Jan 262016

A few days ago we looked at how sports organisations such as the Australian Open tennis tournament are increasingly treating their data as an asset almost as valuable as broadcasting rights.

Now Facebook has entered the space with its own Stadiums sports data service that it hopes to become an online centre for fans following major events.

How enthusiastic sports organisations will be in sharing their data and audiences with the social media service remains to be seen.

Sports have been a priority of the social media services in their quest to attract audiences, however unlike television broadcasters Twitter, Google Plus and Facebook have found their cosying up to contests and stars has been less than successful.

It may be statistics are what’s needed to attract fans and certainly Facebook is well placed to be a destination for fans however it is early days for social media and the model that works is yet to be found.


Jan 202016

Over the last 50 years the relationship between professional sport and television broadcasters has been defined by broadcasting rights. Like most other media business models that relationship is now under threat.

Touring the Australian Open tennis tournament this week, it was striking how the relationship between sports organisations and broadcasters has changed as the internet changes distribution models and data starts to become a valuable asset in itself.

A tour of the data infrastructure behind the tournament as a guest of sponsor and service provider IBM showed how sporting organisations are hoping to use data to improve their fans’ experience and add value for sponsors and competitors.

Last year the Australian Open collected 23 Terabytes of data, a 136 percent increase on 2014, which the organisers distribute on their MatchCenter web platform along with analysis through their Slamtracker system.

Using IBMs Bluemix development platform and the company’s Watson artificial intelligence service, the Australian Open website analyses factors ranging from the audience’s social media sentiment through to predicting competitors’ performance based on historical data.

This wealth of data gives the event organisers a great platform to engage with statistics hungry fans and it was notable when talking to the Australian Open staffers how they now see the television broadcasters as much as their competitors as their partners.

When coupled with the changes to broadcasting rights – like most sports organisations the Australian Open has moved to the model pioneered by Major League Baseball of providing their own video feeds rather than engaging a host broadcaster to record the events and distribute the video – this has put the television and pay-TV networks in a far less powerful position.

For the sports organisations those broadcast rights deals are still by far the most lucrative income stream they have but the days of the host broadcasters holding power over the events are slipping away.

One telling statistic was the shift to mobile platforms. Kim Trengrove, the digital manager for Tennis Australia, pointed out how in 2015 online traffic was split equally between desktop and mobile use while in 2016 it was appearing to be 60% mobile. That change in itself has major ramifications for the market.

In the future as the data becomes more valuable and the video feeds can be distributed across web browsers and even artificial reality headsets, the late Twentieth Century broadcast model becomes even more tenuous.

For the television networks it means their power and income is reduced while those collecting, processing and distributing data become more important. However it may be the software companies managing the information aren’t able to pay the immense sums the broadcasters have been able to offer for the last fifty years.

One thing a tour of the Australian Open did show was how business model of professional sports is dramatically changing. A data driven world is going to be very different to that of the last fifty years.

Aug 172015

“We’re trying to take the pain out of visiting a stadium,” says John Paul, CEO of smart stadium service provider Venue Next in an interview with Robert Scoble.

Scoble as usual gets the better stories than we do as this site’s visit to a smart stadium was somewhat underwhelming. Compared to the Sydney Cricket Ground, Santa Clara’s Levi Stadium is several degrees more advanced – one might suggest a generation ahead.

The Santa Clara stadium has a comprehensive offering with everything from parking, where guests can purchase spaces through the app, and transport integrated and right down to ushers monitoring the restroom queues.

Having one app to control the various feature is a benefit, “we can’t expect people to use multiple apps at a venue.” Paul says and adds the observation that venues can use the gathered intelligence enables the stadium management and concession holders to more efficiently deploy resources.

This is a problem at the SCG where a plethora of agencies and outsourcing deals puts barriers in the way of introducing smart apps, at present a user who wants to check seat availability or buy parking has to deal with different service providers.

One of the big problems facing Australian stadiums are the ticketing agencies where the two major operators – Ticketmaster and Ticketeck – have exclusive deals with the venues that dynamic pricing and upselling is difficult.

Upselling tickets was one of the benefits of the smart stadium cited by Mike Caponigro, Cisco’s head of Global Solutions Marketing for Sports and Entertainment when Decoding the New Economy interviewed him last year.

Having multiple providers with mismatching or inaccessible data sets is going to be a barrier for businesses trying to implement apps like VenueNext and information access is going to be an essential part of subcontracts and outsourcing agreements.

Ultimately this is about making things as easy as possible for the fans. By adding features they are able to spend more money and have an enjoyable time.

What’s notable with the VenueNext applications is the focus on the fans’ experience. By making the services more accessible and reducing the hassles of attending a major event, it’s more likely to attract more spectators.

The sports industry is leading the way on using apps to enhance customers’ experiences, something other industries such as the restaurant or conference sectors can learn from.

Jun 082015

Once a year I come out of the closet in Sydney and admit I support Carlton in the Australian Football League. This usually ends in humiliation as Carlton hasn’t beaten Sydney in the last twenty years.

This year’s ritual humiliation coincided with an offer by Telstra to review their smart stadium rollout at the Sydney Cricket Ground’s rebuilt MA Noble stand following a tour of Etihad’s stadium earlier this year.

Late last month I interviewed Mike Caponigro, Cisco’s head of Global Solutions Marketing for Sports and Entertainment, around how smart stadiums are being rolled out around the world, including the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Caponigro sees the smart stadium as complementing the ground experience and Cisco are working with over three hundred venues in thirty countries around the world.

“Live is always going to be best,” states Caponigro. “You can’t replace that tribal passion of the crowd. No matter how excited I get in my living room or with some friends in a pub you’re never going recreate that enthusiasm.”

However the expectations of sports fans are changing Caponigro points out citing how HD television and the internet is changing the experience for spectators outside the stadium, “fans don’t want to be removed from that action.”

So how does the connected stadium experience stack up for a punter who’s used to being in the cheap seats and often wonders if buying that ticket along with putting up with the hassles of getting to the ground, being overcharged for bad food and water down beer is worthwhile compared to staying at home and enjoying it on TV?

A limited App

Like all the smart stadium rollouts, the SCG’s revolves around the onscreen displays and the spectators’ smartphones. Once downloaded the 35Mb app isn’t spectacular. The sports news focuses on cricket – somewhat irrelevant in a Sydney winter – while the transport map front ends into Google Maps.

Probably the biggest disappointment with the app is the venue map which is a detailed PDF lacking any interactive capabilities which successfully manages to pack a lot of information, like the location of light towers, without actually telling you anything useful.

In seat ordering is one of the attractions of the app. Unfortunately we were unable to test it as the collection points are within the members section of the Noble stand which we didn’t have access to.

The lack of real time information about seating, transport and ground information makes the app at best ornamental, indeed there are opportunities missed in upselling such as offering spectators seat upgrades or merchandising offers.

In stadium connectivity

Where the SCG smart stadium shines is in the Wi-Fi connectivity. Mobile connections over 3 and 4G services have always been problematic during match breaks. During the game, the connection was flawless, the only gripe being that the login screen reappeared for a moment everytime the phone was bought out of sleep.

Again though it’s hard not to think the ground management are missing opportunities with the Wi-Fi as the login screen asked for an email address but didn’t give the option of providing an SCG or Swans membership number rather than just an email address.

Not so smart screens

The biggest boast of smart stadiums are the connected screens, the previous tour of Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium showed what could be done but the SCG game was an opportunity to see the videos in action.


Unfortunately the screens actually detracted from the experience. While the main scoreboards were showing game details and replays the smaller screens were showing the SCG members in ground advertising which added nothing for spectators.

Even during the match play, the screens carried the Channel Seven television feed with food outlet advertising wrapped around it. Disappointingly the screens didn’t give any updates on the match play, the goal kicked by Swans’ debutante Dan Robinson (who played for my local junior club) didn’t receive a mention at all.

Overall the spectator experience from the SCG’s smart stadium rollout is underwhelming. This isn’t a result of Telstra and Cisco’s technology but of its implementation with a focus on low value advertising rather than adding value for spectators.

Leaving money on the table

The smart screens need to be delivering more relevant information to fans in the stadium while the smartphone app has to be giving dynamic and useful data to help spectators before during and after the game.

At the moment, it seems there’s a lot of money being left on the table as opportunities beyond pushing advertising onto spectators aren’t being explored.


It’s hard not to think that right now the smart stadium is a solution in search of a problem. Certainly for fans to take anything except the improved Wi-Fi service seriously there ground managements have to offer more than continuous ads for chicken outlets and expensive private schools.

Then again, maybe I’m just bitter as once again us Carlton fans were humiliated by another hundred point loss. For Blues supporters it was another dismal night at the footy ground.

Apr 012015
radio programs for techonology, web, social media, cloud computing and computer advice

Paul Wallbank joins Tony Delroy on ABC Nightlife nationally from 10pm Australian Eastern time on Thursday, April2 to discuss how technology affects your business and life.

For the April 2015 program Tony and Paul look at Tesla founder Elon Musk’s prediction that driverless cars could be on US roads by the middle of the year.

Another industry that’s currently being disrupted by technology is sports. On the field, in the stadium and at home how games are played and watched is being changed.

Join us

Tune in on your local ABC radio station from 10pm Australian Eastern Summer time or listen online at www.abc.net.au/nightlife.

We’d love to hear your views so join the conversation with your on-air questions, ideas or comments; phone in on 1300 800 222 within Australia or +61 2 8333 1000 from outside Australia.

You can SMS Nightlife’s talkback on 19922702, or through twitter to @paulwallbank using the #abcnightlife hashtag or visit the Nightlife Facebook page.

Mar 202015

“When you’re playing, it’s all about the winning but when you retire you realise there’s a lot more to the game,” says former cricketer Adam Gilchrist.

Gilchrist was speaking at an event organised by software giant SAP ahead of a Cricket World Cup quarter final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground yesterday.

SAP were using their sponsorship of the event to demonstrate their big data analytics capabilities and how they are applied to sports and the internet of things.

Like most industries, the sports world is being radically affected by digitalisation as new technologies change everything from coaching and player welfare through to stadium management and fans’ experience.

Enhancing the fan experience

Two days earlier rival Melbourne stadium Etihad in the city’s Docklands district showed off their new connected ground where spectators will get hi-definition video and internet services through a partnership between Telstra and Cisco.

While Etihad’s demonstration was specifically about ‘fan experience’, the use of the internet of things and pervasive wireless access in a stadium can range from paperless ticketing to managing the food and drink franchises.

In the United States, the leader in rolling out connected stadiums, venues are increasingly rolling out beacon technologies allowing spectators to order deliveries to their seats and push special offers during the game.

While neither of the two major Melbourne stadiums offer beacon services at present, the Cisco devices around the Etihad have the facility to add Bluetooth capabilities when the ground managements decide to roll them out.

Looking after players

Probably the greatest impact of technology in sport is with player welfare; while coaches and clubs have been enthusiastic adopters of video and tracking technologies for two decades, the rate of change is accelerating as wearable devices are changing game day tactics and how injuries are managed.

One of the companies leading this has been Melbourne business Catapult Sports which has been placing tracking devices on Australian Rules football players and other codes for a decade.

For coaches this data has been a boon as it’s allowed staff to monitor on field performance and tightly manage players’ health and fitness.

Professional sports in general have been early adopters of new technologies as a small increase in performance can have immediate and lucrative benefits on the field. Over the last thirty years clubs have adopted the latest in video and data technology to help coaches and players.

As the technology develops this adoption is accelerating, administrators are looking at placing tracking devices within the balls, goals and boundary lines to give even more information about what’s happening on the field.

Managing the data flow

The challenge for sports organisations, as with every other industry, is in managing all the data being generated.

In sports managing that data has a number of unique imperatives; gamblers getting access to sensitive data, broadcast rights holders wanting access to game statistics and stadium managers gathering their own data all raise challenges for administrators.

There’s also the question of who owns the data; the players themselves have a claim to their own personal performance data and there could potentially be conflicts when a competitor transfers between clubs.

As the sports industry explores the limits of what they can do with data, the world is changing for players, coaches, administrators and supporters.

Gilchrist’s observation that there’s a lot more to professional sports than just what happens on the field is going to become even more true as data science assumes an even greater role in the management of teams, clubs and stadiums.

Paul travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Cisco and SAP.

May 162012

With just over two months until the start of the London Olympics, the inevitable cold feet about the wisdom of the project have started. Vanity Fair details the convoluted bidding process while Business Insider gives the 32 reasons why they think the 2012 Olympics will be a disaster.

Conventional wisdom is the Olympics leaves the host city – and often the nation – in a collective emotional, if not economic, depression.

In the case of Athens it may even be an economic depression, although it would be drawing a long bow to suggest the 2004 Olympics are responsible for the economic predicament Greece finds itself in today.

But is true that the Olympics are “cursed”? Or is the truth more complex than that?

For cities hosting the Olympics, the core problem is the size of the event with the 2012 games expecting 10,000 athletes from 182 countries in over 300 competitions. The Olympics are several orders of magnitude bigger than any other comparable sporting event such as the FIFA World Cup.

Given the size, it’s not surprising host cities suffer an Olympic hangover – there is no way any country, even China, can sustain the frantic hyperactivity a host city goes through in the years of preparation.

China is a good example of an economy that didn’t suffer after the Olympics and the event was more a proclamation that the country had arrived as a global power.

This is common with successful Olympics – Spain in 1992, South Korea in 1988, Japan in 1960 and arguably Australia in 1956 – were all turning points for those countries and the games announced their new position in the world.

Australia though is an interesting case with the two Olymipcs they have hosted,while the 1956 Olympics did change Melbourne, and Australia’s, self image the story is different for the 2000 Sydney event.

In the run up to the 2000 Olympics Sydneysiders, like myself, were sceptical. The city couldn’t run a decent railway for crying out loud, so how could we expect to run a decent Olympic games?

All the scepticism vanished on the weekend of 20th August, 2000 when the blue line marking the marathon route appeared across the city. It was as if a switch had been flipped; the few remaining doubters skipped town and everyone else had a party.

The optimism in Sydney and Australia at the end of the games was clear; the country could pull off the world’s biggest event and the opportunities were boundless.

But Sydney and Australia squibbed it – rather than building on the Olympic success and the preceding decade of reform, the nation looked inwards, decided to invest in new kitchens and today the country is more dependent on mineral exports than any time since the 1850s gold rush.

Much of the blame for this can be put on Australia’s political establishment, specifically two men – Prime Minister John Howard and NSW Premier Bob Carr.

Both men were, or are, very effective tactical politicians who were good at winning elections but were by no means visionaries or nation builders was not their thing. So the opportunities presented to Australia in the early 2000s were squandered on Carr’s short term opportunism and Howard building his middle class welfare state.

There’s no reason why there should be an Olympic curse, for some cities it’s a timing issue. For Athens the economic cycle was against them while politics damaged the Olympics of the 1970s and 80s.

On the other hand for cities like Seoul, Tokyo and Barcelona the Olympics were a coming of age for a growing country.

The challenge for Boris Johnson and David Cameron is to translate London’s Olympics into building Britain’s confidence. While the economic tide seems to be against them, much of their political legacy will be judged against on how well they do.