Game, set, match! How an assistant referee can boost fan engagement.

Hawk-eye made Tennis win the game!

While most of us know Hawk-eye as the “assistant referee” during Grand Slam tennis tournaments, the British sports innovation company’s technology has been applied in soccer, football, hockey and many other sports more recently.(1)

After Sony bought Hawk-eye in 2011 (2), the company kept extending its product offering with smart solutions allowing venue managers to fulfill the their stakeholders’ requirements and brands to interact with fans while attending big events.

Hawk-eye also added another new product to its portfolio: Hawk-Eye Tennis Coach. This coaching system combines data visualization and broadcast-quality video enabling top athletes and coaches to biomechanically analyse technique and investigate on-court performance through ball tracking data. With the help of Hawk-eye Tennis Coach, coaches and players can compare and evaluate their data and video to that of current, past and future professional opponents.(3) As such, the assistant referee now also is a coach and scout.

Figure 1: Tennis Coach screen shot

It goes without saying that transitioning from a B2B sportstech company combining hardware with a SaaS-component into a B2C data platform is a big challenge. Hawk-eye not only had to review its business model and customer base, it also had to deal with several data ownership issues.(4)

Data ownership of the data generated by Hawk-eye is not clear: is it Hawk-eye itself, local tennis federations, an individual tournament, ATP/ WTA or the player that owns these data? The answer is… it depends.

Depending on the type of tournament and the location of that tournament, either the local tennis federation or the individual tournament is the owner of the Hawk-eye data.(4) Needless to say that negotiating with these different and diverse parties is time-consuming and expensive while reaching a critical amount of data is a key success factor for Hawk-eye’s Tennis Coach. The fact Hawk-eye did not share any information on this hot topic publicly, proofs the company had to walk on eggshells.

Hence… why did Hawk-eye take the risk of launching a new product, not fully in line with their core business and in a different market? The answer: to generate value, to bring tennis to the next level.

Hawk-eye stimulated “internal value creation”. Tennis coach triggers new revenue streams, allowing Hawk-eye to continue its steep growth curve and confirm its reputation as a sports innovation company. Next to that, additional value is created for the Tennis ecosystem. Federations and tournaments have an additional source of income (data), players a new tool to further improve their performance which leads to an improved overall level of the game. This in turn, boosts fan engagement and thus… revenue for the players, tournaments, federations and ATP/WTA.

These additional revenues in the ecosystem are then used to generate more data by… installing SmartCourts, Hawk-eye’s technology also to capture data during training sessions(5). Result… even more value created. A traditional reinforcing loop enhanced with machine learning technology as soon as the tipping point was reached (6).

Or how an “assistant referee” can not only boost fan engagement but bring a whole ecosystem to the next level.



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Student comments on Game, set, match! How an assistant referee can boost fan engagement.

  1. Thank Tim! This is such an interesting application of AI. I personally would love to try the Hawk Eye tennis coach! How do you envision this product being scaled? Will it be so expensive that it is only used by pro tennis players or will it be more commoditized? I would love to learn more about the decision to produce a consumer product as opposed to improving the current Hawk Eye referee so that it can be used as the sole referee rather than having linesmen and Hawkeye. I’m sure the commercial application of Hawkeye instead of linesmen would save the WTA/ATP and tournament organizers a lot of labour costs and also improve the game since there should be no incorrect calls. What I’m also wondering is how is Hawk Eye attracting talented data scientists to innovate and roll out these new AI and ML products?

  2. Thank you for a great post, Tim! Data analytics are being widely integrated into professional sports, as we most recently seen with the Footbonaut, it makes sense that for a game that relies so heavily on precision, tennis is going to follow suit. As a follower of professional tennis, I am personally a big fan of the Hawkeye feature, as it leaves no room for doubt in the linesmen’s calls that often seen questionable when watching from afar. However, so much of the game is mental, I wonder what impact the technology will have if its use in professional games in not limited to the 3 challenges per set that players have today. Additionally, Tiffany raises a great point about the equitable availability of the product. The history of the game is rich in rags to riches stories from Serena Williams to Maria Sharapova. I wonder how this technology will affect new player development. I am also curious to hear your thoughts on the criticisms that the Hawkeye technology received in the past with regards to its limited availability to the center courts at some tournaments, where only the top players get to use it.

  3. Thanks Tim! I’m curious as to how you feel about more sports moving away from human officials to more automated solutions like this?

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