The Connected Fan: MLB’s San Francisco Giants are Using AI to Mobilize Their Rich Archive

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Being a fan isn’t limited to the hours a team plays a game, or the months that make up a season. Fans today look to digital channels at any hour, in any season, to access the latest news, highlights, podcasts and other related content about their favorite sports teams.

This insatiable appetite has spawned an endless stream of news coverage and sports chatter. The teams themselves require digital solutions to keep up with the flow of content, if they are ever to capitalize on these additional streams of attention.

Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants are building out another resource to tap, using AI to help organize their growing digital archive. The process of converting boxes of old videotape and film reels into content that can be distributed over the web is labor-intensive, with little gain if someone hasn’t watched all the footage and properly tagged it.

An AI-powered solution by Veritone, called aiWARE, uses visual recognition to add superhuman organization and access over the archive.

The process of gaining access to the Giants’ rich history in a 21st-century way still requires dedicated human labor. Several years ago, the Giants hired data storage specialists Iron Mountain to begin converting the store of video content to digital.

Brad Martens, media systems and workflow manager at the Giants, was tasked with monitoring the converted footage as it came in from Iron Mountain. Currently, about half of the total archive is digitized. According to Martens, the process has already uncovered film footage gems like the 1935 World Series (the history extends back to before the Giants moved from New York to San Francisco, 60 years ago).

According to Martens, the archive also holds shining examples of impromptu conversations between legends in its treasure trove. He mentioned a discussion from the 1970s that featured Hall of Fame hitters Pete Rose, Willie Mays, Stan Musial and Harmon Killebrew all talking about their batting techniques.

Paul Hodges, VP of San Francisco Giants Productions, told me the organization had nearly 17,000 video assets in their archives. He estimated that it would take 13 people working 40 hours per week a total of a year in order view every asset and tag it.

“The tape legacy project was a great opportunity to leverage and use an AI vendor to solve a problem by logging and tagging the archive,” Hodges said. “If we hadn’t had that project [to covert the videos], it would have been a harder sell to executive management.”

The Giants wanted to revitalize their historical content. A solution to help with this project became the source of an entirely new capability – piping the history out in a timely way to currents fans.

Tagging actionable content with AI

Veritone’s aiWARE technology uses visual recognition to identify and tag related in-game elements like home runs. This content can be made available for big-screen presentations during a game, for instance to celebrate a home run shot in a current game.

One goal for the organization is to use the content to continue the celebration the teams 60 yearsin San Francisco, which began with last year’s anniversary season.

The Giants are also using aiWARE to process metadata from insert papers, handwritten labels on the tapes and pictures of the assets. This can help prioritize which assets to move up in the queue for digitization at Iron Mountain.

For instance, one old tape had “Good Will” written on it. The team raced to this asset in order to determine if it was related to Will Clark, the Giants star from the 80s and 90s. It turned out, instead, that the tape covered a promotion with the nonprofit organization Goodwill Industries.

With all the assets tagged so far, the Giants can pull up vintage footage to accompany the many events, planned and impromptu, that occur during a season with such a storied franchise. Highlight reels have been produced for retired players who visit the stadium, and for entire team reunions, like the National League champion ‘89 team.

When manager Bruce Bochy confirmed he was retiring from baseball at the end of this season, the organization had clips ready.

Veritone’s President Ryan Steelberg told me that more teams are taking advantage of this technology to activate and monetize their archives, counting CBS News, the U.S. Open tennis tournament and the PAC Conference as key clients.

“These properties have a huge pool of untapped opportunities that can be created if we use our AI across the very large, rich archive,” Steelberg said.

Efficiently tagging the archives with metadata provides repeatable opportunities, breaking through data silos and streamlining the workflows “depending on what the media content genesis was,” he explained.

For instance, if AI can recognize and tag any player interview or play with a particular brand logo in the background, that footage can be used for current or future advertising opportunities for legacy brands still in existence.

“Veritone sits on top of data silos so we can digest it, which allows users to interface with the virtualization layer and ingest footage that the AI sifts through and indexes,” Steelberg stated.

Now fans can be reached anywhere with this content, including across social media. Marketing teams can control the distribution using Veritone’s simplified workflow, which doesn’t require any coding.

“The San Francisco Giants started with a clear agenda,” said Steelberg. “Ultimately, they wanted to have all their content actionable, so that it can be packaged for fans as quickly as possible.”

Content past and future

For the Giants, access to their archive has helped fans to cheer and also to mourn. In the last year, the organization has observed the passing of owner Peter Magowan and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.

Brad Martens told me that with the 1989 team reunion, the team leveraged old content with multiple advertising partners.

The team is using speech-to-text along with visual recognition.

“Our purpose there,” Martens said, “is that we have a subject we want to find throughout the history of the vault we’d be able to find them through the spoken word or face in the platform. That’s our immediate goal: get all content, have it tagged and have transcripts available.”

Paul Hodges cited the BMW Super Bowl ad for the i3 as something similar to what his team will be able to do in the future. That ad used a vintage clip of the Today Show, humorously showing hosts Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric confused by the Internet.

“It’s cool to me how that moment must have happened,” Hodges said. “Someone had to find that clip and tie the brand to it.”

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