Acquisition of Beyond Sports Enables Sony to Offer End-to-End Options to Customers for Player Data Opportunities

Beyond Sports will bring its artificial intelligence data visualization capabilities to create simulations for Sony’s expanding sports business.Courtesy of Beyond Sports

Sony has reached an agreement to acquire Beyond Sports, an AI-powered data visualization company specializing in fan engagement. The Dutch tech company will join optical tracking provider Hawk-Eye and digital media platform Pulselive among Sony’s sports activities.

Beyond Sports can use player tracking data to create photorealistic simulations – some of which are used by professional sports clubs – but it has developed a particular niche in rendering graphical representations targeting young fans.

For example, Beyond Sports has hosted highlights during the Nickelodeon broadcast of generic NFL games for the past two seasons; this is how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles recreated precise formations and player movements. Beyond Sports also created blocky cartoons during the NHL playoff games last June.

“We strongly believe that we are experiencing a unique shift in the way fans consume sports content, and there is a lot of shifting from this passive, angled viewing experience to much more advanced, interactive and immersive experiences” “And we believe Beyond Sports is at the forefront of some of these contextual trends and has the tools and technology to help the world’s leading sports rights holders – our customers,” said Rufus Hack, Sony’s Sports Operations CEO. – to think about how they can create new business opportunities and also try new ways to engage with fans.

Sony already works with 23 of the top 25 global sports rights holders, Hack said, and those trusted relationships have led to conversations about the next frontier of content creation. Around the same time, Beyond Sports co-founders Sander Schouten and Nicolaas Westerhof independently penned a short list of companies they could take their own business further with.

“The ink wasn’t even dry,” Schouten said, when Sony – one of the names on this list – reached out with interest.

“I think it all starts with knowing who you are, what you’re good at, and what you’re good at,” said CEO Schouten. Westerhof, the technical director, added: “We think that with our technology it would be better for us, and we would be really good to be part of something much bigger.”

Beyond Sports sits in the middle of this sports media ecosystem, ingesting tracking data (like Hawk-Eye’s), dreaming up a new experience, and then releasing it through another platform (like Pulselive’s). Sony now offers an end-to-end solution for this workflow, allowing leagues, federations and broadcasters to do one-stop shopping for partners.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed except that Sony purchased 100% of Beyond Sports shares. Beyond Sports will remain data independent and will still be compatible with other data tracking systems.

“I fundamentally believe there is a mismatch between the supply and demand of sports among the younger generation,” Hack added. “I don’t believe that the younger generation cares less about sport than we do or our parents. And just don’t think that we, as an industry, have delivered sport the way they want to consume sport.

Schouten worked in video streaming and Westerhof was a video analyst for Dutch football powerhouse Ajax before launching Beyond Sports in 2014. With feedback from the Netherlands National Federation, they began creating virtual worlds for the tactical analysis before recognizing the product’s appeal to consumers.

Beyond Sports has its roots in immersive worlds and can create compelling 3D tricks in AR and VR, but is not limited to these mediums. Its representations can be viewed on smartphones or websites or infused into digital worlds like, say, Roblox or a game on Sony PlayStation.

In the Netherlands, Beyond Sports powers the Gameface application which allows interactive streaming of Eredivisie matches. Fans can customize the features: replace players with cartoons, recreate the game on Mars, even superimpose their own face on an athlete. When a Brazilian player scored a goal, the highlight was unavailable in his native country, but a recreation rendered in Gameface has been viewed over 300,000 times on social media.

“It was like a revelation for the league here saying, ‘Wow, we’re actually getting eyeballs from Brazil now even though we don’t have broadcast rights sold to that country,'” Schouten said. “People make their own music videos and [executives] can actually see what they like or dislike, and that behavior becomes really important because that’s the new generation that they’re tapping into, that a lot of leagues are struggling to keep with them or engage with them first.

Hack acknowledged that Sony had failed to maximize the commercial potential of its raw material, tracking data. The technology has been enhanced to detect 29 points on the body, including limb movement and head direction, fueling new opportunities for Beyond Sports to capture the emotions and other intricacies of athletes.

“Hawk-Eye is in a prime position where we effectively collect tracking data at a lot of the biggest sporting events in the world, but actually we haven’t done much downstream with that data in terms of production. to create value”, Hack added. “Beyond Sports are incredibly complementary” in producing engaging content for fans and brands.

Just as Sony Pictures, Sony Music and Sony Interactive Entertainment (including PlayStation) are all multi-billion dollar subsidiaries, sports activities could be the parent company’s next accelerator.

“Sony has big ambitions in sports,” Hack said, adding, “Sports has been identified as one of those entertainment genres where, at the moment, we have amazing businesses in Hawk-Eye and Pulselive, but not at that scale. And so we’re very interested in trying to drive growth through acquisition as well as organic growth across the Sony family to achieve greater scale, and Beyond Sports is almost the first step on that step.

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