Skip to content

How AWS applies data science in professional sports - Club Cloud 2021

A World of Sports Fueled by Technology

What does a tech giant like Amazon Web Service (AWS) have in common with the world of sports? As it turns out, plenty. It’s recently teamed up with leading organizations like NFL, NHL, F1, and Germany’s Bundesliga to give them the edge in sports stats using performance-driven AI and machine learning.

Machine learning uses data to gain insights and automate processes. It is the most commonly deployed artificial intelligence by companies. Think Spotify or Netflix. Songs and movies suggestions are tailored to your tastes, and playlists and recommendations fill your feed based on previous viewing or listening habits. In the sports world, this same kind of AI and machine learning also has many applications: from scheduling, player statistics, to fan experience, coaching strategies, recruiting, and much more.

To learn more about the range of possibilities for AI and machine learning in the world of sports, Xebia interviewed Luuk Figdor – EMEA Sports Delivery Architect at Amazon Web Services. A champion for sports and machine learning, Figdor got his start in college where he started creating his own algorithms for betting and prediction. Based in the Netherlands and traveling regularly, he currently works as a sports technology specialist — precisely at the heart of analytics and sports — configuring stats to enhance the overall audience experience.


“We started investing in sports and working with a lot of sports companies because we saw it as a great platform to introduce technology to a lot of people,” explains Figdor, “We can visually showcase the possibilities of the latest technology, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

Using data insights to scout teams has been instrumental in many teams’ success. One of the first, and most well-known instances of this was the Moneyball case where manager Billy Beane used stats to pick the best players suited for the Oakland Athletics. The technology has come a long way since Beane applied sabermetrics to baseball in the late 1990s. According to Figdor, the technology used now for enhanced viewer experience “was not possible two or three years ago.” It is only in very recent years, through rapid innovation, that video and computing technologies became sophisticated enough to capture and translate data into new experiences.

Three Scenarios of Play

Figdor explains the value of AWS’ services in three different scenarios. He uses the L.A. Clippers basketball team as the first example. The first and most classic example is Statistic Mode. In this mode, fans can see game stats in real-time. They see shot probability based on where a player is positioned. Should the player take the shot or not? What’s the likelihood of a shot completion with a specific player? The technology allows for easy and fun visualization of different stats.

The second mode Figdor showcases is Coach Mode. Coach Mode allows coaches to strategize using the data at hand. Improving the odds of winning by using machine learning along with AI-driven data gives coaches more scenarios, plays and opportunities they may not have had prior to using the cloud. Seeing how much pressure is on a player or calculating the position of a player at a certain point and time is now possible. The computational power of AWS allows for millions of strategies.

The third mode is what Figdor calls Fun Mode. In this case, viewers can watch in short, bite-sized clips perfect for TikTok and Instagram instead of watching the entire live game. These clips can include different facts or stats depending on the viewer. Viewers can even watch the game from different angles. “It’s all metadata about the game or race, and you can overlay it targeted at specific audiences,” Figdor explains.

Future Optics: Enhanced Experiences

Harnessing the power of AWS allows for a greater experience for fans, athletes, and coaches alike. The viewing experience is enhanced with on-screen information, giving fans further details, access to exclusive replays, videos, raw footage, or immediate new digital content deployed by AWS’ computing power. Reliable, fast streaming content is available on multiple platforms including smartphones and tablets. AWS computational power is such that handling complicated, time-consuming tasks becomes easy. For teams and organizations, AWS offers storage, database possibilities for optimizing performance and management, creating better teams on and off the field.

“It’s also equalizing the field again,” Figdor says, “Of course, you still have to have people who understand data, but at least we see the beginnings of the ability for clubs, and for teams to extract data and use it for different purposes. It also allows brands to increase the entertainment value.”

With the ability to learn languages, actions, games, and a huge range of human behaviors, machine learning makes it possible to learn and predict the outcomes for thousands of scenarios. The possibilities are many by any stretch of the imagination. Machine learning provides a very competitive edge for teams and allows fans to enjoy their favorite teams like they never have before. No wonder machine learning is increasingly used by sports organizations large and small.

Explore more articles