GIS & Sports: a match made in the Cloud

October 19, 2016
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As we’re cheering on our favorite sports team, we rarely focus on other things going on around us, save poking fun at our friend who is cheering for the other team. We almost certainly are not considering the influence that GIS analysis has had on the game, but — despite our failure to notice — the technology has had a significant impact on sports in recent decades. Today many team logistics, ranging from when teams travel to who hears which game on the radio, are planned using geography-based systems. In some cases, GIS is even being used to map a player’s movement up and down the field during the game!

Planning travel

A team's travel schedule for the season significantly impacts the amount of time players are able to rest — the more they travel, the less they rest, which can hurt their performance and increase their risk of injuries, especially in the post-season. The Golden State Warriors, for example, was the most traveled team in the NBA last season, and experienced far more injuries than the Cleveland Cavaliers - the least traveled team - in the post-season tournament. Because of this connection, GIS experts are commonly utilized to help streamline travel schedules.

Home cities and stadium locations

GIS experts are also hired to determine ideal home cities and stadium locations for new professional teams, which, depending on the city, can seriously conflict with reducing the team's travel times. For instance, new teams in Hawaii or Alaska would likely benefit a franchise by bringing in new fans, but the teams would have unbelievably difficult schedules, which could make it difficult to attract players and would likely lower the quality of game play.

Reaching fans

GIS professionals are also involved in helping franchises understand their fan base, defining where their fans are and how to reach them. One example of this is radio broadcasting of baseball games. By looking at the distribution of team-affiliated radio shows between the Kansas City Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals, it was discovered that both teams were well represented in Missouri, but in Kansas, the Royals were almost exclusively represented.

Furthermore, they found that Royals' stations had extended into the western Rockies until 1993, when Denver received its own team. After that, many stations switched to broadcasting Rockies' games. However, there was still a fuzzy area in South Dakota and northern Wyoming that wasn’t really the turf of any particular team — a discovery that opened doors to targeted marketing strategies.

Tracking movements

GIS also has a growing hand in tracking the movement of players during peak moments of the game. Mapping the movement of tennis players during matches, for example, allows coaches to analyze where on the court the winning shots are most often made. This information can help players understand their and their opponents movements, and find weaknesses to address or exploit.

Fan involvement

All of this information is starting to become available to avid fans as well. New sports technologies such as wearable devices and smartphone apps have enabled fans to gather information on their favorite players like never before. With their own wearable device, a fan can track their own workout, health and movement information to analyze with GIS and compare to their favorite player’s data.

GIS is playing an increasingly important role every year in helping you enjoy your favorite sports. Think about that for a minute, the next time you tune into the big game. 

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