Executive Q&A: Tennis Australia's Big Data Grand Slam

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
1to1 Media talks to Samir Mahir, CIO, Tennis Australia, about how Big Data and social media helped to pump up fan participation during the recent Australian Open.

Organizations and companies of all sizes and across all industries are learning the value of leveraging Big Data and applying the results for tangible ROI. Sports organizations are no exception.

Here 1to1 Media Editor-in-Chief Mila D'Antonio, speaks to Tennis Australia CIO Samir Mahir, about how the organization is puting Big Data to work to change the game for players, coaches, and ultimately its fans. Mahir speaksabout a recent social media campaign powered by Big Data during the Australian Open in January.

1to1 Media: This year the Australian Open Social Leaderboard ranked tennis players according to positive and negative social sentiment. Where was this board visible to fans? And describe the strategy behind it?

Samir Mahir: As part of Tennis Australia's commitment to giving all our tennis fans an incredibly connected experience with the Tournament, the Australian Open Social Leaderboard was available on www.australianopen.com. The Social Leaderboard encouraged fans to interact with the website, and demonstrated that every fan's tweet about a player or 'like' of something written about a player on the site, meant fans could help their favorite players move up the Social Leaderboard ranks.

Using IBM analytics technology, the Social Leaderboard analyzed more than nine million Twitter references to the 2013 players. Over the two weeks of the tournament in January, the technology tracked and determined the fan's most popular players and the percentage of positive and negative social sentiment from fans.

1to1 Media: How did this motivate fan behavior?

Samir Mahir: We know that the top website features demanded by fans are scores, schedules, and live videos. Like most businesses, we analyze what keeps our fans coming back to our website. By making it a leaderboard we encouraged fans to interact and engage more with the tournament through social media channels. Fans' inputs and discussions online fueled the rise of their favorite players through the social media rankings.

1to1 Media: How did you leverage analytics to predict crowd demands to the website? What events were you able to predict, and what is the ROI you realized from these efforts?

Samir Mahir: This year, more than 15.5 million unique visitors came to the Australian Open website. This year, we put in place a technology solution known as IBM Dynamic Cloud Provisioning, which looks at multiple sources of information-including social media volumes and play schedules-then predicts when online traffic is expected to spike. The system then scales up in anticipation of this demand and assigns the appropriate level of computing power required ahead of time from the private cloud solution.

The results realized meant that we predicted when demand was expected to spike, such as when a crowd favorite went on court to compete. Predicting the australianopen.com demand from fans ahead of time, and automatically provisioning capacity, meant we had a highly efficient solution that ensured our interactive tournament website was available for all our fans even during the peaks of our busiest periods.

1to1 Media: In what ways do you provide a connected experience for your fans?

Samir Mahir: We're constantly looking at ways to enhance the fan experience across a variety of social media and digital channels, and offer them unique experiences. Through our various digital channels we ensured that fans felt like they had court side tickets for the tournament regardless of time or location.

In 2013, the Australian Open digital channels experienced significant growth.The Australian Open Facebook page grew to 887,158 likes and a weekly reach of 6.1 million; on Twitter @australianopen grew to 155,738 followers; and mobile numbers saw an upsurge with 49 million page views coming from the official Australian Android app; 119 million from the iPhone app, and 19 million from the mobile site.

1to1 Media: How is Big Data transforming all aspects of your sport and your organization?

Samir Mahir: It is true to say that data, and more importantly the analysis of this data, will continue to transform the way our fans consume, watch, and interact with tennis and other sports-evident through some of our website features such as the Social Leaderboard and IBM Slam Tracker.

Big Data is also transforming the game for players and coaches. For the first time this year, we provided match and video analysis securely online to the players and coaches after each match. A suite of IBM analytics software crunches the match data and synchronizes it with point-by-point video of the entire match to deliver a detailed view of what went well and what needs to improve. Throughout the year we also use this match and video analysis to refine and improve our Australian tennis players' games and performances.

1to1 Media:Now that the Australian Open is over, how do you plan to continue to evolve your social media and analytics efforts?

Samir Mahir: During the past two decades, we have seen technology evolve from the launch of the tournament's first website in 1996 to innovative cloud computing and Big Data solutions that bring fans closer to the action and provide deep insight for players, coaches, and organizers.

With the help of our technology partner, IBM, we will use the insights and analysis from the 2013 tournament to understand what resonated with fans, media, players, and coaches. Then we'll further enhance the experience for all our audiences. You can expect next year's tournament to keep adding new angles.

1to1 Media:What trends do you predict we'll see over the coming year in how organizations leverage social media and the insight collected from it?

Samir Mahir: Social media is a great way for organizations and brands to engage and connect with their customers-something we are very focused on at Tennis Australia.

This explosion of social media means organizations have unprecedented access to unstructured data about their brands. Using analytics tools, they can analyze in real time public commentary from blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets to spot patterns that help them understand how people feel about their brands and to quickly identify shifts in attitudes. They can use these insights in a number of ways from improving product development to fine-tuning advertising messages. Organizations that embrace and leverage this technology to inform their business decisions and connect with their consumers can gain a winning edge over their competitors.