Australian Open details data analytics improvements driving digital engagement

Tennis Australia and technology partner, IBM, share how advanced and predictive analytics is lifting the grand slam's content game

Snapshot of the new Tournament Notifications Dashboard, which is being powered by advanced analytics
Snapshot of the new Tournament Notifications Dashboard, which is being powered by advanced analytics

Improving fan experiences through real-time, data-driven storytelling and unified digital platforms is the name of the game for Tennis Australia during this year’s Australian Open.

On the opening day of the Melbourne-based grand slam, staff from the Australian tennis body and its 23-year technology partner, IBM, detailed the advanced and predictive analytics, cloud and mobile platform technologies being used for fan interactions this year, all of which illustrate the way data has become the lifeblood of engagement.

Like many marketing teams looking for ways to better meet consumers and customer expectations, content is a driving force for Tennis Australia and this year’s improvements all showed an emphasis on delivering real-time, insights-based editorial.

The new Tournament Notifications Dashboard, is one example of an application based on IBM analytics that automatically identifies and classifies statistics and updates from matches during the tournament, along with player statistics, and centralises these into one dashboard. Insights are divided into three types – newsworthy, records and international – and colour-coded. These can then be used by both Tennis Australia’s editorial and social teams to make real-time decisions on content that is shared both with broadcasters and media partners, as well as via Web, social and news channels.

From a back-end perspective, Tennis Australia said the alerts will be used to make real-time operational and safety decisions during the tournament.

In addition, the new MatchCentre feature built for mobile uses IBM’s SlamTracker real-time analytics and automated content delivery engine to provide a single source of information on matches pre, post and in real-time. SlamTracker’s analytical capabilities are driven by IBM’s Watson cognitive computing platform.

“We have a lot of content, a lot of different channels and platforms, and our goal this year was to provide an experience across all of our channels, to contemporise the website more, and to use the data and analytics to tell the story to enrich the customer experience through our various applications – whether it’s desktop, mobile, app and our social channel,” said Tennis Australia’s manager of digital and publishing, Kim Trengove.

A major focus has been getting these data-driven insights into the hands of Tennis Australia’s editorial staff to better deliver content to fans, Trengove continued. She added the content team continues to grow, with more than 200 in event mode, including radio commentators, writers, photographers, editors, videographers, designers and social media content editors across multiple channels.

For editorial and social media, Tennis Australia maintains a core staff of six social employees, then also has what it dubs 'Angels' - another 20 connected to social media feeding content back to one centralised source.

The notifications dashboard will also help differentiate Tennis Australia’s digital offering from local and global broadcasting partners, who are also seen as competitors.

“We looked at how we could provide a competitive edge against all the broadcasters who our competing against us, even as they’re our partners,” Trengove said. “Our edge is the data and analytics that IBM is churning and burning through via all our different applications – from SlamTracker to the MatchCentre we have now embedded in mobile. It’s really about providing a unified, visual experience across all channels.”

Trengove said MatchCentre meanwhile, was about showcasing all other the other rich content appearing on desktop specifically. This includes live blogging on matches, written articles and a central blog.

“With MatchCentre, we wanted to aggregate all content on a match in one central place,” she said. “It’s about how to drive people around to more content by using the data we know attracts them, which is firstly the scores.”

Tennis Australia is also using IBM’s Marketing Cloud for the first time to send fans automated messages and push notifications via its app about matches and the tournament. These are based on a fan’s personal and opt-in preferences as well as geolocation data both inside the stadium as well as globally. These communications are again taking advantage of insights from the Tournament Notifications Dashboard.

To showcase just how important mobile has become, Trengove noted mobile views of Tennis Australia’s digital properties are now edging over desktop views for the first time. Last year, the Australian Open recorded 1.2 million downloads of its mobile app.

Trengove said last year’s onsite visitor survey showed about 50 per cent of attendees using the apps to get information on the tournament, up from 30 per cent year-on-year. And nearly one-third said social media was the primary source of information.

“We have a very diverse audience: There are those socialising at a game... then there are others who are absolute purists going for these sorts of data sets. We try and mix up content,” Trengove said. “We’re also about to put a tone analyser into our player profiles, which is a new feature, where we’re analysing Tweets around a particular match to determine tweets about a player are getting more cheerful sentiment or...a more negative one.

“The word ‘data’ can be a bit dry, we’re turning this into tournament information and insight.”

Adding to the content emphasis is social sharing feature into SlamTracker, which allows fans to log into their social accounts while on the site and share a particular statistic from the match itself via social channels. A social sentiment feature, based on APIs from Watson, then analyses and tracks the volume and sentiment of social conversations about players during the tournament.

Another improvement for 2016 is around the look and feel of the Australian Open desktop website design, which reflects the visual design across the tablet version and mobile app. A Chinese language version of the SlamTracker offering for the Australian Open’s sizeable Asian audience, was also launched this year, the first of multiple language offerings planned.

Longer-term, Trengove said Tennis Australia hopes to personalise the site experience for fans further by tailoring digital content to their preferences and behaviours. At this stage, targeting is limited to advertising and Tennis Australia’s AO Live video streaming services, which are served using geotargeting characteristics.

“That’s another way of the future - the next big step is personalisation the site,” she said.

According to IBM, about 41 million data points are being analysed by its predictive technology to generate the raft of real-time insights delivered by Tennis Australia for SlamTracker from eight years’ worth of data sets. This, however, is expected to grow exponentially as tennis grand slams globally, including the Australian Open, collectively look at bringing all historical data of the game into IBM platforms for further insights.

Partner lead in IBM’s Interactive Experience agency, Ian Wong, said the digital emphasis this year was on becoming ‘fit for purpose’ to a fan wherever and whenever they want to interact with the Australian Open’s digital offerings. From an analytics perspective, it was also about building on the work of IBM’s Watson capabilities to help Tennis Australia’s editorial offering.

Read more: Australian-based artificial intelligence vendor appoints data science chief

“What we’re trying to do is get the fan to engage at whatever level they want to with the statistics, but making the statistics the interesting thing and essentially turning the statistics into the story of the player,” Wong said.

From an infrastructure point of view, this year’s Open is the first to run completely on IBM’s SoftLayer cloud offering, meaning all operational loads, including the content delivery network driving digital applications and data services for the Australia Open, are being distributed and dynamically served from four datacentres globally.

Tennis Australia report 23 terabytes of Internet traffic was handled by its network infrastructure during last year’s Australian Open, a jump of 136 per cent year-on-year. The overarching Australian open site reported 14.3 million unique visitors in 2015.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+: google.com/+CmoAu

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