Evertz, Verizon Ventures Investment Has ShotTracker Ready for Next Step
ShotTracker’s Davyeon Ross outlines the company’s plans
Earlier this month, Evertz and Verizon Ventures made an $11 million investment in DDSports, parent company of ShotTracker. The new relationship between Evertz and ShotTracker tightens the bond between a traditional broadcast-technology manufacturer and a provider of real-time tracking data for basketball that could create some new opportunities for all involved.
“Combining ShotTracker sensor data and our DreamCatcher suite of products will enrich live productions, on-premises and cloud-based, for broadcasters, leagues, teams, and fans,” says Vince Silvestri, VP, software systems, Evertz. “We are excited to be working with the ShotTracker team to bring enhanced and personalized game experiences to fans everywhere.”ShotTracker co-founder/COO Davyeon Ross spoke with SVG about his company’s development over the years and the role it might play in sports broadcasting.
How did you start the company? What was the vision?
When we first started, my co-founder [former CEO Bruce Ianni] was shooting with his son in the backyard and thought, “Man, I’d love to keep track of his stats [when we practice].” Bruce knew I had a computer science and math degree and played in college. We started off thinking about the consumer model and how do we track stats for people in the backyard during their individual practice.
It was also at a time when basketball was really evolving and going through this phenomenon where everyone had trainers and people weren’t shooting as much in their backyards; they were going to the gym. Going to a gym with a formal trainer and a bunch of kids running drills was very far from when we grew up, where you just went outside and shot.
It took us about 14 months to get the product into the market, and we sold the first run of about 900 units out in a couple of weeks. And, as we started calling and talking to customers, we started to understand there was a bigger need to be able to track stats. Teams were taking our system, which was [made] for an individual, and putting it into team practice and tracking shot attempts. The problem was, they could tell you how the team did but couldn’t tell you how individuals performed.
How did you address that problem?
At that point in time, we started having discussions with coaches to get feedback and to understand the opportunities and desires in the marketplace. We just saw a pretty big opportunity in the market to be able to deploy this.
Division 1 schools literally have anywhere from five to 20 managers tracking stats in practice. Practice is a whole different animal, because you’ve got six hoops with 20 basketballs and 18 guys shooting. I mean, it’s pure chaos.
We figured out, if we can actually track a practice in real time, not only in the shooting drills but automating tracking statistics, then we would be in a really powerful position.
Why is automation important?
The aggregation of stats is still a manual process as it’s via software applications provided by Genius Sports or Sportradar or any of those sources. Sometimes it’s collected from watching TV. We want to bring some level of automation and scalability to this process.
It also brings objectivity. For example, you may have an editor who is not as focused on the game due to personal reasons. We have situations where players on a team are averaging 12 assists at home and three assists on the road. Makes you wonder which one of those stats is correct; it’s very subjective. ShotTracker provides a more scientific approach, as we automate this stat-collection process.
Alternative solutions include computer, but the processing power and speed aren’t there, and computer vision has its challenges. If you don’t see the ball, you don’’t know what’s going on. Currently, the ShotTracker system is able to track the player and ball within 2-4 cm because we originate the location versus inferring the locations. We can actually deliver data in real time in a format that would truly streamline the whole experience.
What about going beyond stats and analytics?
Right now, we’re actually utilizing the X, Y, and Z data to control broadcast cameras. We also integrate with graphics engines to bring the statistics to life. It has evolved into having a source of data, and now there are all these opportunities to enhance not only the experience for fans but the production experience from a remote perspective.
Today, broadcasters have to deal with so much given the current pandemic. Imagine sending trucks and crew ready for a game and then it gets canceled two hours before the game. With automation, you could set up cameras, control them with our data, and then run it back to a central location and truly streamline the remote process. That’s why we’re really excited about these opportunities.
Right now, your main focus is the college market. Can you explain how your system fits into the college workflow?
The ShotTracker system consist of three components. We have a sensor on the player that weighs about 6 grams and is placed in the uniform on the right shoulder. We have sensor-enabled basketballs across all basketball manufacturers, including Spalding, Wilson, Nike, and UA. We put sensors in the arenas [to create] a three-dimensional representation of the space. At that point, we can track the X, Y, and Z location of the players and ball within 2-4 cm, and we capture the data 120 times per second.
Our server pushes the data to the cloud, where all of our algorithms reside to output the box score or stats like touch time, number of passes, etc. We also have an API so our partners can access the data.
As for broadcasts, all our positional data can be used for live, in-game analysis. You can show spacing between defenders and ball movement and which brings context to conversation and storytelling that wouldn’t necessarily be seen by the untrained eye into the discussion.
Right, and the API allows that to be tied into whatever graphics system they are using.
Correct. We have all the APIs necessary, and we give them a sub-second feed of the X, Y, and Z data so that they can do it in a timely manner.
The move to automation is still in its early days. What’s your sense as to how much progress has been made and how much is still ahead?
There are broadcasters who have been preaching automation for the last three to five years, but COVID has been the differentiator in terms of motivation. With the decrease in staff, everyone needs to operate more efficiently. ShotTracker sensors would allow partners to control multiple cameras, including zoom and all the necessary actions. We are very excited about these opportunities, and there are many big initiatives in the near future.