IBM develops Watson-powered sports analytics platform in collaboration with Toronto Raptors

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As the Toronto Raptors celebrated the grand opening of the BioSteel Centre — the Raptors’ new training facility — yesterday, IBM was there to celebrate with them with the unveiling of its IBM Sports Insights Central, a sports analytics platform developed with the Toronto Raptors.

Sports Insights Central is meant to provide a comprehensive platform to view and organize data with the aim of helping athletes improve performance. While the platform was developed with input from the Toronto Raptors, Insights Central will be used by all NBA players.

“The world has become an analytics world, and soon you won’t need a general manager because of these screens. When you don’t need me I’ll blame IBM.”
– Masai Ujiri

Sports Insights was designed by IBM Interactive Experience, and is powered by IBM Watson — which the company says is integral to features like Tradeoff Analytics, which assess possible roster combinations against data — and built on the IBM Bluemix cloud development platform.

Speaking with BetaKit, the IBM team said that the platform replaces outdated, time-consuming manual processes, which requires managers to email Excel sheets back and forth or use a whiteboard to visually comprehend trade decisions. “They can click on a specific player, look at specific stats, look at how they impact their team, and they can simulate trade scenarios and understand how that financially affects the team,” said Farhang Farid, associate partner of IBM interactive experience.


At the same time, rather than having to email data back and forth, both players and managers have the data available on a mobile app that can be updated and accessed real time. “The goal is to create a collaborative environment, provide better insight to data visualization and analytics, and help them when the stakes are high for those decisions.”

Other features of Sports Central include Watson Personality Insights, which uses linguistic analytics to understand player personality that aligns with the team’s organizational culture. However, Farhang said that currently, the data is only limited to a player’s social media activity as the Watson is currently limited to public sources of data. Watson Alchemy, which analyzes public news sources to aggregate player profiles, is also a feature of the platform.

“The world has become an analytics world, and soon you won’t need a general manager because of these screens. When you don’t need me I’ll blame IBM,” Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri joked during the grand opening.

While the process is collaborative, in the past, athletes have complained that using up-to-the-minute analytics is a “dehumanizing” experience that disregards the nuances of sports. But Johnthahan Lenchner, a scientist with IBM research, maintains that these analytics will ultimately make them better players.

“We’re trying to build a more synergistic team and the data helps us do that. What we also know, from the prevalence of FitBits, is that the more data you have about yourself, the more inclined you are to increase your fitness,” Lenchner said. “The more data we have about a player’s strengths and weaknesses, the more we can target the player and address these weaknesses to help the player grow.”

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang

Freelance tech writer. Former BetaKit News Editor.