April 16, 2018 / 5:41 PM / a year ago

Basketball: Euroleague puts fans in the picture with new app

LONDON (Reuters) - The cameras will be following the crowd, as well as the on-court action, when the Euroleague basketball playoffs start on Tuesday.

Facial recognition technology, along with video and audio analytics and social media, will be used to provide content for a freely available mobile app, with younger audiences mostly in mind.

The players will also be wearing “smart shirts” with sensors on the back, while coaches have tech bracelets to measure stress levels.

The HEED app maps out the pulse of the game, using artificial intelligence (AI) to detect significant ‘micro moments’ with video and data displays sent to the app in real-time.

“It’s the first time that AI and IOT (the Internet of Things) have been incorporated into a major sports league,” HEED’s business development executive Lawrence Norman told Reuters.

A joint venture between AGT International and Endeavor, the former WME-IMG sports and entertainment agency, HEED’s partnership with Euroleague extends long-term beyond the Final Four in Belgrade in May.

The cameras and microphones will measure the energy and excitement of players and coaches, with the AI able to distinguish cheers, chants and boos.

“We are looking at the fans and saying the fans are the storytellers of the game,” HEED co-founder Mati Kochavi told a SportsPro Live conference in London last week.

He likened the app, which has been in the works for some time, to having a robot watching the game from all angles and sending regular updates based on AI rather than human observation.

“He’s going to tell you that something is shifting and changing in the game, or something special is happening. He’s also going to connect it to the visual in order to represent it,” he said.

While the analytics will be ready almost instantly, video could take up to two minutes to package and deliver.

“Fans are watching less and less the full matches, this is a fact,” HEED chief executive Danna Rabin told Reuters.

“Being able to draw them in, in a unique way, you have a higher likelihood to connect them back to broadcasting in many ways and to different sport categories.”

Roser Queralto, the Euroleague’s chief business officer, said player comfort had been a concern around using wearable technology, and another was ensuring the aims were clearly understood.

“It was not only ‘Here, you put this shirt on, the Euroleague said it’,” she explained.

“We wanted the players to understand that the days in which they were only playing, those are over. They need to be active and they need to embrace the new technology.”

“It’s a new project. We want to give our fans new options to see and enjoy the game and we said ‘let’s go for it’.”

CSKA Moscow, Khimki Moscow Region, Panathinaikos, Real Madrid, Olympiakos Piraeus, Zalgiris Kaunas, Fenerbahce and Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz are the eight playoff teams.

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis

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