Stats Perform to lean on AI to shake up data offerings with Hensley
By Susan Lingeswaran
Nancy Hensley, the new chief product and marketing officer of Stats Perform, the international sports data and technology provider, has outlined ambitious plans for the company to innovate its products using artificial intelligence and become the global leader in its field.
Stats Perform was created last year through a merger between Stats, the US sports data company, and Perform, the Europe-based data and betting operation.
By placing AI research and innovation at the heart of its corporate development, the company is aiming to provide deeper and faster data and insights for its diverse partners, including teams, sportsbooks and broadcasters.
In an interview with Sportcal, Hensley (pictured), who was installed into the new role in February, said: “We are looking to do a lot in the team performance space as well as the media space. In our Opta Graphics and our live action widgets we want to get more of the new AI data that we’ve been developing through our work on Edge and AutoStats that has never been available before.
“We want to feature that more not only in the capabilities we’re doing in our key performance products but also in some of the work we are doing in the media products because if we’ve learnt anything from this pause of sports [caused by the coronavirus pandemic], it’s that there is an intense hunger from the fanbase to want to know more and more about the game, the data and the insights.”
Hensley is the former chief digital officer of technology giant IBM’s data and AI arm. That involved supporting businesses transitioning from data analytics to AI, and she hopes to drive similar development at Stats Perform.
Her new role will see her oversee several parts of the organisation, including Stats Perform’s product, marketing and design teams, which have been recently moved closer together to ensure raw data is consumer friendly for their partners.
Hensley said: “Everyone is looking for deeper insight and it’s not always easy to consume so that’s a big challenge for us and one of the reasons why the design team has moved closer to the product team is that we can keep a really close eye on how we are making the data consumable.
“I’ve come from 20 years of data and AI and I know that it’s not always easy and consumable so what’s great is that embedded into the product teams we have people who are analysts and journalists so they know what makes it consumable. You combine that with the expertise we have on the design and UX team and we are doing a much better job of making these products consumer friendly for our partners.”
The merger of Stats and Perform last year created a business whose customers were said at the time to include four of the top five most popular global sports broadcasting companies, seven of the top 10 global technology companies, all the top 10 sportsbooks internationally and seven of the globe’s top 10 soccer clubs.
However, with the majority of the live sports calendar suspended due to the pandemic, Hensley says the company has been able to accelerate its AI plans.
She commented: “It’s given us a chance to find more opportunities to push more AI capability into our products while we’re not distracted by the normal operations in sports that happen to us day-to-day, and I think we’ve been able to accelerate our ideas a lot more than we would have so in that sense, it’s been a good thing.”
One of Hensley’s key focuses will be integrating more AI into Stats Perform’s key performance product SportVU, a system which uses an array of cameras and image processing software to provide real-time player tracking and positioning data, as well as statistical analysis of that data.
The system now not only tracks a player’s performances in detail but can identify different playing styles by taking millions of possessions across games and players - a feature which Hensley believes will be a game-changer for team recruitment and broadcasters.
She said: “If you’re a person looking at the data to recruit a player, this would be hours and hours or research or it might not even be possible to determine because there’s so many players across all the leagues but we’re now able to boil that down to a single view that they will be able to see – they’ll be able to look at a cluster of thousands of players that align to that person's playing style because in reality it’s better to not only look at the stats but the way they play too.
“I think that there’s slices of that data that are going to be extremely interesting to media and broadcasters and we’ve seen that with our ‘expected goal’ predictive model, which is part of the product, that now the media uses it all the time so I think as we push more and more innovations into the products, we can slice that out for fan and media consumption.”
On the long-term plans for Stats Perform, Henley stressed using the company’s key performance products to showcase the company’s expertise.
She said: “This company has so much to offer and we have not done as good of a job in being clear to the outside world the things that we have to offer. We’ve invested a huge amount from an AI perspective so there is a big future ahead for us.
“The company has years of experience and talent, literally sports historians, and if you combine that with the data we can tell some really great compelling stories. It’s not really a marketing campaign as much as showing what a data-driven story can look like and showcasing all the depth and breadth of who we are through these stories, which has so far driven a lot of traffic to our website and a lot of activity around our social channels.”