Sport in the Wires: Abstraction, Integration, Efficiency

Animation - Courtesy of Prozone

Sport in the Wires: Abstraction, Integration, Efficiency

(submitted to "denoting danger, connoting freedom: everyday life in the [post]global network," an edited collection in the digital formations series at peter lang publishing)

Only a short time after the inaugural communiqué of the Morse telegraph between Washington and Baltimore in 1844, baseball scores were being relayed throughout the burgeoning network of cables around the nation. In turn, the code that was used to relay baseball information was used to power large electromagnetic scoreboards in public town squares, gathering large crowds for a nearly real-time experience of a remote sporting event and setting in motion what has become a multi-billion dollar global sports-media industry. But behind the scenes of the burgeoning sports spectacle, the numerical data that was driving the telegraph communication was simultaneously being used to rationalize performance on the field of play, with early efforts towards this end involving the application of scientific management principles towards improving the output of run production.

An amateur statistician named Bill James recognized that the existing metrics for baseball did not accurately measure true production value and he began to develop new metrics of his own, which he self-published to a growing network of like-minded baseball statistics enthusiasts. But it wasn't until years later that Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane read James' work and realized its potential to discover undervalued talent in the highly competitive professional baseball labour market. While Beane's competitors in Major League Baseball were eventually forced to adopt similar analyses within their own organizations, enterprising managers in other sports also began to investigate with econometric techniques to achieve similar competitive advantage. The difference, however, is that these other sports are generally smoother in spatial orientation (cf. Deleuze and Guattari) and more open-ended in task orientation than baseball. To compensate for these differences, imaging technologies have been added to the efforts to rationalize performance.

The most notable example of this new form of performance analysis may be found in soccer, a sport with few goals scored, few native statistics and few striations of the playing surface. In response to the unique demands of this sport — the most popular and lucrative on a global scale — a system called ProZone provides analytics that measure productivity during a match using eight cameras that surround the stadium to capture all player movement from a variety of angles. These multiple feeds are processed by a proprietary software package that triangulates and tracks each athlete as a unique data-object on the pitch, all without the assistance of any sort of motion capture marker on the athlete's body. Once tracked, managers may analyze variables such as work output and pass efficiency. Given the genealogy of econometric analysis described earlier, the remainder of the chapter examines the implications of the ProZone system within the local network of the stadium, the broader networks of sporting spectacle, and how its abstract diagram implicates cognate areas of production and security outside of sport. Theoretical contributions from Baudrillard, Virilio, Deleuze and Guattari, Massumi, Crandall, Critical Art Ensemble and others will inform this chapter.

Analysis - Courtesy of Prozone

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2 responses to Sport in the Wires: Abstraction, Integration, Efficiency

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  1. sportsbabel says:

    Sport in the Wires: Abstraction, Integration, Efficiency

    (revised version)

    In the late 1970s an amateur statistician named Bill James recognized that the existing metrics used to measure performance in baseball did not accurately reflect true production value and he began to develop new metrics of his own. Nearly two decades later Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane recognized the potential of James' work to discover undervalued talent in the highly competitive professional baseball labour market. Recognizing that past performance was a better predictor of future performance than the theretofore privileged knowledge of baseball scouts, Beane began scouring the internet for the statistics of college baseball players and submitting them to econometric analyses based on James' pioneering work, going so far as to select a player sight unseen in the 2002 MLB entry draft. Beane's use of the model's predictive potential to revalue prospects and assemble a successful baseball team despite Oakland's small-market revenue disadvantage was enabled by the proliferation of athletic department web sites featuring the statistics of nearly every college player in the nation. It was thus a democratic shift in the ability to publish on the network that changed baseball's economics from a production orientation to one based on simulation (Baudrillard, 1983), statistical models anticipating the baseball production process in advance.

    While Beane's competitors in Major League Baseball were eventually forced to adopt similar analyses within their own organizations, enterprising managers in other sports also began to investigate with econometric techniques to achieve similar competitive advantage. But every sport is unique in its material and semiotic conditions of possibility. For example, soccer is a sport with few goals scored, few other native statistics and few striations of the playing surface from which metadata may be created (cf. Deleuze and Guattari, 1987). To compensate for these differences, imaging devices have been added to the network apparatus in efforts to rationalize performance. In this case, a system called ProZone provides analytics that measure productivity during a match using multiple cameras that surround the stadium to capture all player movement from a variety of angles. These multiple feeds are processed in real-time by a proprietary software package that triangulates, traces and tracks each athlete as a unique data-object on the pitch, all without the assistance of any sort of motion capture marker on the athlete's body. Once tracked, managers may analyze variables such as work output and pass efficiency, share the information across the organization, and sell it to sport-media companies.

    In essence, the local network of the stadium and the broader networks of sporting spectacle have made possible a thorough rationalization of the professional sport industry in assessing the relative value of individual labourers and towards the general intensification of productivity. But the modality of this rationalization is not that of the remote, perspectival panopticism in effect during the era of industrial modernization analyzed by Foucault (1977). Rather, material object, metadata, archive and network vector are integrated to form a relational assemblage (Massumi, 2002) at once tactile and proximate that we may describe as panhaptic.

  2. sportsBabel » a stitch in time says:

    [...] is too slow for the digital age of television, internet, fantasy league or tweet. today the sabermetric approach applies statistical methods and quantitative analytics to the baseball archive, research and [...]