AI in the Sports Industry: Sports Betting and Beyond
By Sophia Nadler
Earlier this month, LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne faced scrutiny after promoting Caktus.AI to her 7M TikTok followers. LSU officials stated firmly how student use of the essay-writing AI platform is akin to plagiarism. They urged that from an academic standpoint, Dunne's partnership sends the wrong message. Ethical dilemma aside, AI platforms are taking the world by a storm. Dunne is just one of many capitalizing on the future of tech. AI's emergence stands to reform the way we work, communicate, and consume media. While its place in academia poses concerns, its presence in sports is far more embraced. From sports betting to sports marketing, let’s explore how AI enhances the sports industry:
AI’s pop culture surge parallels the timeline of sportsbetting's widespread legalization. Now more than ever, sportsbooks can apply AI elements of personalization and accuracy to elevate the betting experience. Companies like FanDuel and DraftKings benefit from AI algorithms’ insight into betting behavior and automated processes, keeping their losses down and profits up. AI’s machine learning technology can instantly break down large sets of data and find patterns. The end result is like looking into a crystal ball: companies receive extremely accurate predictions, gain more insight into the behavior of high-volume betters, and can adjust their odds accordingly.
It’s not just the sportsbooks who are winning: sportsbetters are also taking advantage of AI’s capabilities. Some have used the AI platform, ChatGPT, as the foundation for generating more advanced data analysis programs. While ChapGPT cannot automate informed bets, it can help coders build the systems to do so. One ChatGPT user, Siraj Raval, enlisted it to create WagerGPT. Raval’s program uses neural networking to place informed, winning bets. Raval plugs in information like sports sentiments on Twitter, team performance variables, and current betting odds. Data then acts as building blocks for pattern creation, links, and deductions. His first two bets on the platform won him over $7K. Even so, Raval stresses that WagerGPT is an experiment, and similar to other AI platforms, there is no way to ensure accurate bets. He urges other users to only bet amounts they’re comfortable with losing.
Athletes are also taking advantage of AI. For decades, reviewing game footage has been a vital part of athletes’ training regimens. Athletes like Tom Brady and Kobe Bryant watched their game tapes religiously, looking for minor tweaks and improvements to act upon in the future. Until recently, not many technological developments were made to streamline this process. With the emergence of AI, new advancements help athletes better utilize this tried-and-true training method.
Burgeoning companies like Sparta Science and Seattle Sports Science apply AI machine-learning to game footage in order to prevent injuries and analyze form. Apps like HomeCourt use similar technology to help basketball players optimize their shooting. And instead of scrolling through hours of game footage, teams can now add AI Box analytics to game cameras. The technology saves time by instantly finding and personalizing relevant footage.
MLB baseball players like Matt Carpenter use AI at Baton Rouge’s Baseball Performance Lab to enhance their swing. Wearing special sensors, Carpenter tests multiple bats as the sensors collect performance data. AI technology analyzes the data and finds the perfect bat to optimize his results on the field. Carpenter says his work with the Baseball Performance Lab played a huge role in his Yankees revival. Since then, other intrigued players have made the trek down to Baton Rouge in hopes of achieving similar results.
Sports stadiums now enlist AI to bolster security and optimize the fan experience. While some find these measures dystopian, others see it as a necessary step into the future. Home of the NY Knicks, Madison Square Garden, began using AI facial recognition tech as early as 2018. Other venue operators aim to follow suit: according to a 2021 industry report, facial recognition is the newest security measure operators wish to invest in most.
Since then, technology continues to evolve. In this year’s Super Bowl, Phoenix police surrounded the sportscape with cameras possessing an AI object-detection system. Rather than recognizing faces, the cameras detected loitering and generated fully-visible portraits in long-distance, pitch black conditions. Indianapolis Motor Speedway uses a similar surveillance technology equipped with predictive analytics to prevent overcrowding and ensure fan comfort.
Last year, the Dutch government partnered with the Eredivisie soccer league to enhance social safety in stadiums. The pilot program entitled, “Our Football Belongs to Everyone” is a response to past discriminatory behavior and racist chanting inside the stadium. Before the initiative, Excelsior’s Ahmad Mendes Moreira took so much racist abuse from fans that officials had to temporarily stop the game. Moreira left the pitch for thirty minutes, marking the first time a match has ever been halted due to racism. Using AI-powered smart sound cameras, operators can now measure fan involvement in the stands and address discriminatory behavior in real time.
Sports media utilizes AI for content-generation and personalization. Recently, major sports media publications have turned to AI for augmented article writing. Sports Illustrated, for example, enlists AI to match the demand for media consumption and better align with consumer engagement. Amidst pushback, Sports Illustrated urged that AI will never replace journalism. It’s true: problems with AI-written articles include factual inaccuracies and lack of creativity and human voice. Instead of publishing the generated article verbatim, Sports Illustrated uses AI for ground-floor article development, then revises and fact-checks from there.
In sports marketing, AI tools optimize social media advertising. Ever wondered why you see ads for Dick’s Sporting Goods on Instagram and Facebook right after googling “Nike sneakers?” You can thank AI for that. Using Meta’s AI advertising algorithm, sports marketers can produce highly targeted ads. The algorithm combines factors like business objectives and user behavior to expose the ad to the most actionable audience. Building on this technology, Meta released yet another AI advertising feature. Sports marketers can now use Advantage+ to generate up to 150 advertisements for them. Marketers no longer have to start from scratch when it comes to manual ad creation.
As AI becomes the new normal in the sports industry and beyond, some fear for its ethics and long-term impact on the job market. With 37% of businesses utilizing AI as of 2022, these fears are not so irrational. AI’s newfound dominance poses issues of privacy, plagiarism, and threats to the workforce. In response to these concerns, we must remember that technology should enhance our lives rather than complicate it. As AI technology develops, a system of checks and balances should develop alongside it. We’ve seen firsthand how AI can elevate the fan experience, provide safety to both spectators and athletes, and enhance sports media and marketing. Its value is undeniable, but its limitations and threats are ever-present. While AI is a whiz at evaluating data, it has yet to replace human creativity, consciousness, and ingenuity. As long as we maintain that balance, AI is capable of improving our lives for the better.