Meet Intel’s man embedding the chip giant in sport
Statistical Data Analysis

Meet Intel’s man embedding the chip giant in sport

At first they seem like odd team mates but Intel and sport are forming a tag team that underscores the increasingly tight relationship between technology and mass entertainment.

Jeff Hopper is the man with the enviable task, for sport lovers at least, of making sense of what the world’s biggest semiconductor maker can bring to a sphere of activity that obsesses, enthuses, entrances and makes fools of so many of us all over the world. Hopper runs Intel’s business unit focused on sport and there was a taste of the chip giant’s direction at the recent ICC Champions Trophy in cricket where Intel’s logo was plastered over grounds in England and Wales. But Hopper is at pains to stress that this is no mere branding push where techie companies seek to gain a little stardust from top-level athletes.

“It’s very much a passionate thing and almost everyone all over the world has a love of sport and it gives out brand an even bigger lift [but] primarily we see a big business in sport,” says Hopper who was there at there at the launch of Intel Sports in September 2016.

Read more: NHL team Tampa Bay Lightning is using data analytics to make the fan experience as exciting as possible

Evidence of what Intel might bring came at the ICC tournament where the final match between Pakistan and India was watched in some form by up to one billion people, according to estimates. At the competition, Intel showcased its technology to analyse the batting pitch, often a determinant of how the game will play out, using its Falcon 8 drone with HD and infrared to deliver pictures. It also put its Curie module in bat sensors to analyse speed of bat swing, a decisive factor in how hard batsmen can hit the ball and how far, in a technology called Specular BatSense with Intel Inside. In the Oval (London) and Edgbaston (Birmingham) grounds, fans were also able to use VR to experience what it feels like to face bowling.



A global obsession

Hopper says Intel looked at the company’s client computing group and what people did with their PCs when not working – and the answer, very often, was to do with sport, hence the focus. “If you look at the amount of content going through a PC, that seemed a very natural thing to do,” he adds.

Specifically Hopper sees an opportunity where sport intersects with broadcast/digital media.

“If you look at the industry of sport, it hasn’t changed much from a technology standpoint for over 70 years,” he says. “Games are put out over the waves or digital streams but unlike TV, music or movies it hasn’t really changed that much in terms of how a fan accesses that content and what they can do with it, albeit it’s now in 4k. Technology is just starting to make that way in and fan engagement fuels that passion for people in sport.”

Hopper spies a gap in the market where people who aren’t able to get to the big football, soccer, baseball, basketball and other games can still be royally entertained.

Television, the world of sport and ICT are spurring each other on to do better. Check out: The triangular revolution in sport, TV and digital

“Gosh, only less than one per cent of the fans of that sport are able to go to the match, game, stadium,” he says.

Opportunities lie in sensors, visualisation, data analytics and augmented/virtual reality and other technologies that can be overlaid to being viewers closer to the action, gain insights and just feel the thrill. Happily for Intel, those technologies also require massive compute capacity and bandwidth.


Big Computing

“3D volumetric content is a huge data challenge,” he notes. “Systems are producing gobs and gobs of data to capture and create what’s going on in a stadium.”

But if that action can be captured in high-definition video, crystal-clear audio and virtual or augmented reality and put in the cloud then the vast majority of those that can’t be there on the day or night can also feel something akin to the excitement of the live game. This is where on his tactics board Hopper wants to position Intel: “at the nexus between the fan and the game”.

“It all boils down to the fan,” Hopper says, but if the fan is wowed then the result will be very lucrative for Intel.

“All roads to monetisation lie in people being more and more willing to reach into their wallets” to engage their passion for sport, he says. “The initial driver [for Intel Sports] is a business decision.”

To win that business though, Intel needs to execute, bringing the benefits of new technologies to illuminate and enhance sporting action. Hopper talks about the chance to click on a player on screen during a game and become that player, seeing the game unfold from his or her perspective.

What’s the scale of the opportunity? That nexus identified by Hopper and crew might be worth $100bn today, he thinks, but Intel can grab a big slice of what will be a growing pie if it can crack deals with clubs, broadcasters and other rights holders to develop these new experiences.

It’s a space that’s currently occupied by specialists and startups, he contends: “mostly little companies - we kind of stand apart”.

Hopper sees the sport opportunity as part of a wider trend that is seeing technology blur with fashion, entertainment and other worlds. Some of these worlds will be virtual and Hopper sees opportunities in e-sports: “yet another vertical requiring tons of data processing and low latency - we fully embrace it as actually being a sport”.

The future is likely to be immersive and, for some of us of a certain age and used to showing up with ticket in hand to see our heroes and teams, rather bewildering.

“In many years’ time I think we’ll see a blurring, with a quality of graphics that is so amazing that what is a game and what is the real thing will be hard to tell apart. Our immediate success criterion is to make it as if you’re at the game.”

Of course, VR has arguably been slower out of the traps than some boosters anticipated while 3D TV has all but died a death, but Hopper takes a ‘build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door’ view, saying that if the technology is compelling then revenue will take care of itself. Or, perhaps more apposite, from the baseball movie Field of Dreams, you might say that if you build the future of screen-based sport consumption, they will come.


Also read:
Adidas a shoe in for 3D printing revolution
Rugby fans tackle wearable tech via Google Glass, Accenture
From the Gulf War to Harrods – one man’s race to get wearable tech to market
Riyad Mahrez and how tech is transforming transfers


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Editorial Consultant for IDG Connect

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