By Seo Jeong-yun and Sunny Um WIRED Korea
What would it be like to turn each moment of a soccer game into digital data for analyses, as in the game Football Manager? In Football Manager, a game player uses such data in seeking an optimal formation for a match and in deciding whether or not to replace a character with another and change tactics in the second half.
Bepro11 has turned Football Manager into a reality, providing 700 teams in 13 countries with the real-time data of each of their matches. Based in Hamburg, Germany, the startup for soccer match analyses uses three fixed cameras, whose separate feeds merged into a seamless one, which can be split into video clips for analyses.
Among the 700 Bepro11 clients are leading team members of the Bundesliga, La Liga and the English Premier League, says founder Lewis Kang, who declines to name the teams for contractual reasons.
Securing those teams as its clients is no small achievement. Still better, investors are seeing a potential for further growth, as is confirmed when the company has recently secured $10 million in funding. The investors are Altos Ventures, Saehan Ventures, SoftBank Ventures, Springcamp and Miraeasset Ventures.
Yet, the Korean-born sports entrepreneur’s dream has not been fully fulfilled. Kang says in a video interview with WIRED Korea that he would like to see his company’s cameras installed in all soccer stadiums in the world and his artificial intelligence-powered analytical platform being available for basketball, hockey and other sports, in addition to soccer.
Betting on Europe
Starting a business was not among Kang’s priority goals when he studied social sciences education at the prestigious Seoul National University. But he laid the foundation for his sports entrepreneurship when he joined a campus fraternity for computer programming led by one of his friends.
When he was writing a program for soccer analyses, he thought he was doing it for what was little better than a hobby. But it proved to be useful for his business, though he says, "I did not think of starting a business with it."
Hindsight also shows that playing soccer for one of the 20 teams at the university was of much help. After each match, he used to put the performance of his team and its members into an Excel program manually. When he thought there should be a better way to keep records, he started to work on an analytical program on the computer.
"I thought it would be great if each player of our team put his own data into an app for the integrated management of the team’s performance,” he said. “I came up with such an app after working on the idea several months."
Amateur teams of other universities, which knew of the app through word of mouth and social media, asked for its copies. Its popularity prompted him to consider the commercial viability of developing such an app for professional teams.
"I thought at the time that I had to make a decision," Kang says. Torn between being satisfied only with a college-level app and taking the risk of developing and marketing one for professional teams, he decided to take a litmus test of developing a more sophisticated one and running it on a team of young players.
The test proved to be successful, which made him work in earnest on a program for service to professional teams. This signaled the impending birth of Bepro11 as both an app and a sports business.
He decided to start a sports business in Europe with the use of an analytical platform that uses artificial intelligence to track each of the soccer players, show his shots, passes or take-ons in video clips for instant analyses and examine spacial changes and match situations.
"The largest soccer market is in Europe," Kang says. "If Bepro11 cannot survive in Europe, it does not make any sense for me to continue this business."
Why starting in Germany, but not in Britain? It was simply because one of his close friends was working with a Hamburg-based sports-marketing company, who is now Bepro11’s director for global business. For Kang, he arranged meetings with influential people in Germany’s professional soccer community.
Kang visited Germany on a fact-finding mission in November 2016. Before visiting Germany again in February 2017 for startup incorporation, Kang and his team had a three-month period of being immersed in revamping the Bepro11 app. He says the German feedback on his earlier Bepro11 version he had received during his earlier visit was of great help in improving the app.
Analyzing Performances in Real Time
What Bepro11 needs to do first for its service is to install three high-definition cameras on the ground and a microphone in the stadium or on the ground. The three separate video feeds from the cameras into the server are merged into a seamless video cast in a process of 3D video stitching. In recording a game, another technology of object tracking is used to follow the tracks of the players, with their back numbers serving as tags, and the ball on the move.
The video stitching and object tracking technologies make it possible to show with little delay how many kilometers a player ran and how fast his sprints were. They also make it possible to provide information on his successful passes, effective shoots and dribbles.
The team manager may analyze the performance of a player in detail, with the Bepro11 Editor editing important moments of the game into video clips. He may share them with the coaching staff and players.
"Data, when provided with a video clip, gives a better picture of what is happening in the pitch,” Kang says. “It tells what the play is exactly like."
In addition, Bepro11’s 3D Video Player makes it possible for the coaching staff to analyze a game in real time on the company’s website or mobile app. It is also possible for the coaching staff to exchange opinions on the tablets in real time.
Video: Future of All Sports
Kang believes that the future of all sports lies in video analyses. He says, "I would like to install cameras in all sporting arenas for analyses."
Before extending his company’s service to basketball, handball, baseball and other games, he is planning to make his company’s data on individual soccer players available in the market of free agents.
Bepro11 runs four game-analyzing stations, staffed by professional analysts, all of them selected through a rigorous process. In addition to providing its post-game reviews for the company’s 700 clients around the world in less than 12 hours, it archives data on each of their players its servers for future use.
The article written by Seo Jeong-yun and Sunny Um in the Korean language is found at 분데스리가에 진출한 한국 AI 플랫폼 '비프로11'