Driving fan engagement to new heights

Lessons from the Masters can help businesses create new value
by Pierre Coyne
7-minute read

A lot has changed during the 25 years that IBM has helped support the Masters — except perhaps one thing: the vision.

Fundamentally, the vision has always been to create an easy-to-consume yet immersive experience for fans; one that communicates beauty and a strong sense of place. It respects the history and tradition of the Tournament while pushing the boundaries of innovation. It delivers meaningful, personalized insights to viewers around the world.

To execute this vision — even amid a pandemic — IBM and the Masters had to adapt and evolve with speed. This meant applying open hybrid cloud technology to help solve difficult challenges and harnessing massive unstructured data to create a seamless digital experience.

Every swing, every player, every hole, was tracked and made available using the latest in IBM Cloud, AI and security technologies. Powering the Masters app, IBM deployed a new “My Group” feature that lets fans watch every shot from their favorite players as the Tournament unfolded.

The overall effort was unprecedented in sports technology, and here’s how it worked.

Augusta national golf course clubhouse

IBM Watson technology analyzes more than

20,000

videos during the Tournament

Provides personalized content about popular golfers using

16

AI models

Cloud meets data

The 2020 Masters was unique because many of the Tournament’s onsite technical requirements were being produced remotely to manage social distancing requirements. As a result, for the first time, IBM powered the Masters using an open hybrid cloud approach enabled by the Red Hat® OpenShift® platform.

However, with the OpenShift solution, the industry’s leading enterprise Kubernetes platformView PDF 415 KB , IBM was able to manage that data while boosting efficiency. The flexibility and hyper-scalability of OpenShift software, deployed on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux® operating system (OS), enabled both the larger Tournament technology and features like My Group to operate on a consistent foundation across IT environments.

Augusta national golf course

Why does this matter?

Person looking at a golf course on their tablet

With the introduction of these innovative IBM solutions, fans can engage with sports in new, compelling ways. It’s no longer just about watching sports. It’s about participating — wherever you are.

For example, this new technology marks the first time in professional golf that fans were able to create customized feeds of golfers in the app and access video of every shot those players made. My Group offers a personalized video feed for each fan, giving millions, globally, access to every player’s rounds in near real time, almost like a personalized “Featured Group” channel. My Group also features highlights and regular updates from the Tournament leaders and must-see shots from other golfers, as they happen. As part of My Group’s customized viewing experiences, IBM Watson® AI curates highlights of exciting plays.

The technology in use at the Masters builds on IBM Watson-powered solutions that supported previous Masters Tournaments, which analyzed data such as traditional golf statistics, ball tracking data, crowd noise and more. During the 2019 Masters, for example, IBM Watson technology captured and analyzed nearly 20,000 individual video clips of players’ shots. During the 2020 Tournament, new AI models ranked shots based on crowd excitement and analyzed data points such as player IDs, rounds, holes and scores while tracking stats such as shot length. In total, 16 distinct models were trained to provide personalized and important content about popular players and top performers for My Group users.

The Masters is a unique challenge, to be sure. But virtually any organization can embrace the opportunity to capture, analyze and manage distributed data across hybrid cloud environments and apply it within a variety of industries and use cases.

Augusta national golf course
Everything you see at the Masters — every AI insight, every behind-the-scenes workload powered by IBM Cloud — is available to businesses around the world.
Rob Thomas
Senior Vice President, IBM Cloud and Data Platforms, IBM Corp.

Let’s break down the swing

Person swinging a golf club

There are many facets to the Masters experience, but fundamentally, they can be broken down into the following components.

Hybrid cloud and Red Hat OpenShift

Not unlike golfers who continually refine their swing, IBM continues to create and deliver new value with open hybrid cloud. As the Masters experience has demonstrated, there is a new generation of hybrid cloud that enables organizations to build and manage across any cloud and IT with a common platform, allowing you to skill once, build once and deploy anywhere with confidence.

The foundation of this approach is the OpenShift solution, the market-leading multicloud container platform that uses enterprise-strength Kubernetes to automate orchestration of resources across virtualized IT, private clouds and public clouds, giving developers and operations access to what they need — when they need it.

Designed for the needs of enterprises, OpenShift includes a security hardened Linux OS, container runtime, networking, monitoring, registry, and authentication and authorization capabilities. Organizations can automate lifecycle management to integrate security and DevOps, scale clusters on demand and enable application portability without vendor lock in.

For the Masters, IBM relied on the OpenShift solution to support facets of the My Group app across both public and private clouds. Different workloads were built on OpenShift, including:

• Video ingestion — every player, every shot, every hole
• Score bug generation
• Score data integration
• Video publisher
• Dynamic content generator, which builds the My Group playlists

Person in a car looking at golf Tournament on their cell phone
Masters logo on a flag on a golf hole

The dynamic content generator, in particular, required a very intensive workload. It needed to be highly scalable and always available. It was so mission-critical that it ran in six different locations: four public and two private.

The power and flexibility of OpenShift on IBM Cloud meant that developers only had to write this application once — and it ran anywhere. Delivered as software-as-a-service (SaaS), all software versioning and patching occur automatically — freeing the operations team from maintenance activities so they can focus elsewhere. In addition, Multicloud Management let technicians see all of the OpenShift workloads in one view. This multicloud offering is an application-centric, AI-driven management platform designed to provide full visibility and control wherever your workloads run.

So the hybrid cloud and OpenShift solution at the Masters meant seamless, consistent management across multiple clouds.

A hybrid multicloud platform drives

2.5x

moreView PDF, 332 KB value than a single-cloud approach

Data is golden

As always, it all starts with the data. And the Masters has a lot of it. The data challenges at the Masters are complex and unrelenting. There are scores, statistics, distances, ball positions — even video clips of every shot from every hole. This is the raw material of the digital experience delivered to the Masters app and the Tournament’s website. And in the middle of all this data is an open hybrid cloud architecture. The OpenShift solution is the connective tissue that ties it all together.

Person sitting in a golf cart looking at their laptop
Augusta national golf course

AI everything

The data collection is one thing — but how do you glean value from it? That’s where AI comes in. The Masters produces more than 20,000 video clips of shots, which is a massive amount of unstructured data. It would be very time-consuming and difficult to extract highlight-worthy shots from within that content using normal means. So IBM Watson AI technology steps in to make it more manageable. This solution analyzes each video clip to produce an overall excitement score. The analysis includes:

• Visual recognition to identify the celebratory gestures of players — a fist pump or arms raised overhead. It can even read the emotion in a player’s face.
• Business rules that use metadata to determine the context of the clip. Is the video of a Tournament leader? Is it depicting a score of a birdie or better? Does it represent a lead change?
• AI uses historical data on the roar of the crowd from prior years to analyze and anticipate the likely crowd reaction at key moments.

IBM Watson technology has years of historical data on crowd analysis. So it knows what a birdie on the 16th hole during the final round from a player in contention sounds like. It knows what an eagle putt on 15 sounds like. It even knows what a ball that lands three feet from the hole on 12 sounds like.

IBM pooled all the data — everything from a player’s name to round to hole to shot type. Was it a long putt or an approach shot? All the situational data is captured.

And IBM Watson technology used AI and machine learning to reverse engineer crowd excitement scores from that data. So now, when a player hits it close on 16 on Sunday, the solution can “predict” the crowd reaction.

Person looking at a golf Tournament on their tablet

Looking further down the green

Augusta national golf course

The Masters digital experience shows what can happen when IBM Cloud and AI work together. It’s a powerful combination that applies not just to the world’s premier golf Tournament but to any organization wanting to transform through innovation. The lessons are universal:

• Choice and control — in your hands. With IBM and Red Hat solutions, you can deliver infrastructure savings, workforce acceleration, enhanced business outcomes and greater flexibility for your industry.
• It’s your data so make it count. Unlock the value of your data in new ways to accelerate your journey to AI. While you may not have to analyze hundreds of golf swings, you do have important data points to evaluate.
• Think about new ways to integrate and optimize. The mantra should be, “build once, deploy anywhere.” Develop secure applications on the IBM public cloud, private cloud or the cloud of your choice and move without recoding.

Masters logo

About the Masters

Since 1934, the MastersExternal Link has been home to some of golf’s greatest moments. Amidst blooming azaleas, towering pines and flowering dogwoods, the first full week of April ushers in a stage unique to golf and to sport. Over four days and 72 holes, the smallest field in major championship golf competes for a chance to capture the Green Jacket and a place in Masters history. Take a journey down Magnolia Lane or stroll through Amen Corner and explore the iconic traditions, moments and history of the Masters Tournament like never before — past and present.

Solution components
Masters logo

About the Masters

Since 1934, the MastersExternal Link has been home to some of golf’s greatest moments. Amidst blooming azaleas, towering pines and flowering dogwoods, the first full week of April ushers in a stage unique to golf and to sport. Over four days and 72 holes, the smallest field in major championship golf competes for a chance to capture the Green Jacket and a place in Masters history. Take a journey down Magnolia Lane or stroll through Amen Corner and explore the iconic traditions, moments and history of the Masters Tournament like never before — past and present.

Solution components