STATS’ SportVU Continues To Make NBA Inroads; Broadcast TV Market Up Next
In case anyone missed the memo, the sports industry has officially entered the “Age of Big Data.” Every angle, every decision, even every footstep that takes place during a game must now be chronicled, input, and analyzed. Whether that data is for a scout in front of a laptop or a graphics operator inside a production truck is irrelevant, as long as this information is available.
This new-fangled thirst for data has created a bevy of new opportunities for player-tracking solutions like STATS LLC’s SportVU, which can deliver data that goes way beyond the back-page box score.
“[SportVU] allows us to tell a whole new story with data,” says STATS VP of Strategy and Development Brian Kopp. “Whether it’s for teams and coaches or for broadcasters and Web applications, it opens a lot of doors in terms of data analysis and telling the entire story.”
A Short History of SportVU
When STATS acquired a small Israeli company called SportVU in December 2008, the technology was just a a niche product that utilized missile-tracking technology to provide scouting analysis for soccer teams. Needless to say, SportVU has come a long way since then. Today, the SportVU soccer system is used by broadcasters, leagues, and teams across the globe, including UEFA Champions League, TV Globo, and Asian Football Confederation.
With SportVU firmly established on the pitch, STATS is now hitting the hard court. Last season, 10 NBA teams deployed the basketball version of SportVU at their arenas, and Kopp expects that number to reach 15-20 teams by the time the 2012-13 NBA season tips off. From there, STATS has the NBA television market squarely in its sights.
“With half or two-thirds of the NBA teams involved, that gives you a lot more data,” says Kopp. “I think our goal this year will be to start seeing some [content] that is broadcast- and consumer-oriented, whether that is in an arena, on a regional telecast or Website, or on a national [telecast] level. We are in discussions with all of those entities.”
How SportVU Works
The SportVU basketball system deploys six ultra-miniature computer-vision cameras atop each arena’s catwalk (three per half court), synching them together via Ethernet and coax cables. The system is easily and quickly calibrated before each game and requires just two operators with minimal training to run it.
These cameras track X, Y, and Z coordinates of players, refs, and the ball 25 times per second (totaling more than 1 million data points in an average NBA game).Unlike in soccer, where the SportVU system identifies the teams via jersey-color recognition but individual player data is input manually, the NBA system’s cameras are able to identify each player automatically by his jersey number.
Once these data points are captured, SportVU uses proprietary algorithms to identify events based on location and create situational analysis. This tracking data is linked to the official play-by-play log and incorporated with the game and shot clock to add context to each data point.
“Nothing is being put on the court or on the players; it’s all being done through the cameras,” says Kopp. “The power of this system isn’t the hardware but rather the software that is telling the system what to track and what not to track. Even when players are in a scrum under the basket, angling for a rebound, we are able to identify them individually.”
Bringing Advanced Metrics for Basketball
Within 60 seconds (it was previously an overnight process), STATS SportVU software is able to generate in-depth reports using XML feeds from the cameras. This sea of data drives a host of in-depth advanced team and player metrics that add valuable context to basic shooting, passing, rebounding, and defensive stats.
These include shooting percentage based on dribbles, time of possession, and defender proximity; secondary assists, free-throw assists, and potential assists; rebounding based on contested rebounds, chances, activity, and location; speed, distance, energy output, and pace of play; and touches per game and points per touch.
“This system adds a lot more context to what is actually going on,” says Kopp. “All the systems that are out there in soccer are just focusing on the movement, but this puts all that data into a context where you can utilize it for a number of applications.”
The data is also integrated with SportVU’s Visualizer video software that creates a virtual reenactment of the action (CLICK HERE or HERE to view videos of the SportVU Visualizer). Users can also review and analyze individual video feeds from SportVU cameras using the video software.
STATS also offers ICE, a personnel-management/player-evaluation/game-prep system that is directly integrated into the SportVU system, as well as other scouting, salary, and medical information on players. The Timberwolves, Bucks, Knicks, and Raptors used ICE last year.
Eyeing the TV Set, Second Screen
This new data is already altering the way coaches coach and scouts scout, but it also has the potential to be a game-changer for NBA rightsholders and broadcasters. SportVU and its visualization software presents a variety of new graphics and statistical opportunities for both live linear NBA broadcasts and Web/mobile applications.
“By having tracking data in a matter of seconds, you could create live graphics on TV if you wanted to,” says Kopp. “But the [greatest benefit] for broadcasters would be the ability to add more context to the game and compare players. They could create rankings — time of possession, most touches, who ran the most — and present those at halftime or right after the game.”
STATS also sees in-game tracker applications for the Web and mobile devices as a key growth area for SportVU technology.
“I think that the in-game Web and mobile applications will be very interesting,” says Kopp. “We are talking with both national and regional broadcasters and even some of the teams themselves. Imagine being able to put something up on the video board or providing an app for your luxury-suite holders.”
But first things first: getting all 30 NBA teams on the SportVU bandwagon.
“We need teams to get access to the system and get the cameras in their venues first,” says Kopp. “We have started with that, but we are certainly working on the consumer and broadcast applications as well.”