How Artificial Intelligence Will Affect the Sports Industry of the Future - Work In Sports e054

By Brian Clapp | February 26, 2018

Artificial intelligence is affecting the employment status of people around the globe. How will it affect the sports industry? We investigate.

Hi everybody, I’m Brian Clapp, Director of Content for and this is the Work in Sports podcast.

I’m charging outside my lane a little for this weeks question, but as you know from listening to me, sometimes you have to explore outside your comfort in order to expand your mental horizons.

I am a tech guy, I love tech, but I’m not what you would call an early adopter. I don’t run out to buy the latest and greatest new toy, I tend to sit and wait and read and review. Often in the end I evaluate and say, nope that new shiny thing isn’t necessary for my life – I’d rather buy a stand-up paddle board and get outside.Your Sports Career Questions Answered

But, there are undeniable truths to technology and automation – and that undeniable truth is that it has and will continue to affect employment.

Now we’re in my wheelhouse.

Jobs on assembly lines have been the most affected by robotic automation, but that tech future is pushing itself far beyond the line and into our worlds. Artificial Intelligence has enlightening possibilities but also some unforeseen consequences.

Which leads to our question this week from Jordan Bryant – AKA Jub. – Jub has guest written for us before on volunteering at global golf events and is living quite a life for himself. Love that guys spirit. Anyway – his question is straightforward:

AI is dissolving lots of jobs in various industries. What jobs inside sports do you think won’t exist in 5 years? What jobs will be created in 5 years?

Good question Jub – to be honest I needed to do some studying to get myself smarter for this conversation, I can admit that, but once I did I found myself hooked. I was reading a great deal and seeing the impact of technology on our sports industry.

It’s really quite fascinating. If you are interested in more details I’d suggest you read’s article on artificial intelligence in sports – it was my favorite read from my research and I’ll link to it in the show notes.

Let’s start with this baseline assumption – the sports industry generate revenue in 4 major ways:

Gate receipts – i.e. tickets baby

Media Rights – leagues make big money when they sell the broadcasting rights of their product to networks.

Sponsorship – Brands pay in to be associated with a team or venue.

Merchandise – you know, that New York Mets shirt you are wearing right now.

Those are the four big branches of revenue in the sports industry. In a way, Gate Receipts and Media Rights are in conflict with one another. The better the media partner produces content, the more likely someone is to watch from home instead of buying tickets. Right?

I know I prefer to watch from my couch nowadays, but teams and leagues still want to sell tickets. Interesting conundrum. But that’s not for today.

It is where AI comes into play though. AI is playing a bigger role is the ability to sell tickets, and the overall quality of the broadcasting and knowledge sharing.

Where is Artificial Intelligence popping up in sports – three major avenues:

Chatbots – i.e. virtual assistant

Automated journalism – now that is scary.

Wearable Tech

We’ll talk about each of these briefly with an example. Let’s start with the chatbots of virtual assistants.

In 2016 the Sacramento Kings unveiled Kings Artifical Intelligence or KAI as a customer service rep or sorts able to answer a  wide range of questions, such as info about Sacramento’s roster, stats, Golden 1 Center details, franchise history and more.

It works through Facebook messenger and if you asked “who has the most points right now” it would answer something like “Buddy Hield has 23 points through the 3rd quarter”

The interesting this is, this system is supposed to learn from you, know what you want and be better able to serve you as it learns.

Who does this affect in the workplace? Right now this feels like a customer service add on. A benefit, rather than a cannibalization.

But where is it headed? Couldn’t you see a world where sales inquiries were handled by AI? Where dynamic ticket selling and negotiating rates were handled by AI software instead of a person? Or even crazier – where Assistant Coaches were less valued because the data, tendencies and in the moment decisions were processed better by machine learning than mental game film awareness?

Yikes. This is getting depressing.

Let’s keep going, despite the painful nature of the conversation.

Virtual journalism? Ugh. So now the computers can write better than me too? What about virtual podcast hosts is that a thing yet?

So what is this virtual journalism – The associated press, the standard bearer in unbiased reporting is leading the charge using a service called Automated insights to expand their coverage of Minor League Baseball.

Now, this is seemingly a great idea. The associated press gives coverage to more minor league games that are harder for them to staff and reach, bringing them more information to share with the public --- yeah!

What does this actually mean – staffers being replaced by automation and what is now in Minor League Baseball what’s to say doesn’t evolve into broader outreach. Social media, what is an emerging field of employment in another 5-10 years may be all computer generated. If AI can learn typical speech and writing patterns, what’s to say it doesn’t begin to emulate a social media staffer better than they can.

I know after years of working with particular sports anchors, I could write them better than they could… now imagine a computer with a much bigger brain than mine!


So how does this work?

Wordsmith, developed by Automated Insights, is AI-driven platform that translates hard data from MiLB into narratives, using natural language. As a result, AP has increased its reporting capacity to cover 13 leagues and 142 MLB-affiliated teams. Automated Insights claims that this translates to “3,700 quarterly earnings stories – a 12-fold increase over [AP’s] manual efforts.”

Sports are a natural fit here because there is so much data to use in telling the story. Identifying and angle and dissecting it with natural language.

Pretty obvious where this is headed. Virtual Adam Schefter.

Let’s move along, I’m getting sad.

Wearable Tech.

There are hundreds of examples of wearble tech but I’ll use one example and one quote.

Boltt Sports technologies. Connected Sneakers.

Here’s a quote from their co-founder to Sports Illustrated last January:

“We’re trying to displace the need for a nutritionist, a doctor, and an activity center.” “We think that this is the next thing for the future of wearables, where you need to go beyond just tracking.” – Aayushi Kishore, co-founder, Boltt Sports Technologies

Now take every wearable tech idea and see what it displaces the need for.

So yeah. Pretty clear here that AI will interfere with our world, dramatically.

What next? Well, right now I feel like buying 30 acres of land in Vermont, buying a yurt and going off-grid with my people.

But that isn’t a necessary step (even if it does sound pretty cool)

Right now I look at it and say – well if we are all out of jobs, who is going to buy their damn tickets and merchandise! But that is a superficial approach. Businesses don’t want to bite the hands that feeds them, they want to enhance the experience. That is their stated goal, but let’s hope the unintended consequences aren’t too harsh.

In reality – look to the relational roles as see their stability. Sales happen because people like the person they are dealing with and they appreciate the product. If the product improves, it’s an easier sell for the relational person.

Marketing happens because you have minds connected to the emotional purpose of their audience.

Coaching happens because they are able to relate, motivate and inspire individuals to reach beyond what they think is their best.

Community relations happen because people care and want to enhance the connectivity between the local community and the organization.

Sure, AI will provide data and information and let’s be honest it will replace some jobs. But figure out your value, what makes you unique and special and lean into that. Lean into your ability to relate, motivate, lead and work as a team. These are hard to find qualities in a software system.

Yes, AI scares me a bit…but more for my kids and their kids than for me or you listening. We’re a bit away from Skynet taking over.

I think.

That’ll do it for today. I think I need to remove my sim card, toss out my computer and start learning how to grow my own food.

Thanks Jub – inspiring question! No seriously, these are topics we should be talking about. Even if it hurts or scares us a bit!

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