AM: Have you put any of this into practice yet, or is it just a big idea?
HA: We already have a product called RaceView, which lets you watch the NASCAR race through a video-game interface. You follow your favorite driver the whole race, and as you watch, you can spin the track around, pinch, zoom, or pick different cars. This is not the same as watching video.
AM: Do you imagine these sorts of products for other sports?
HA: Once we’ve got what are generally called connected TVs—smart devices like Samsung is making, or an Xbox, a PlayStation, an Apple TV—there’s an awful lot we can do. With great rendering and graphics, with the Kinect interface, these are very, very sophisticated computers that are going to change the sports experience. I’m going to be able to interact, predict, and compete against my friends in ways that are much more involved than sitting back and watching a three-hour broadcast.
AM: So are you in the entertainment business, or the data business?
HA: I’m really trying to develop our sporting experience, but we call ourselves a data company. We sell the data for player development, analytics, coaching, drafting.
AM: Which sports are using it most?
HA: Baseball—it’s an arms race. I think the Yankees have half a dozen data scientists on their staff. All dealing with, basically, our data.
AM: What’s the hardest sport to get data on?
HA: Computer vision, using cameras, works when players behave relatively well—that is to say, they don’t collide with each other a lot. That’d be baseball. But the advantage of players colliding is that they wear gear. And I can put tracking systems on players in shoulder pads and helmets. Baseball players just don’t have that protection; all you can do is use computer vision and algorithms. Basketball is tricky too.
NASCAR’s our most complicated tracking system. We have loads of room to get stuff into the car—our tracking system, with batteries, is five pounds or so—and we track to two-centimeter accuracy. Data makes NASCAR more interesting. It really is a technical sport, where strategy matters. You can find out things like how big of an impact the pit crews have on performance and outcome—turns out, a very big impact. That kind of stuff can help tell the story: When do you do your pit stops? Do you take two tires, do you take four tires? How did that impact the race? Are you slipping? We can accurately predict when somebody’s going to overtake somebody else.
AM: How do other sports use the data?
HA: When coaches see our data laid over video, they go crazy. They have never seen the data before, because their players have never been tracked. They can explain to a player, “Hey, you can’t give him this much room; look what happens every time you give him more than five yards.” This huge database can show that if you give a certain receiver more than X amount of room, he’s going to do Y. When you have a digital record of the event, you have it all.