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Wimbledon serves up an ace with generative AI

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 21 Jun 2023

Wimbledon, together with its technology partner IBM, is turning to generative artificial intelligence (AI) to expand the digital experience of tennis’s oldest tournament.

This, after the French Tennis Federation, which organises Roland-Garros (the French Open), also introduced an AI-based tool, in an effort to protect players against cyber bullying.

Yesterday, the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) announced it will make use of generative AI technology from IBM watsonx,IBM’s enterprise AI and data platform, to bolster fans’ digital experience of the 2023 Wimbledon Championships.

The new AI-based commentary and draw analysis expand on the suite of digital tools for fans on the Wimbledon app and wimbledon.com, according to the AELTC.

Bill Jinks, technology director at the AELTC, notes technology has played a huge part in keeping people’s interest, as Wimbledon wouldn’t have “remained at the pinnacle of the sport” without continuous technology innovation.

Kevin Farrar, head of sports partnerships at IBM UK and Ireland, says: “You couldn’t have failed to see in the press the buzz around AI at the moment − there’s a lot of buzz around large language models, generative AI and the possibilities that it brings.

“We are bringing some elements of large language models, IBM foundation models and generative AI to the club this year in experiences with fans.”

AI-driven large language models have recently gained significant prominence. These include Microsoft-backed start-up OpenAI’s GPT-3 and GPT-4, and Google and Meta’s PaLM2 and LLaMA, respectively.

Farrar explained that to develop the AI-based commentary feature, one of the IBM foundation models was trained in the language of tennis and Wimbledon.

Using generative AI, the foundation models have been applied to produce narration commentary, with varied sentence structure and vocabulary, for the men’s and women’s singles matches.

The feature will provide fans watching match highlights videos with audio commentary of key moments, along with captions, which they can toggle on or off.

“The tool has been designed to give fans a more insightful experience when catching up on key moments from matches, with highlights videos on the Wimbledon app and wimbledon.com.”

The draw analysis uses AI to define how favourable the path to the final might be for each player in the singles draw.

“A player’s draw favourability will be indicated with a rating along a scale, based on factors including the player’s match-ups against potential future opponents and how the player’s position in the draw compares to competitors.

“This new insight will help tennis fans to uncover anomalies and potential surprises in the singles draw, which would not be apparent by looking only at the players’ rankings.”

This year marks the 136th staging of the Wimbledon Championships, making it the oldest tennis Grand Slam tournament out of the four.

For IBM, 2023 is the 34th-year of the company’s partnership with Wimbledon, states Farrar.

“We work with Wimbledon all-year round on their ongoing digital transformation, and of course, do a lot of work around the championships. What we're doing is taking massive amounts of data and transforming that into insights that we can then share with fans around the world through the digital platforms – Wimbledon.com and the official apps.

“Technology obviously has massively changed the way fans engage with and enjoy the tournament…our challenge each year is to make sure we get the right balance between tradition, heritage, technology and innovation.

“The digital experiences that we are creating together are really helping the club in their mission to grow their fan base around the world, and engage with those fans effectively and meaningfully.”

Chris Clements, digital products lead at AELTC, adds: “We've seen big changes in society driven by technology, which has changed how people engage with major sports events and consume content.

“In a world where mobile-based always-on content is the norm, we know that creating an outstanding digital experience of Wimbledon to bring the magic and drama of the tournament to life is key.”

According to Clements, in designing that digital experience, the aim is to address audience needs, such as notifying non-tennis fans who the players are, beyond the famous ones; who to follow; how they match up against opponents; and how to stay updated as the tournament progresses.

“Technology can help everyone enjoy a Wimbledon experience like the experts. To do that, we must use our abundant data with AI, as it presents a great opportunity to ensure that is the case.”

The 2023 Wimbledon Championships take place from 3 to 16 July.

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