From Education to Entertainment

By Andrew Jacobs

Erin Hills in Wisconsin is hosting golf’s U.S. Open Championship for the first time. The new venue, however, is only one change for one of the country’s oldest tournaments.  As part of its live coverage, FOX Sports will implement an array of technological tools to enhance their golf broadcast including augmented reality course overviews, drone flyovers, and shot tracing technology at all 18 tee boxes. Golf’s TopTracer technology and other similar technology offerings allow fans to see the exact flight pattern of the ball, as well as a golfer’s carry and apex of their swing. These new technologies will enable viewers to see data analytics on everything from drive apex to spin rate, throughout FOX’s 45 hours of coverage.

The US Open highlights a growing trend in the sports industry. Today, the numbers are not purely educational. Data is entertainment.  More specifically, television networks are using data because fans want to see the numbers to better enjoy watching sports. “The information is important and informative to heighten the viewing experience,” noted FOX senior vice president of graphic technology Zac Fields in an interview with Geek Wire. “We view it as a necessity much like the yellow line in football.” 

 “Strokes gained” is another good example of the analytics viewers will likely see during this weekend’s broadcast. First introduced by Mark Broadie of Columbia University, strokes gained compares a player’s performance in one aspect of the game, such as putting or driving, compared to the field average. Strokes gained has been used for several years by some of the game’s best but it has recently gained traction in the public discourse of fans and sports media. For example, fans can now tangibly see how Dustin Johnson’s long driving ability impacts his score as compared to other golfers’ in the field.

Across all sports, fans have shown an insatiable appetite for more and more stats and information about their favorite teams and players. MLB’s Statcast, a revolutionary tool utilized to analyze movements of both players and the baseball, has made nearly every aspect of the game quantifiable. First implemented into every stadium in 2015, Statcast data has been wholly available to fans for the first time this season and has been met with great enthusiasm. Walk into a sports bar and you will hear chatter of Aaron Judge’s latest launch angle or Andrew McCutchen’s great outfield speed. Similar advanced metrics, like baseball’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) or basketball’s offensive efficiency, have likewise been transformed from purely front office tools into media and fan base discussion points.  

As fans appetite for data grows, opportunities exist for significant growth for technology, analytics, and media companies within the sports industry. First, opportunities exist for new and innovative ways to track movement and performance across all sports, not only for use by talent evaluators but also as entertainment for fans. Additionally, sports media companies looking to differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded marketplace can leverage premium data and technologies to offer unique and valuable offerings for fans. For years, television networks have been worried that providing analytics would drive viewers away from game broadcasts. Now data is at the forefront of how networks want to engage fans with their favorite sports, teams, and players.