Emerging Technologies


The Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament scores points and engages fans with an intelligent chatbot.

By Alan Zeichick

January/February 2019

Deuce. Advantage. Match point. What will happen next? Thrilling action—and the best players in the world—await tennis fans at the Mutua Madrid Open tournament each year. On the court, spectators watch players such as Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep battle for supremacy. Off the court, there’s MatchBot, an innovative chatbot that helps everyone book tickets, find stadium parking, share photographs on social media, and even order refreshments. Thanks to MatchBot, the Mutua Madrid Open tournament is a more inclusive, more interactive, and more engaging experience—and more profitable.

¿Hola, Cómo Puedo Ayudarte?

Tennis enthusiasts looking to attend a Mutua Madrid Open match have questions. Lots of questions. Questions about buying tickets. Questions about the best way to arrive at the stadium via car or public transit. Questions about which entrance to use, based on where the seats are. And more besides, says Javier Garcia, head of marketing for the Mutua Madrid Open.

Now they get answers from the MatchBot chatbot, which can converse in Spanish and English with customers using Facebook Messenger, Twitter, the tournament’s own mobile app, or the organization’s website.

Driven by Oracle Intelligent Bots, a key component of Oracle Autonomous Mobile Cloud Enterprise, MatchBot uses natural-language technology to understand the questions, determine the customer’s intent, find the answer, and present the results back to the customer in conversational English—or more often, given the venue, conversational Spanish. So, if you text “Hola” to the chatbot, MatchBot will respond, “¿Cómo puedo ayudarte?” If you text “Hello,” the chatbot will say, “How can I help you?”

Take food. “Can I eat burgers? Can I take the meal to my seat?” The Mutua Madrid Open drew from multiple scenarios regarding food and beverages as well as prices, locations, scheduling, and the like before launching the chatbot, says Garcia. In some cases, answers to the hundreds of resulting questions were fairly predictable, such as those regarding policies for bringing in outside food. Others were data-driven, letting fans know when their favorite players would be on court. And still others required interaction with transactions systems, such as to let fans reserve seats for, say, tomorrow’s matches featuring Nadal, Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Alexander Zverev, or Serena Williams, who won the women’s singles at the Mutua Madrid Open in 2012 and 2013.

The Mutua Madrid Open is not only a good sporting event but also a social event and an innovative event. It’s mandatory to always look for new technologies we can bring to the customers . . . to give the best experience. ” —Javier Garcia, Head of Marketing, Mutua Madrid Open

Why a chatbot? The Mutua Madrid Open is known as being on the cutting edge of technology and customer service, says Garcia, and MatchBot helps bolster that reputation. “We are already in the top of mind of the customers. The Mutua Madrid Open is not only a good sporting event but also a social event and an innovative event,” he says.

Innovation is a real driver, explains Garcia: “It’s mandatory to always look for new technologies we can bring to the customers in order to be more proactive with them and also to give the best experience.”

“Always we want to attract people to say, ‘You can’t believe the experience we have going to the Mutua Madrid Open,’” Garcia says. “Not only tennis. It’s social. It’s family. It’s technology. It’s innovation. It’s fun.”

MatchBot was initially designed to simplify the process of buying tickets, explains Garcia. “We have 16 sessions per day, with 10 days of tournament. Three categories of tickets. Four locations in the center court, the sides, and the back. Once you know that you want to go to the Mutua Madrid Open, you have a complex process to buy a ticket. So the idea for the chatbot was to simplify the ticketing process as much as we can.”

Ten Days of Tennis and Fan Cams

MatchBot debuted in 2018, and in the first year, 28,000 individual customers had nearly 60,000 text conversations with the chatbot. They also took 68,000 pictures, using a series of “fan cam” cameras that interact, using MatchBot and the tournament’s mobile app, says Garcia. The customer-controlled fan cam system, launched in 2015, is now integrated into the chatbot functionality.

“I call it the Selfie 3.0,” Garcia explains. “We set eight cameras in the catwalk of the main stadium of the center court. With our app, you can choose where you are seated, so if you’re seated in row 16, seats 2 and 3, you can tell the cameras, ‘Three, two, one.’ When the countdown finishes, you will receive on your cell phone the picture in a frame that could be sponsored by any brand.”

The business payoff: social media, says Garcia. “The only way people have to conserve the picture is by sharing it on the social networks. With this technology we had the first year, we had close to three million impressions on the social networks.”

Let’s Talk Tennis

The next Mutua Madrid Open, scheduled for May 4 to 13, 2019, will feature tennis stars including Rafael Nadal, Garbiñe Muguruza, Novak Djokovic, Simona Halep, Alexander Zverev, Petra Kvitova, Siri, and Alexa. Well, the last two are part of Garcia’s plan to expand the MatchBot with communications channels beyond texting.

“I want to introduce voice recognition—that’s my goal for 2019,” says Garcia. “I want to use both Siri and Alexa to help my customers with information from MatchBot. That’s what we are working on already.”

Mutua Madrid Open Head of Marketing Javier Garcia“I want to introduce voice recognition—that’s my goal for 2019,” says Mutua Madrid Open Head of Marketing Javier Garcia. “I want to use both Siri and Alexa to help my customers with information from MatchBot.”

Voice recognition “will be the big challenge for this year, and we want to add to MatchBot all the things that people can find on our website,” adds Garcia. For some things in 2018, he says, customers still had to use the tournament website or the mobile app. That is not good enough, Garcia insists. “We want to add all these things to the chatbot directly. I want to do everything by the chatbot.”

The Oracle bot platform underpinning MatchBot not only provides the interfaces to text and voice channels such as Twitter and Siri but also incorporates the AI engine used for natural-language processing. Embedded machine learning helps the chatbot improve its performance by learning from customer interactions, and the bot can also tie into databases and user experience systems. Each day, MatchBot is asked new questions and finds new answers by using its databases; when it doesn’t know the answer intrinsically, the human team behind the Mutua Madrid Open provides the responses—and MatchBot knows how to respond the next time that same question arises.

Real-time processing, database access, and mapping provide much of the power behind MatchBot, enabling the chatbot to help tennis fans find their seats; buy tickets to see their favorite players in an ever-changing schedule; and even engage in ecommerce, using a bilingual natural-language interface from every phone—and, soon, from every smart speaker.

Beating all comers with fast footwork and a devastating ground stroke: That’s Nadal’s passion. Delivering an innovative customer experience before, during, and after a major sporting event: That’s MatchBot’s skill. Advantage!

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Photography by Adam Lubroth/Getty Images