Acing the US Open digital experience

The USTA and IBM Consulting transform tennis data into insight

5-minute read
Ashe Stadium interior

For two weeks at the end of every summer, more than 700,000 people make the journey to Flushing Meadows, New York, to watch the best tennis players in the world compete in the US Open Tennis Championships. It is one of the most highly attended sporting events in the world.

But more than 10 million tennis fans around the world follow the tournament through the US Open app and website. And to keep them coming back for more, year after year, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) has worked side-by-side with IBM for more than three decades, developing and delivering a world-class digital experience that constantly advances its features and functionality.

“The digital experience of the US Open is of enormous importance to our global fans, and therefore to us,” says Kirsten Corio, Chief Commercial Officer at the USTA. “That means we need to constantly innovate to meet the modern demands of tennis fans, anticipating their needs, but also surprising them with new and unexpected experiences.”

To help the US Open stay on this cutting edge of customer experience, IBM iX®, the experience design partner within IBM Consulting™, co-created a powerful platform of innovation with the USTA; an open, flexible combination of hybrid cloud and AI, capable of transforming massive volumes of tennis data into meaningful insight.

A person viewing US Open Match Insights on a laptop.

An interactive experience for nearly

10 million

fans around the globe

Captures and analyzes more than

7 million

data points

I love tennis and can geek out on tennis data for hours, but most tennis fans don’t want to spend their time crunching numbers and analyzing stats. They want insight that quickly puts each match into context.
Kirsten Corio
Chief Commercial Officer, United States Tennis Association

Match Insights with IBM Watson

Woman holding tablet with Match Insights application

At the center of the 2022 digital experience are Match Insights with Watson®. These AI-powered fact sheets use sophisticated data analytics and natural language processing to distill millions of data points into meaningful insights about every singles match.

For example, tennis fans can see which players have the most momentum in the tournament by checking out the IBM® Power Index with Watson. And prior to each match, they can see IBM Watson®’s analysis of which player has the highest Likelihood to Win. They can even see Watson’s reasoning behind the analysis with the Win Factors, a new feature that breaks open the black box of AI with something called “explainability.”

“AI is becoming a regular part of our personal and professional lives,” says Shannon Miller, a Partner in IBM Consulting. “Whenever you interact with a smart speaker at home, get a movie recommendation online, or check your social media feed, there’s AI behind that. But when a machine learns on its own, it’s important to know why it comes to a certain conclusion, especially in a business setting. And that’s why we’re so excited about explainability.”

Platform of innovation

Arthur Ashe stadium at night.

To develop new capabilities every year, like the ones found in Match Insights with Watson, the USTA needs to move with speed and purpose. The process starts the week after the US Open concludes, when IBM Consulting kicks off work using the IBM Garage™ Methodology, a highly collaborative approach to co-creation.

“When we engage with a client, it’s critical that we work closely together every step of the way, ideating, iterating and adapting as we drive toward the client’s desired end state,” says Miller.

In order to transform new ideas into digital reality, IBM Consulting built a platform of innovation for the US Open, capable of processing structured and unstructured data, and integrating technology from a variety of sources.

“It used to be that innovation cycles were measured in years,” says the USTA’s Corio. “But now, innovation is measured in weeks and days, and it can come from anywhere. So we needed a flexible platform that could handle all kinds of data, automate the process of turning data into insight, and do it all while securing the entire digital environment.”

Data

The raw material of any digital experience is data, and the US Open tournament produces a lot of it. For starters, each US Open consists of 128 men and 128 women singles players, and a total of seven rounds for each tournament. Each tennis player comes with his or her own data set, including age, height, weight, world ranking and recent performance. But that’s just the beginning.

Over the course of the tournament, more than 125,000 points will be played. And each one of those points generates its own data set: serve direction, speed, return shot type, winner shot type, rally count and even ball position. All told, more than seven million data points are generated during the tournament.

But to add more texture and context to IBM Match Insights with Watson, the US Open wanted to go beyond the numbers. So the team is analyzing the language and sentiment of millions of articles from hundreds of thousands of different sources to develop insights that are unique and informative, like the IBM Power Index with Watson.

“It’s a massive data management operation, incorporating multiple sources of data and a variety of partners,” says Miller. “But the magic happens when you combine hard data like stats and scores with unstructured data like media commentary. That is what gives tennis fans a more complete picture of each match.”

Automation

To automate this process, IBM Consulting built an automated workflow that uses advanced analytics to make sense of the hard data, and IBM Watson Natural Language Understanding to assess the volume and sentiment of the media commentary around each player. This provides the deeper insight that informs the Power Index and Likelihood to Win predictions.

For the Win Factors, the platform uses the AI Explainability 360 toolkit, which breaks open the black box of these AI analyses and shares the actual reasoning behind Watson’s conclusions. For the US Open, this is fun and helpful content for fans to see. But for businesses, understanding why an AI reaches a certain conclusion is critical, especially as more companies rely on AI-driven decision-making.

The integration and orchestration of the data and AI services is made possible by the hybrid cloud architecture and the containerized apps running on Red Hat® OpenShift®External Link. The US Open hybrid multicloud architecture is made up of four public and three private clouds, drawing on data from a variety of sources, and integrating features and capability from a variety of partners.

Security

Over the course of the tournament, it’s not unusual for the US Open digital platforms to be on the receiving end of more than 40 million security incidents. The type of threat varies, but most are looking for a crack in the armor and are not serious.

To separate the signal from the noise, however, the US Open uses IBM Security® QRadar® software to assess the severity of each security event, evaluating threats, ignoring the insignificant ones, and passing along only the most urgent issues to the security analysts.

The IBM Cloud Pak® for Security solution’s Threat Intelligence Insights then analyze millions of security blogs, articles and other material to provide recommendations to those analysts on how best to deal with the threat, increasing their capability some 60-fold.

“With this platform, we’re capable of doing things that were not possible just a few years ago,” says Corio. “Managing all that data, producing the AI-insights, securing the environment … IBM just makes it all come together for us. And I can’t wait to see what the future of the partnership holds.”

The United States Tennis Association (USTA) logo
About the United States Tennis Association (USTA)

Founded in 1881, the UTSAExternal Link is the national governing body for the sport of tennis in the US. The US OpenExternal Link is the association’s Grand Slam tournament, first held in 1968 — the year that Arthur Ashe won the men’s singles title. The US Open is played each September at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens, New York.

Solution components
The United States Tennis Association (USTA) logo
About the United States Tennis Association (USTA)

Founded in 1881, the UTSAExternal Link is the national governing body for the sport of tennis in the US. The US OpenExternal Link is the association’s Grand Slam tournament, first held in 1968 — the year that Arthur Ashe won the men’s singles title. The US Open is played each September at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens, New York.

Solution components