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The high-pressure sport of professional cycling is increasingly reliant on technology and innovation, but the relationship between racing and data in the sport is, in many ways, a nascent partnership.
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This trend is confirmed by Laurence Schirrecker, director of global cycling production at Eurosport, whose firm is using a novel combination of technology and information to develop immersive viewing experiences for sports fans across a range of platforms.
Speaking to Computer Weekly at the final stage of the Grand Tour cycling event La Vuelta in Madrid, Schirrecker said the use of technology is already paying significant dividends – and there is more to come.
“Cycling is at the beginning of its relationship with technology – it’s a conservative sport that hasn’t changed very much,” she said. “Our aim is to give viewers access to new kinds of data and to explain what it means.”
Eurosport is meeting this objective by developing what Schirrecker refers to as a “second-screen app experience”. With the help of technology specialist CA, the firm has created a Live Map function in its mobile app that allows sports fans to use their phones to track the peloton during cycling’s three Grand Tours. Schirrecker said smart use of data provides an intriguing insight.
“Each cycling team chooses which rider will push at a certain moment to achieve the best possible outcomes for the team,” she said. “Access to that data is fascinating, but you need to put it into context. CA helped us build Live Map to gather the data and present it in an interesting way.”
Eurosport’s Live Map relies on two key tools: CA API Management and CA App Experience Analytics. Across both mobile and web apps, CA API Management supports the integration and live feed of the rider data into Eurosport’s new interactive map.
CA App Experience Analytics, meanwhile, provides Eurosport with insights that are used to optimise app design, navigation and flow.
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The Live Map function in the Eurosport app provides real-time rider GPS and biometric data, such as altitude, speed, power, cadence and heart rate. Schirrecker said there are huge benefits from being able to use this information in context and explain how the race is unfolding.
“GPS data allows a viewer to select a specific rider and see where each rider is in the race, especially those who aren’t leading,” she said. “The biological data, such as cadence and power, is linked to the profile of the course, and we show how performance varies depending on the physical layout of the course. We can use that information, for example, to show viewers the pace that the peloton will need to reach to catch the race leader.”
While the potential benefits of data use are significant, Schirrecker recognises that much of the information in the sport is sensitive and governance is a significant challenge. Political complications mean it is sometimes difficult to create agreements about the use of technology and data across the professional cycling teams, the race organisers and the world governing body, Union Cycliste Internationale.
“Everyone has their own interests and it’s crucial to recognise that access to data can provide a competitive advantage,” said Schirrecker. “When it comes to the use of technology in cycling, we’re at the beginning – it’s like moving forwards in small steps. Data is key to the future coverage of the sport, yet we also need to be careful with regards to the information we use.”
“As a media firm, you want to explain more to your consumers, but you don’t want to forget the emotion, passion and suffering,” she said. “You must find a good balance – you don’t want to transform sport through mathematics. Cycling is an experience and people want to see a show.”
Moving forwards quickly
The good news, according to Schirrecker, is that people at the top of the sport are seeing how the careful use of data is enhancing the sporting spectacle.
“The teams understand that cycling needs to evolve, and they also see it as an additional source of revenue. Giving access to data, and on-board cameras, is a way to generate more money,” she said.
Fans are also enjoying the opportunity to gain further insight on rider performance. Eurosport boasts about 60 million television viewers globally. Schirrecker estimates about a quarter of those individuals – or 15 million viewers – used the Live Map during 2017’s Tour de France. Eurosport is also using the new tools as part of its on-air TV coverage as the firm attempts to give viewers deeper analysis than ever before.
Schirrecker said the innovative use of data continues to transform how sports fans consume content. Evidence suggests more and more people, particularly the younger generation, watch television digitally, rather than via traditional television sets. Schirrecker recognises the growing move online and said digital developments, like Eurosport’s Live Map, help demonstrate the level of change.
“I don’t think about digital TV or apps – I just think about screens,” she said. “The barrier between linear TV experience and digital is almost broken. But that doesn’t mean TV is going to disappear. It still has a bright future, especially if you think about live sport – you still need to watch it as it happens.
“Live Map provides a perfect addition to the traditional TV experience. You can see and know exactly what happens with every rider during the race.”
The firm has already announced it is set to include additional digital and short-form cycling content, incorporating new data streams, in its Eurosport app and mobile web products. This content will include stage previews and reviews, analysis of key moments, and short features explaining technical elements in the sport.
Further improvements are planned, and Schirrecker said Eurosport is keen to use Live Map across other races and activities. “It’s something we’re going to continue developing,” she said. “The next step would be to extract more data and have a coach or former rider to provide deep explanations on what the information means.”