Football finds its LeMatch

Football fans could enjoy completely personalised and interactive coverage of future World Cup games with live match statistics and online betting, thanks to research from the IST.



The LeMatch project links together existing media channels, Internet, TV, and telephone, to offer a wide variety of services for journalists, VIPs, broadcasters, advertisers and supporters.



IST is working with leading players in broadcasting, sport and interactive technology, including NBC and Yahoo to produce a sports production platform for producing and delivering adaptive interactive cross media content with a focus on live and real-time content.



Called CSP, the platform uses three key technologies: an object tracking module, an interactive and statistical module, and an enhanced graphics and virtual advertising module.



The object-tracking module uses specialised cameras to follow the movement of the ball and individual players. The statistical module can then use this information to render a variety of real-time data, like how far individual players have run in the game, who had the fastest sprint, the total aggregate of distance run for the team, how hard the ball is kicked or how fast it moves.



It can also combine this data with historical statistics from the last six months or the entire career of the individual or the team. These statistics can be used to create games or betting around the player who runs the fastest or furthest, for instance.



“What kind of content you develop around the system is limited only by your imagination,” said Thomas Look, coordinator of the LeMatch project.



Sports authorities have shown a great interest in the technology. FIFA, the international football federation, has invested heavily in chip-in-ball systems. The chip provides continuous movement tracking. However, it has proven unsuccessful to date because the chip keeps failing.



“What’s more, that system would mean players would need to carry transmitters, a technology that, so far, doesn’t look too practical,” said Look. The LeMatch system uses technology from partner ORAD, one of the leaders in the field. It does not depend on embedded technology, but instead uses advanced object tracking hardware and software to provide the same functionality.



Other partners are providing key elements around statistics, interactivity, graphics and advertising. LeMatch’s various elements are integrated by software which ties together the technologies into a cohesive platform that can handle all of the information streams including in game information and graphics, advertising, revenue-generating spin-off competitions created around the sporting event.



The main initial application areas are basketball and football, though the project plans to extend it towards individual sports like snowboarding. “We want a mixture of sports, to test the equipment in a variety of settings, like indoor and outdoor, team and individual sports,” said Look.



Basketball is a very fast game played over a small area, for example, and it creates quite a challenge for object tracking, for example. “We haven’t completely solved object tracking in fast sports, but we’re getting there,” said Look.



The team initially developed CSP around five broadcasting formats, live, in-studio recording and others, to demonstrate the flexibility of the system and cover all the potential uses.



LeMatch has tested its platform in the German Basketball League, an Estonian snowboarding competition and friendly football games. “The technology works, and we will be improving it and testing it further until the end of the year,” said Look. “We hope to have a commercial product at that stage.”



There are other potential markets on top of interactive viewing. Broadcasters could deploy it among their mobile broadcasting units, or a stadium could install it as a permanent facility and value-added service for the broadcasters. It could be used by individual teams or consultant companies to analyse the playing style, strengths and weaknesses of an individual team, either to improve a team’s performance, or to analyse an opponent’s weakness.



LeMatch could make it even more difficult to leave the sofa during the 2010 World Cup.