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IBM launching new digital experience for golf fans

Yahoo Finance's Alexis Christoforous and Noah Syken, IBM VP of Sports & Entertainment Partnerships, discuss IBM's new digital experience for golf fans.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: It is the most wonderful time of the golf season, the 2020 Masters is officially underway at Augusta National Golf Course. And IBM has launched a new partnership aimed at bringing golf fans closer than ever to this year's action, even though no fans will be in attendance. Here to talk about it is Noah Syken. He is IBM's Vice President of Sports and Entertainment Partnerships. Noah, thanks for being with us. Exciting day in the world of golf. Tell us how you're using IBM's Watson and AI to make this experience different for folks, especially during the pandemic.

NOAH SYKEN: Sure, and thanks for having me. IBM's partnered with Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters for 24 years, and we build the website, the digital platforms, and we bring the Masters to the world through those digital platforms. This year we have a new feature. It's called My Group. And think about it as a personalized broadcast. Think about it as an AI-powered personalized broadcast. And so everybody has a different set of players that they're interested in.

If you're a European person and you have European players, you're really liking to follow or if you're from South Africa or you're from Japan, you have particular players you want to follow, or you just have, you like the young guys or the old guys, you can actually select those players and bring together a personalized experience on the IBM cloud using AI that's geared just for you. And you're going to get the best shots from those players, but also the best shots from across the tournament driven by machine learning and our AI.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: So were you hearing from fans that this is something they wanted? Or maybe it's something they wanted and they didn't know they wanted it, because I'm just curious in terms of the timeline for this kind of thing. Because the pandemic has hastened a lot of things and I'm wondering if this was already in the works for you at IBM and you just sort of brought it to market a little faster than you may have because of the circumstances.

NOAH SYKEN: Well, the Masters always likes to be on the cutting edge, and so this has actually been maybe a three-year process to get to this point. Last year we made every shot from every player on every hole available. That's over 20,000 shots. And so once you have your, the capability to get your hands around all that data, all that video content, the kinds of experiences that you can create are almost limitless.

And so it's an evolution. Now that we had all that content, how do we actually create the most personalized experience in all of sports? I won't necessarily say the pandemic caused us to move in this direction, but it's certainly a great benefit when fans can't be on site, patrons can't be on site, but they still love this event all over the world.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: So tell us how IBM is monetizing these capabilities right now. I know not just with golf, with the US Open as well, and other sports that you have partnerships with.

NOAH SYKEN: Yeah, so look, these are the same kind of capabilities that we bring to banks and organizations around the world. And all organizations really have the same challenge is, there's a proliferation of data, all kinds of data. In this case, it's video content. In some cases, it's written words and what your customers are saying about you or how they want you to interact with them.

And so this is just an example in the world of sports around an organization that's forward looking and embracing using AI to get their hands around the data. But whether it's a retailer or a bank or an airline who wants to understand what their customers are saying and what they're doing, it's the same kind of capability just applied to the world of sports. In this case, they call their customers fans instead of clients or customers.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And I know your role there at IBM, you oversee these partnerships with sports, but also with entertainment. I believe that you do some work with IBM's partnerships regarding the Tony Awards and the Grammys. How might we start seeing, I think we saw a little bit of it already this season, but how do we see more of this of AI at work in those experiences?

NOAH SYKEN: Sure. So at the Grammy Awards or at US Open that just passed, we're starting to think about those great debates that happened in the world of sports and entertainment. The greatest performance in Grammys history or the greatest player in tennis. And so artificial intelligence and Watson is one way that we're, one tool that we're using to bring those conversations to life and to get at the answer to some of those questions.

We're also applying it in the world of fantasy football with ESPN to allow fans to make better decisions. There's millions of articles written around football players and your team and individual players, and it's just impossible to read. So we're using natural language understanding in the world of fantasy sports to bring all that data together and give it to fans to make better fantasy football decisions.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Again, going back to the Masters, I know that Tiger Woods is defending his fifth green jacket. Last I checked, it was a little while ago, he was off to a pretty good start. He was 3 under as he closed out his first nine. Where do you see, I mean, are you seeing that the love of the sport of golf has just increased while so many of us are on these stay at home orders and people are sort of looking for escapism?

NOAH SYKEN: Yeah, you know, if you look at the industry itself, if you look at the golf industry, some of the club manufacturers, some of the organizations that have networks of golf courses, revenue is up significantly this year. You have so much land out there, so much space out there, and people have a lot of time on their hands. So I think the industry as a whole is certainly benefiting from the current situation

I don't know what the weekend holds, but hopefully if Tiger stays at the top of the leaderboard, people are going to be interested in the Masters just like they were in the spring. And with no fans on site, they're going to get a better view of the course probably than they've ever gotten before. So I'm excited for the weekend and I'll be downloading my Masters app and plugging in my favorite players into My Group as well.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Exciting stuff, for sure. All right, Noah Syken, VP of Sports and Entertainment Partnerships at IBM, Thanks for being with us.

NOAH SYKEN: Thanks for having me.