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How to tell compelling stories in sport using Live Data

Updated: Jul 3

Live data dashboard

Live Data in sport is at an inflection point. There’s a lot of talk, but very little action. This article explores the state of live data technology in sport and presents how we can move it forward with next-level storytelling through the use of biometric data as discussed between the PTO, Aurora Media and We Are Sweet. 

Talk is Cheap. Action is not.

There’s been so much talk surrounding fan engagement and connecting with your audience through live data, yet I’ve seen little real-world implementation. It’s been the premise of industry panels for several years, showcasing promotional videos set to banging stock music library tunes that promise Minority Report-style VR/AR graphics for your favourite sports team projected directly into your eyeballs. But where are these engaging fan experiences and deeply personal stories for the average sports fan and how does it generate revenue?

As the dust settles post-covid, sports events have recovered back to capacity, putting bums on seats and filling stadiums once again. During that time, the cost of everything has skyrocketed. The business of sport needs more cash to operate and grow. Increased operational costs require increased revenues, and when your events are full, you need to look further afield for income. The proposed approach: extend reach by engaging your fans outside of the stadium, then monetise them. 

The capabilities of technology move faster than the practical implementation of tech. Cloud computing, high-speed internet and powerful mobile devices are ubiquitous in 2024 and present lower barriers to reaching your fans. The tricky bit is that those barriers are lower for every form of entertainment and distraction competing for your audience's attention. You need to cut through the noise of social media, big-budget TV series, podcasts, music, gaming, reading, education and porn that shares the same 35-44 age demographic who are most engaged in sport. The strategy to winning the attention wars is powerful and effective story-telling…but how?

Retrospective Storytelling vs In The Moment.

PTO data live screen

Netflix has done a great job at revamping archive footage and commissioning behind-the-scenes access to start telling emotion-driven stories that give fans another perspective on their sport. This long-form angle to storytelling is retrospective and takes months, even years to carefully craft, plan and convey across multiple episodes or series.  It’s a good start, but sport is all about the action. Where is the high-intensity, passionate, real-time drama right now?

There’s a plethora of sports trying to stand out and capture young audiences, from Triathlon to Padel to E1 and even Esports. Teams in these challenger sports don’t have the long-standing heritage of football clubs, so the obvious choice is to focus on the individual competitors and tell their personal stories.

Newer sports and reimagined formats can be confusing for fans. Knowing who is who, what is going on and what it all means in a greater context is a real challenge. This gap presents an opportunity for rights holders to provide more insightful information to potential fans and existing die-hards alike, providing them with new entertaining experiences. Traditional match scores, basic stats, and heat maps have been recorded manually and displayed on broadcast feeds for decades, but this isn’t live data, it’s still added retrospectively after it happens. Live data is continuously captured from the athletes and processed to reveal insights that can be used to tell relatable narratives in the moment, as it happens. 

The secret sauce that enables storytelling is real-time data.

7 Steps: The Methodology.

People don’t have the attention or patience for poorly told stories, so your stories better be good - see above ‘wars for your attention’’. Sports organisations are trying to skip ahead to the finish line, but delivering compelling stories to fans is at the end of the supply chain, not the start. Just like your favourite Hollywood blockbuster, there’s a lot of groundwork needed to get to that final piece. Below are the 7 steps to telling compelling in-the-moment stories using live data, start to finish.

7 steps to telling compelling in-the-moment stories using live data, start to finish.

1 Input: Raw data is collected from multiple sources in parallel. Use devices and systems that can reliably capture data in real-time like wearables and AI-enhanced video processing. There’s no point in steps 2-7 if the data isn’t captured from a device that can dependably perform at scale (both physically and operationally) with little fuss.

2. Clean: Data comes in many shapes and sizes. Data from timing mats is very different to sensors on a bike, and heart rate wearables are very different to image recognition. It's crucial to normalise speed, distance, time and other values to make it usable. Dropouts and blind spots are inevitable, making intelligent gap-filling a prerequisite to turning data into information.

3. Identify: To carry out meaningful insights, data needs to be assigned accurately to each athlete. Use digital identification techniques to link every data point, from heart rates to spatial positioning, to the correct athlete, creating a comprehensive Digital Athlete profile.

4. Compare: Standardised data can be used to quickly create leaderboards and basic stats but the magic lies in analytical tools to compare performances against other athletes and historical data. Modern insight techniques can recognise complex patterns to spot trends, predict outcomes and find interesting data points to start uncovering micro-moments.

5. Curate: It’s only once the data has been analysed that you can start crafting engaging stories and sharing narratives. Something as simple as comparing an athlete's lower heart rate to another competitor can suggest better endurance, potentially predicting a late race surge. This narrative crafting turns raw data into compelling content for viewers.

6. Visualise: Present data through intuitive and engaging visuals to make complex information understandable. Dynamic elements can evoke emotion and compound feelings that support the curated narrative to immerse fans. A heart graphic that turns red and pulses in time with the athlete's physical heart rate will demonstrate just how hard they are pushing. 

7. Output: Distribute the refined data and visuals across various platforms—broadcast, digital apps, second screens, and live event screens. Send unique feeds to external sources like commentators, social media or even betting. Ensure that the output is optimised for each medium to maintain quality and impact, allowing audiences to experience the narrative in a format built specifically for them.

Simple Concept: Difficult Reality.

Why are so few sports doing a good job of telling emotive stories with live data if the idea is so simple? Well, several reasons; rights holders are skipping the upfront groundwork, they’re not optimising data for fans or storytelling throughout the process, and consistent real-world implementation is hard. 

You can't strap heavy equipment to elite athletes without impacting their performance. Getting data all the way from athlete to fan instantly is a big ask and data dropouts are still a real issue. Even here in 2024 you can’t rely on receiving constant, high-quality GPS signals in both built-up urban areas or remote locations. Every one of the 7 steps could be - and often is - handled by a different tech provider and each step has unique challenges. When a previous step isn’t executed properly, the next step won't work either.

This is an innovative space that hasn't yet been consolidated by go-to suppliers or off-the-shelf solutions. Live Data in sport is far from democratised which means there is a large time and cost commitment to figuring it out, and everybody’s tackling it differently. Each sport is unique, and a heart rate sensor that works effectively on a squash court might not be the best when it's strapped to a triathlete diving into a river with no GPS signal. It certainly isn’t that useful on a racecar. 

What Next: Innovators.

The Big boys like Formula 1 are ahead of the pack in live storytelling, but they have the budgets and they have an environment that is relatively easy to control (the cars already have sensors that are able to transmit data, and they have the might of AWS as a partner). For sports outside of the global elite who are looking to increase fan engagement, and intending to monetise that attention, they’re making do with what is available. 

There’s a lot of bootstrapping technology going on at the moment, and it's usually geared towards pure performance rather than storytelling. We’ve seen horse racing sensors strapped to endurance racers and we’ve witnessed dance software hacked to recognise a boxing punch acceleration. This space is currently the Wild West of live data,  where smaller, more agile businesses are jostling for position, working out all the detailed nuances by experimenting. These are the innovators who will work it out over the next few years and define more accessible and more affordable standards for the technology. 

Like any technology in its infancy, it’s expensive. Every sport is doing it slightly differently, learning about the same pitfalls and putting similar solutions in place. Sport needs a standardised, reliable live data pipeline that plugs into your workflow and delivers to your fans. 

Who Are We?: We Are Sweet

We Are Sweet

We’ve been building innovative digital platforms in sport for over a decade. We are doubling down on Live Data because we believe it’s the key to unlocking larger revenues for the wider sports landscape. 

We’ve been working on Live Data over the last 2 years and successfully delivered the first-ever live heart rate in endurance sports for the Professional Triathletes Organisation via a second screen experience. The 3 disciplines of Triathlon and the long race duration of the T100 Triathlon World Tour series make it the ideal testing ground, fraught with challenges and technical hurdles to overcome. We Are Sweet is leading the industry towards accessible, affordable and dependable services that turn real-time data into true In-The-Moment fan engagement. 

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