Modernizing Tradition at The Masters

By Adam Grossman

 “A tradition unlike any other” is now literally the trademark phrase of the Masters golf tournament teeing off this weekend in Augusta, Georgia. Fans from around the world enjoy seeing staples like Amen Corner, the azaleas that bloom around the greens, and the green jacket presentation at Butler Cabin during the unofficial start of spring at the Masters.

Despite being steeped in tradition, the Masters is actually one of the leaders in sports technology. Its relationship with IBM has created innovative ideas that have changed how fans consume content during the tournament. As my co-authors and I discussed in The Sports Strategist: Developing Leaders for a High Performance Industry, IBM enabled the Masters to become one of the first events to have 360-degree views of each hole, a historical video timeline, and up-to-date leaderboard information directly on the tournament’s website starting in 2013.

This year’s tournament is no different. IBM’s Watson platform will be used at the Masters to solve one of the most difficult challenges for covering any golf event on television. In this year’s event, there will be 94 players competing to become the Masters champion. How will CBS (or any television network) know which holes to broadcast and where highlights may emerge during the thousands of potential hours of tournament television coverage? In the past, networks had to review this footage manually or rely on a cameraman to hopefully capture the right shot.

IBM Watson, however, can solve this problem using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. More specifically, “For the first time at a sporting event, IBM is harnessing Watson’s ability to see, hear, and learn to identify great shots based on crowd noise, player gestures, and other indicators. IBM Watson will create its own highlight reels.” The Masters and IBM have put into place a solution that could help all PGA Tournaments by leveraging its corporate partnership to use new technology to improve its “traditional” product.

The Masters and IBM’s relationship brings up a larger point about AI. In the past, we have talked about teaching machines how to see, hear, learn, and read through Block Six Analytics’ (B6A’s) Media Analysis Platform (MAP) and Social Sentiment Analysis Platform (SSAP). Both IBM and B6A are focusing on using AI to complete tasks that are both repetitive and for which machines can do a better job than humans. With MAP, for example, B6A is using machine learning to automatically identify logos or objects on screen during a broadcast to determine the value for a corporate partner. IBM is using Watson to identify, aggregate, and produce highlights in an automated fashion. Both companies are using machines to maximize the work people are doing in and around sporting events. That is likely the role that AI will play in the sports industry for the foreseeable future.