How tennis uses stats to enhance the fan’s viewing experience

During a tennis match numerous data points are collected. How fast is a serve? How many net points are won? Where are the balls landing? These data points are valuable for players and coaches to enhance on-court performances. They are also interesting beyond the court, for content creation and for fans.

So how does the tennis world use this abundance of performance-related statistics to enhance the tennis fan’s experience?

Valuable content visualised right

Governing bodies and tournaments partner with companies such as IBM and SAP not only to better collect all the available data points, but also to extract the right statistics and create valuable content for fans.

It is common during matches for fans, both at home and in-stadium, to see an overview of standard statistics after sets. Stats such as first service percentage, break points, winners, unforced errors and more are visualised in graphics comparing two players (or teams). This of course has become common practice in many sports.

The visualisation of stats is vital in making the data digestible for fans. The ATP’s (Association of Tennis Professionals) new format of visualising stats this year, for example, was received with criticism, as it was difficult to immediately grasp.

ATP Statistics Graphics

ATP Graphics at the beginning of 2017. Source: Twitter Tennis TV

Given the abundance of data available, it is easy to share too much. The statistics shared have to be meaningful and contribute to the fan’s viewing experience and understanding of the game at that moment in time.

IBM and Wimbledon

The sport constantly takes new approaches to retrieve and show interesting facts from the data collected. Wimbledon uses IBM’s tools, like Watson Analytics, to filter interesting statistics from all the (historical) data available. This makes it easier to give fans real-time updates of the right stats through digital channels or live on-site.

The IBM SlamTracker is a great feature as it provides fans with live scores and real-time statistical predictions and insights based on historical data. With easy digestible, relevant and often nicely visualised stats it is valuable both as a first or second screen experience.

Statistics - US Open IBM Slamtracker

The IBM Slamtracker provides fans with live scores and real-time statistical predictions and insights based on historical data. Source: US Open

The Coach on Eurosport

TV shows also use statistics to give fans insights. Eurosport has a segment called The Coach around the Grand Slams it broadcasts. Patrick Mouratoglou – Serena Williams’ coach – previews matches based on a few key statistics that could make a difference. Using graphics, Mouratoglou shows how players have evolved or on what aspects they are underperforming at the time.

Governing bodies value stats content

Likewise, governing bodies believe stats can provide extra value to fans. The ATP regularly publishes articles on its website that dissect results and players’ tactics based on statistical data. The Infosys ATP Beyond the Numbers or ATP Brain Game articles are short articles (up to around 600 words) explaining, for example, the four keys to Nadal winning. Would they add some visualisations of the stats, it could make the insightful articles even more digestible for fans.

The Australian tennis federation (Tennis Australia) considers statistics of such importance that they have created the Game Insight Group (GIG). This team of experts uses advanced tracking data to change the way players and fans engage in tennis. Innovation is applied to crunch new data and insights. GIG shares its findings with fans through its Twitter account – that has amassed over 1500 followers – or through other parties.

Do statistics enhance the fan’s experience?

The question of course is whether all the stats sharing, adds value to the experience of tennis fans. The answer is not a straightforward yes or no. As is the case in other sports, there will be a niche of fans interested in knowing for example that Federer is hitting balls earlier on average, likely improving his performance. Others do not care or do not even understand what all these graphics with dots and numbers really mean.

Tennis may be ideal for showing statistics given the sports’ nature of time between play. But it is crucial to know what kind of stats (the different groups of) tennis fans want. Then the right stats can be shared in visuals that are easy to understand.

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