The intersection of analytics, social media and cricket in the cognitive era of computing

Since 1975, every fourth year, world class cricketing nations come together for a month long extravaganza. Since February 14th, 2015, 14 teams are battling it out in a 6 week long Cricket World Cup tournament in 14 venues across Australia and New Zealand. During these six weeks, millions of cricket fans alter their schedule to relish the game of cricket world-wide in unison. It is a cricket carnival of sorts.

Cricket world cup is at its peak. All eyes are glued to the sport and nothing much is going unobserved – on the field or off it. Whether it is Shikhar Dhawan scoring a century or Virat Kohli’s anger, cricket enthusiasts are having a ball. There is however another segment that is thriving as cricket fever is reaching a high. It is the dedicated cricket follower who follows each ball, takes stock of each miss, for him each run is a statistic and each delivery an opportunity. I remember years ago, we all used to be hooked to a radio, while on the move keeping track of ball-by-ball updates, then came the television; and now with social media, the stakeholder engagement has become phenomenally addictive.

Such a big fan base is bound to open opportunities for sports tourism, brand endorsements and global partnerships. CWC is an event that many business enterprises tap in order to make their presence felt. With adequate assistance of technology and in-depth insights the possibilities of stakeholder engagement and scaling up ventures is huge like never before.

Sports industry is perhaps one of the biggest enterprises that have willingly adopted technology to change the game for players, viewers, organizers as well as broadcasters. Pathbreaking advent in technology has ensured that the experience of followers of the game has become finer and more nuanced. It is no longer just about what is happening on the field but about what happened on similar occasions in the past, and what could possibly happen given the past records of the team and the players. This ever-growing back and forth between information and analysis makes for a cricket lover’s paradise.

Cognitive analysis of such a large data is no longer just a dream. Machine learning algorithms are getting smarter day by day using cloud computing on clusters, that is about to change the whole landscape of human experience and involvement. To understand what CWC means to different people, from various backgrounds it is important to understand their psychology/perception of the game. A deeper look can bring us closer to understanding how technology, analytics and big data is in fact changing the dynamics of cricket.

A common man’s perspective

Cricket world cup to a common man is about sneaking a win from close encounters, high scoring run fests, electric crowd, blind faith in their teams and something to chew on, spicing their opinion after the game is over. With small boundaries, better willows, fit athletes and pressure situations to overcome to be victorious, every contest is an absolute delight to watch and closely follow. Cricket fans are so deeply attached to the game and the players that every bit of juicy information about the game enthralls them.

A geek’s perspective

In the last forty years the use of technology has changed the game of cricket on the field. Years ago, snickometer was considered revolutionary, then came the pathbreaking Hawk eye followed by Pitchvision, DRS (Decision Review System) and now we have flashing cricket bails. For cricketers this has meant a better reviewing process. Now they understand their game better, correct their mistakes, prepare against their weakness and also plan specific strategies against individual players of the opposite team. For cricket followers and business houses this has meant a better engagement with the audience, a deeper personalised experience and a detailed understanding of what works, what does not.

This increase in the viewer-engagement quotient has been boosted with Matchups covering past records on player performance, match stats etc. Wisden captures data from each match and provides the basis of comparatives around player potential, strike rate, runs in the middle over, important players in the death overs etc.

While Wisden India provides all the data points, IBM’s Analytics engine processes the information into meaningful assets of historical data making it possible predict future outcomes. For CWC 2015 IBM has partnered with Wisden to provide the viewers with live match analysis, player performance, which is very frequently used by commentators, coaches to keep the viewers glued to the match proceedings.

Just like it makes insightful observations from a vast trove of data in cricket, IBM’s Analytics Engine equips organizations to take advantage of all data to make better business decisions. Using analytics-instead of instinct-can help organizations provide personalized experiences to its customers, spot new opportunities and risks and create new business models.

Similarly, with social media outreach, the overall engagement of viewers in the game has become crucial in boosting confidence of a team or succumbing to the pressure of the masses.

Aggregating shared opinion on social sites is a key to highlighting the expectations, generating perceived predictions about the teams, potential wins, most popular players etc.

To give an idea of the numbers and technology involved, as part of Twitterati, IBM processed about 3 million tweets on an average, in a two match day, analysed at 10 min intervals.

IBM Cloudant was used to store tweets, crawled from twitter having match/tournament specific hashtags. According to their needs, IBM fetched the tweets from Cloudant and generated the events specific to every match. IBM Bluemix automates the process of getting tweets from Twitter and generating the events corresponding to every match given the schedule of the tournament of Cricket World Cup. The application is hosted in Bluemix. Apart from these technologies, IBM developed the core engine that identifies events from the Twitter feed.

The Social Sentiment Index analyzed around 3.5 million tweets, by tracking about 700 match-specific events daily in Twitter. IBM Data Curation and Integration capabilities were used on BigInsights and Social Data Accelerator (SDA) to extract social insights from streaming twitter feed in real time.

Moreover, IBM Text Analytics and Natural Language Processing performs fine grained temporal analytics around events that have short lifespan but are important — events like boundaries, sixes and wickets.

IBM Social Media Analytics also examines the quantum of discussion around teams, players, events. It examines sentiments across different entities and Identify topics that are trending and understands ways in which advertisers can use the discussion to appropriately position their products and services.

IBM Content Analytics examines the large social content more deeply and tries to mimic human cognition and learning behavior to answer complex questions like the impact of certain player or attributes determining the outcome of the game.

An enterprise perspective

What is most interesting to businesses however is that observing these campaigns help in understanding the consumer sentiment to drive sales initiatives. With right business insights in the nick of time, in line with social trends, several brands have come up with lucrative offers one can’t refuse. In earlier days, this kind of marketing required pumping in of a lot of money and waiting for several weeks before one could analyse and approve the commercial success of a business idea. With tools like IBM Analytics at hand, one can not only grab the data needed, assess it so it makes a business sense, but also anticipate the market response.

Imagine how, in the right hands, especially in the data sensitive industry, the facility of analyzing large scale structured and unstructured data combined with cloud computing and cognitive machine learning can lead to capable and interesting solutions with weighted recommendations at your disposal.

The potential of idea already sounds a game-changer to me. When I look around, every second person is tweeting and posting about everything around them. There are volumes of data waiting to be analyzed. With the power to process the virality of the events in real-time across devices, sensors, applications, I can vouch that with data mining and business intelligence capabilities, cloud computing can significantly improve and empower businesses to run focused campaigns.

With engines like Social Data Accelerator Cloudant, Social Data Curation at your service, social data analysis can be democratized to a fairly accurate possibility, opening new channels of business, which have not been identified so far. CWC 2015 insight is just the beginning. Howzzat?

(The author is CTO at Ballistic Learning.)

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