The amount of data we’re presented with when Wimbledon graces our screens is increasing year-on-year as the prestigious tennis club looks to improve the overall fan experience and compete with other famous sporting events.
In order to collect all this information and turn it into something meaningful The All England Tennis and Croquet Club, founded by six gentlemen in 1868, partners with American tech giant IBM (as you may have noticed).
However fans may not be aware that IBM has two large “bunkers” deep within the Wimbledon Broadcast Centre kitted out with all the latest big data technology, plus an army of tennis-savvy data gurus.
This year, IBM relied on 48 tennis players to observe each and every point that was played during the two-week tournament.
These players, typically at junior pro level or on highly sought after US tennis scholarships, use an IBM data entry platform to input raw information that is used to generate statistical graphics for broadcasters like the BBC, as well as the Wimbledon website.
“They go through quite a rigorous training programme,” said Sam Seddon, IBM client executive for Wimbledon and Rugby Football Union (RFU). “We get their CVs and make sure their playing record is of the highest quality.”
IBM uses highly-qualified players because they can read the game quickly and accurately. During most games, IBM has three observers sat in a data entry box at the courtside and then two back in the bunker as back-up.
The three analysts in the data entry box log every serve, its speed, every return and in essence how every point is won or lost. One member of the team verbally calls what happens whilst another looks at the return and how the point ends. The third uses quick keys to log serve speed and direction. This is then communicated in real-time to the bunker for the benefit of fans, media and players.
Getting onto IBM’s data entry team isn’t easy
“They do a data entry online test and post it pre-interview,” said Seddon. “If we think they’ve got the right mental aptitude and personality as well as the tennis skill then we will bring them onsite for a training session.”
The training session is run by one of the championship’s assistant referees, lasting a full day. “If they pass that day then we’ll invite them back for a second day where they have another full day of just four people in a room. If they pass that then we’ll consider them for the team.”
Even if you make the team, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be there at the end of the tournament. Only the crème de la crème will have been at the Federer vs Djokovic final yesterday.
“Wednesday night [in the second week of the tournament] is when we cut a chunk of people,” said Seddon. “We’ve got a show courts team and an outside courts team and obviously we don’t need as many people at the end.”
Although IBM finds and builds the team, Wimbledon is the one that hires them and pays them.
Last year the IBM team captured 3.2 million data points on everything from the number of serves Roger Federer got in to how many backhand winners Andy Murray hit. The numbers for this year are yet to be revealed but it's fairly safe to say the team probably caught even more data than last year and that they'll capture even more next year.