How sports teams win big with data

The more data the coaches and players have, the more efficient they can become

More data: more win (Source: Bjorn Watland, Flickr)

More data: more win (Source: Bjorn Watland, Flickr)

Big Data is a huge buzz word in the business world and why should it be any different in sport? Big Data is changing the rules of the game and is providing athletes with the winning edge. Sporting coaches are discovering the winning advantages of collecting and deciphering data from matches, to create actionable items, all in real time. When coupled with effective data visualisation solutions that are easy to understand and interact with, big data can help with everything from scouting and player development, through to player evaluation and strategies for winning game play.

Sports have traditionally relied on statistics, however now sporting clubs are becoming increasingly open to the idea of improving their performance through analytics. After all, they have data everywhere: player statistics, media contracts, ticket and merchandise sales, as well as licensing deals. The best sports teams understand that even the smallest advantage over the competition can be the difference between first and second. It’s not surprising then that football codes such as the NRL and AFL are among the first sporting organisations to adopt integrated Big Data analytics. By using analytics software to combine performance and environmental data with training optimisation systems, sporting clubs are leaping ahead of their competition. The data gathered can even predict and manage injuries well before they occur, making Big Data invaluable to the welfare of players.

With access to accurate real-time data, coaches and players alike are set to benefit immensely. Coaches and scouts are provided with more accurate and efficient tools to determine ability, size and speed of players. They can track all factors of the athletes’ well-being including sleeping patterns of talented athletes, to then be able to identify commonalities and areas of enhancement. We know analytics give fundamental insights from recruiting and selling players to providing detailed analysis into player performance offering unmeasurable value. They allow constantly updated streams of information to be concisely illustrated in digestible interactive dashboards.

These days teams and managers make decisions and recruit upcoming superstars not just on intuition, but through using the data to inform and support difficult decisions at their fingertips. Long gone are the days where acquiring and selling players is a subjective exercise. Now it’s analytical too. After all, statistics don’t lie. Better use of data also means all of the hard work players and coaches put into planning and training is better supported, ensuring teams can work smarter rather than harder.

Collecting and accessing the data in real time offers the ability to correlate every conceivable game play or specific action with winning or losing so coaches can see how each one affects the result of the game (e.g. field position, how often other teams play an advantage, a specific kicker’s success rate and more). Collecting this data means players and coaches can start to ask more sophisticated questions and go deep into the ‘why’ faster and more intelligently without getting stuck on the ‘what’.

Data visualisations offer the ability to shrink performance review time by transforming large volumes of data into easily understood and constantly updated visualisations. They replace the guesswork and approximations of the past with actionable insights and performance predictions. They allow humans like you and me to make sense of data in a split second. Advanced interactive features enable the creation of dashboards that are designed for exploration and customisation. This is a powerful attribute, predominately because our human mind is engineered to consume information visually.

What’s more, the popularity of data-driven decision-making in sports has managed to filtrate down to the fans, who are consuming more analytical content than ever. Data analytics and visualisations appeal to sports fanatics because they are easy to understand, offer real-time stats, and give them the chance to feel more involved and knowledgeable. That said, it’s not just about gathering data and crunching the numbers on the players, to then have it conveyed easily to fans. It’s also about sports clubs having the ability to gather information on fans to make the game and experience better for them. Increasingly, sports fans are leveraging analytics through all forms of their sports consumption, from fantasy roster analysis to buying tickets.

Knowing consumers better in order to deliver more relevant digital content is a common theme across most brands globally, and sporting codes are no different. Sporting channels have over time, been able to create an at-home experience that’s on par with the stadium experience thanks to HD graphics and running commentary with a breakdown of the latest stats in visually-stimulating images. The networks have done such a good job, now the focus is on building the at-match experience up to be a better in-person experience.

Leading sporting codes have realised fans on the ground need to be exposed and in alignment with the same real-time data and analytics. They’re developing two-pronged business strategies which put the fans first and compete in a global space. We know data usage in arenas and stadiums shows an increase in consumption. Venues need to have free Wi-Fi available in sporting venues to improve the experience. With some sports facing diminishing numbers attending live games, teams, codes and sports officials are beginning to look at new ways to encourage fans to get off their couches and into the stadiums and arenas. Fans need to be enticed with all the benefits that come from watching sport from their lounge chair.

We see recent improvements at the Sydney Cricket Ground and Melbourne Cricket Ground, with $45 million spent on upgrade work that includes new screens, Wi-Fi and LEDs. Adelaide Oval also recently spent $580m spent on renovations. The fan experience is dramatically increased when sporting channels and data visuals are displayed on the big screen. Access to data visualisation software encourages fans to recreate the experience with simulations such as fantasy-sports vizzes.

Where to next? Well one thing is for certain, playing and watching sport will never be the same. As technology develops, wearables and smart technology are fast becoming the new frontier. With health tracking capabilities, wearable technology tracks each player’s position on the field, heart rate, sleep patterns and more. This data accurately affects and dictates game planning, player endurance and rest times. The AFL was a world pioneer in adopting wearable technology. Wearable tracking devices, worn during games and training offer an individualised data tracking facility which encourages sporting officials and players to delve more seriously into the power this data type can bring to stakeholders.

Sports analytics will continue to evolve and will naturally become more heavily relied on. Future teams need analytics that predict responsive behaviour. Imagine if Cricket Australia could scout the next Michael Clarke or the Socceroos the next Tim Cahill in terms of ability, mental state and passion before they’re even known to be a good player. It would save the team plenty of resources, time and money and they’d definitely reap the benefits and identify new opportunities.

Nigel Mendonca is Tableau Country Manager, ANZ

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Nigel Mendonca

PC World
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