A few weeks ago, I watched part of the EA Sports FC 24 announcement video with my son. The CEO of Electronic Arts mentioned something that anyone who’s been paying attention already knows: games like FIFA (of which EA Sports FC is the spiritual successor) has transformed football.
There’s a symbiotic link between how people play football and how people play football video games. What’s less easy to spot is how talent is identified, nurtured, and shaped. That’s where articles like this one about AI in the behind-the-scenes processes comes in.
As someone with two very sporty kids, and one of whom is potentially on a pathway to professional football, this is fascinating to me.
There's no doubt that professional sports have been primed for the potential impact of artificial intelligence. Innovations have the potential to transform the way we consume and analyze games from both an administrative and fan standpoint. For soccer specifically, there are opportunities for live game analytics, match outcome modeling, ball tracking, player recruitment, and even injury predicting — the opportunities are seemingly endless.
Luis Cortell, senior recruiting coach for men’s soccer for NCSA College Recruiting, is a little less bullish, but still believes AI can be an asset. “Right now, soccer involves more of a feel for the player, and an understanding of the game, and there aren’t any success metrics for college performance," he said. “While AI won’t fully fill that gap, there is an opportunity to help provide additional context.”
At the same time, people in the industry should be wary of idealizing AI as a godsend. “People expect AI to be amazing, to not make errors or if it makes errors, it makes errors rarely,” Shapiro said. The fact is, predictive models will always make mistakes but both researchers and investors alike want to make sure that AI innovations in the space can make “fewer errors and less expensive errors” than the ones made by human beings.
The MLS said in a statement that ai.io’s technology “eliminates barriers like cost, geography and time commitment that traditionally limit the accessibility of talent discovery programs.” Felton-Thomas said it is more important to understand that ai.io will “democratize” the recruiting process for the MLS, ensuring physical skills are the most important metric when leagues and clubs are deciding where to invest their money. “What we’re looking to do is give the clubs a higher confidence level when they’re making these decisions on who to sign and who to watch.” By implementing the AI-powered app, recruitment timelines are also expected to be cut.