Mark: Good morning Ruben Herrera – a pleasure to have you speaking on our blog today… Please introduce yourself and tell our readers about your career in tennis.
Ruben: Firstly, thanks a lot for the opportunity to chat and share some thoughts that may be interesting and useful for the SportsProsConnect
To tell you a bit about myself, I’m a former NCAA Division 1 student-athlete with a Bachelor’s in Public Relations and an MBA from Jacksonville State University—an incredible experience. In my professional career, I’ve been fortunate to hold various roles in different industries, expanding my understanding of business and the world. Initially, I delved into the corporate world, gaining experience in sales and marketing. While in the USA, I also ventured into education at an elementary school.
Upon returning to Venezuela, my home country, I entered the advertising industry. Subsequently, with two friends, I co-founded a tennis company focusing on tournaments, clinics, and exhibitions. This experience crystallized my passion for the sports industry. Together with my former teammate Rodney Rapson, we initiated several projects in Germany, including a boutique tennis school (BASE Tennis), a sports tech company (BASE Edge), and media projects (Exo Sports Management).
For the last decade, I’ve been deeply involved in the sports tech space. It’s been a lengthy introduction, but I wanted to provide your audience with some background.
Mark: Thanks very much, Ruben. Today we are here to talk about Technology in Tennis. Please tell us where you think tennis is as a sport compared to other sports in terms of technology.
Ruben: This is challenging to pinpoint. I believe tennis is still lagging behind major global sports. To provide some perspective, KitmanLabs reports that we currently collect 2.5 million data points per athlete today, projected to increase to around 230 million data points by 2030. The fragmented nature of our sport and scattered resources play a role, requiring us to catch up.
Consider this: teams like the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys, along with their respective leagues, have access to almost everything they need. This benefits everyone involved. Moreover, MLB or NFL players personally earn substantial incomes, which they can reinvest in technology, elevating the entire game. Tennis tells a different tale, emphasizing the term “fragmented.” With fragmented tours, ITF, the four Grand Slams, and being an individual sport, the technology is accessible to everyone, but aligning everyone becomes more challenging. Consequently, its spread is not as extensive as in other sports. Ironically, tennis boasts approximately 1 billion fans globally. However, I am optimistic that we are steering towards change in a different direction.
Technology is becoming more accessible, affordable, and simply better.
Please tell us about your involvement in tennis technology and where your expertise lays?
It started in 2014 when we started BASE Edge. We were the first smart club in Europe for PlaySight
with all 5 courts equipped with their ProSystem. We positioned ourselves at the forefront of academies in Europe. It changed it all for us. It led to building a network in Europe. I was in charge of helping federations, clubs, and academies implement the systems. I learned a lot about choosing, integrating, and optimizing tech tools. Other companies like Babolat
let us have early picks of their Play Tennis Sensor. All of a sudden, companies like Slinger
(part of Connexa Sports
) got us involved as well. We did ExoTennis
and helped DTB
broadcast the Bundesliga where we learned about media and data rights.
Now, I’m involved as a consultant with Inspiretek
in the health tech space and NextEdge Sport
in the sports tech space. I get the opportunity to assess products and services, give feedback, and then build Go-To-Market Strategies and Strategic Partnerships. I’ve been in the market, I’ve built the business and I’ve knowledge of how people adopt tech, so it is lots of fun for me.
There are many different types of tennis technology these days… AI, Analytics, Wearables, Hawk Eye, Court Booking Systems to name a few… In the coming years where do you see the growth in technology coming from?
This is a really good question.
In terms of market share, there is no comparison. Media and data rights are still king. I’m excited about the future of OTT platforms and streaming services. The accessibility to high-quality cameras (4K), internet speed (5G and fiberglass), and AI are making it easier. You see better production, real-time stats, and remote commentators to name a few. The fans will have a lot more options.
The Challenger and Future-level events are profiting from it, and the German Tennis Bundesliga
is a different example. More and more leagues and competitions will offer a better product and a better experience. Look for what Pixellot
, and PlaySight do in this space.
It brings me to my second point. Data rights are fast and secure and provide a better and safer experience for the fans. Tennis is doing a better job of keeping our sport safe for everyone, including the athletes. Follow what Tennis Data Innovations
, together with the big ones SportsRadar
, IMG ARENA
, Genius Sports
, and Stats Perform
do in the space.
For the club player is getting a lot more fun too! SwingVision and Armbeep are making coaching more accessible. Wingfield is helping with grassroots and keeping integrity in tennis matches. We are talking about 87 million tennis players here!
My last call is to watch out for AI and Blockchain technology. They’ll be more and more integrated in the products and services you use every day. On that note, check out what the ATP Tour did in Torino with Artchild Polygon Labs. Unreal!
How much should tennis learn from other sports such as cricket, football, and rugby when it comes to officiating the game?
This is a leading question, and the answer is simple: we should learn a lot! One of the main barriers to tennis is cheating. At the pro level, I think we are doing great. Hawk-Eye, umpires, and officials seem to have it under control. At the grassroots level, that is another story. Again, Wingfield is trying to close that gap. It’s not only cameras but also sensors on courts that could make it more accessible.
This is a heated topic. We need to be better at the club level in educating our players.
A trend I’ve seen is venues that hold many events are equipping themselves to support this aspect. That is a good step.
The costs are still too high and the market says it wants it, but isn’t ready to pay for it. It will take a while until we provide a better experience in this area.
Analytics are also crucial, especially in professional sports, how do you rate the analytics programmes that are currently out there now?
I’ve mixed feelings on this topic. On one side, I love real-time stats, changing by the play at the top level. You see in changes of events coaches interact with players with both subjective and objective information. That’s fun!
On the other one, I’m disappointed because they don’t tell you a story, which we love! They also require the fan to have a good solid knowledge of the game. Yes, it makes you an insider, but it doesn’t grow the sport. It isn’t engaging enough to keep you in front of the screen for minutes, forget hours.
I feel confident that the WTA Tour, StatsPerform, and SAP combo or the ATP Tour, SportsRadar, and Infosys are elevating the game and will continue to do so.
Mark, we’re collecting so much data that soon won’t be just not about match analytics. It will be about biometrics and real-time interaction via screens (or VR/AR) between players and fans. The fact is, no one knows because at the pace we’re moving is hard to predict. All we know is that whoever can look best after all their stakeholders and grow their sport, will be ahead of the game. I love tennis, and I’m cheering for the people responsible to drive it forward to guide us in the right direction!
Finally, the 2024 season is just around the corner, what are your tips for the grand slams in the coming year?
Oh goodness, here we go:
Australian Open: Aryna Sabalenka & Novak Djokovic
Roland Garros: Iga Swiatek & Casper Ruud
Wimbledon: Ons Jabeur & Novak Djokovic
US Open: Aryna Sabalenka & Daniil Medvedev