AI comes off the sidelines to deliver for sports fans

(Image credit: Image Credit: Geralt / Pixabay)

AI has taken over the sports world in a wide variety of ways. Athletes and teams monitor machine learning-generated analytics to improve physical performance and predict competitor tendencies. Major competitions, particularly in football and car racing have combined AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) to monitor players and make decisions that are impossible to judge accurately with the human eye. Sports channels and clubs, such as Arsenal FC and Sky Sports have started using chatbots to provide a basic level of FAQ service to fans on their websites.

With all of this accelerating use of AI in sports, it’s a good time to examine the next level of customer and sports fan engagement, which will involve automated communications between fans and their favourite club or league via an intelligent virtual assistant (IVA). By employing an IVA on sports team sites and mobile apps, organisations can provide millions of fans with a personalised ticket broker and merchandising concierge. Rather than hiring round-the-clock employees to focus on ticket sales and t-shirt purchases for growing fan bases, franchises can deploy a scalable workforce of virtual assistants, complete an exhaustive and up-to-date database of the franchise’s products and services. What’s more, once a customer has engaged on their site, an AI-powered assistant can start building out a fan profile to tailor communications and recommend tickets for specific games and merchandise that they might like to buy.

Employing a digital assistant is a cost-effective and customer-centric approach to delivering on-demand expert service to every fan for better interactions with their favourite teams.

Getting you the best seat in the house

Unlike chatbots, which are designed to provide scripted information based on strict call-and-response programs, a virtual assistant provides nuanced answers based on specific customer requests. For example: A chatbot can provide Alice with a list of the cheapest seats available for a specific game, whereas a virtual assistant can help Alice find the perfect ticket for her particular preferences. By conversing with the IVA and detailing what she likes about the in-stadium experience (certain stadium sections or boxes, specific seats, close to the shops or bar, etc.), the virtual assistant collects a set of intents, combined with historical data, and uses real-time seating chart information to provide more personalised results.

Alice: “I’d love to attend the match on 16 July. I usually prefer to sit in the home end of the ground and I can’t afford to spend more than £100 on a ticket.”
Virtual assistant: “I can locate tickets for you. However, the sun tends to shine directly on home-side seats in the summer. Are you sure you would prefer those seats?”
Alice: “Is there anything nearby in the shade?”
Virtual assistant: “Yes, give me a moment while I locate a few options for you.”

By taking into account Alice’s preferences (day of game, side of pitch, cost of ticket) as well as situational data (the time of year, the time of the game, previous customer feedback), the IVA is able to anticipate her needs and deliver expert customer service. The IVA doesn’t just robotically compile her requests and respond with a narrowed-down list of responses, as a low-level chatbot might; the IVA uses its own built-in knowledge and experience from previous customer interactions to provide proactive answers and deliver a seamless customer experience.

Driving season ticket sales

Alice: “I prefer to sit on the home side of the pitch and every other weekend I’ll need an additional two tickets.”
Virtual assistant: “I can arrange a package for you with these preferences. The sun tends to shine directly on home-side seats in the summer. I’ve identified eight matches where this could be an issue. Would you like to view seats similar where you sat on April 16 for these eight matches as well?”
Alice: “Yes, I enjoyed those seats.

Capitalising on AI’s capabilities can also be useful for helping boost season ticket sales, whilst maintaining the same level of customer service. These typically require bulk purchases or in-depth conversations with a team representative. With virtual assistants, teams can provide fans with the best of both worlds: fans can customise their packages on their own terms without exhausting hours of human labour. A virtual assistant can use the same complex thought processes detailed in the single-game example above to help a customer purchase their ideal set of season tickets with specific requirements.

The personalisation of products

By taking into account a customer’s previous purchase activity, browsing history and stated preferences, AI can deliver proactive sales recommendations. If Alice visits the team’s online shop, an intelligent virtual assistant can guide her to the ideal purchase. For example: Alice tells a virtual assistant that her daughter requested a personalised football shirt for her birthday, but Alice isn’t sure which colour her daughter wants, as the team’s home and away kit is different. The virtual assistant can use what it knows about Alice from previous interactions and purchases to make the buying process easier.

Virtual assistant: “Do you know the colour of the shirt she wants?”
Customer: “Yes, it’s the colour the team wore last night.”
Virtual assistant: “That must be our away kit. You’ve recently purchased a shirt from our home kit in a child size large, would you like me to order the away shirt in the same size?”
Customer: “She’s bigger now, do you have an adult extra-small?”
Virtual assistant: “Yes, we do. I’ll note this change for future purchases.”

A smarter way to enjoy sport

AI continues to impact sports for athletes and teams, and its impact on fans is slowly but steadily emerging. As associations, clubs and sports channels start to deploy AI for customer engagement, fans will see a dramatic improvement in their interactions with teams. Customer service in sports has typically been impassive and anonymous, but with the advent of AI-powered digital assistants, fans can get more from the teams that they so love and support and expect to receive expert, personalised service on demand.

Tracey Robinson, Director of Cognitive Implementation, Amelia, IPsoft