in soccer and in detailed match reports – even ghostwriting autobiographies of some of the most prominent names in sport. Many analysts and AI experts are of the belief that the vast majority of sports fans don’t yet comprehend the seismic change that is on the horizon thanks to the new multitrillion-dollar AI industry. 

Final thoughts

While AI chatbots such as ChatGPT are stealing all the headlines, and technological advances are arguably the most evident in this field of AI, industries such as sports, legal, finance and the arts will see the most significant changes. 

In sports, it’ll be a case of how much AI changes the playing field; there’ll still be the real acid test of regulation to come, which will change the trajectory and ultimately decide the sector’s long-term success. 

However, it could be the final piece of the puzzle that sets it on its way to becoming a ubiquitous and omnipresent technology in the sports we watch. Suppose companies continue to invest in AI at the current scale – in that case, all of the subsidiary markets that are linked, ranging from sports journalism to performance insights at all levels, will become AI-driven and transform forever.

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