Cloud competition and sports analytics | Dekiutte Netherlands


Sport Goes Web-Scale: New Stats, New Fans

Competition between cloud providers to change the world of sport

The battle between the big cloud providers is spilling over into the world’s sports arenas. To showcase what they can do, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure are all striking deals with top sports leagues and clubs, such as Formula One, the Bundesliga, Real Madrid and the Seattle Seahawks. In time, leading Asian cloud providers, such as Alibaba, are also likely to wade in.

There was a big upset in 2020 when AWS (the number one cloud company) was dropped in favour of Google as official stats provider to Major League Baseball in the U.S. – a sport known for its early adoption of data analytics, as portrayed in the iconic film Moneyball. The league has agreed to promote Google as powering its Statcast service, which tells baseball fans everything from how much spin was on a pitch to how difficult a catch was. 
This intense competition between the big three cloud players could help many sports franchises to raise their game and attract new fans – web-scale computing resources can deliver new insights and experiences that will make sport more engaging and exciting for casual spectators. By continually analysing live video footage, AWS, Google or Azure can tell you in real-time how fast someone is running, how hard they have hit a ball or whether a team is set up to defend or attack.

Sports statistics – a draw for decision makers

Although most sports clubs and franchises are unprofitable, they are desirable customers for the leading cloud players because they attract a broad following, including many decision makers in senior roles. Providing compelling real-time statistics on a major golf tournament, for example, is likely to get a cloud provider noticed inside the boardrooms of many enterprises – the same technologies could yield valuable insights right across the economy.
Real-time sports statistics could also make the cloud far more meaningful for blue-collar workers who may have little interest in computing resources and how they are deployed.
In many ways, analysing live sports is the perfect showcase for cloud computing’s key strength – its ability to immediately dial up and dial down resources in line with demand. A football team, for example, can use the cloud to track millions of data points during a match, and only pay for what it uses, rather than having to buy its own computing infrastructure.  This kind of pay-as-you-go flexibility is a fundamental part of the cloud proposition. 
The major cloud providers could also help minor sports to build a bigger following, both by making it easier to broadcast live coverage and by generating stats that can help spectators understand what is going on. A cloud provider could, for example, estimate how much power each cyclist in a race is generating in real time to help viewers follow the tactics their teams are pursuing. 

Entertainment as you like it

As they embrace the exposure offered by live sports, the major cloud providers are likely to dedicate more and more resources to upping the entertainment ante. AWS, Azure and Google could enable spectators to fully customize their viewing experience, so they can watch a football match from their preferred angle, for example, or follow an individual golfer during a tournament. As connectivity improves with more fibre and more 5G, the cloud providers could even render 3D holograms of the live action, which could be beamed into people’s homes.
The cloud providers could also engage fans by allowing them to follow in their heroes’ footsteps. For example, smart glasses would enable an amateur golfer playing a round on a famous course to see the shots Tiger Woods played on each hole.

A great shop window for the cloud

As well as promoting their cloud services, Amazon, Google and Microsoft have several other good reasons for raising their profile in sport. In Amazon’s case, live sports coverage can draw more subscribers to its Amazon Prime proposition, which drives high volumes of sales through the Amazon marketplace. At the same time, all three cloud providers are playing in the eSports market through their respective gaming platforms – Twitch, Stadia and Xbox.
For Microsoft, sport is a great showcase for its productivity tools. Following its deal with the Seattle Seahawks, for example, the players running onto the field now stop at a Microsoft Surface Hub to chat with fans who have assembled virtually using Microsoft Teams. Microsoft has also developed a “fan engagement platform” for Real Madrid, which is helping the club to personalize its interactions with supporters. The Microsoft Azure platform “makes it possible for us and our fans to do things that used to be impossible,” says José Ángel Sánchez, CEO of Real Madrid . “It is really a complete disruption of the business model that football has had over the past 15 to 20 years.”
Athletes, as well as fans, will also benefit from web-scale resources. Cloud computing can help both professionals and amateurs to employ wearable devices and video footage to analyse their game and make adjustments. Athletes and their agents are also beginning to use their performance figures and other metrics, such as social media activity, to negotiate better contracts. Footballer Kevin de Bruyne is reported to have used a digital analysis of his performances to win better terms from Manchester City: a very direct example of how data can deliver value.
As more and more athletes embrace big data, we can expect the off-screen battle between the clouds to be almost as intense as the action on the pitch. 

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If you would like to discuss the opportunities and challenges arising from the competition among cloud platforms and its influence on the world of sports, please get in touch.

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