Big Data and Sport – Delving Deeper into the Statistics
Over the last few years, data has grown in importance, becoming vital in many different sports.
Professional sport is now a world where everyone at the top has access to the latest equipment, scientific knowledge and tactical expertise. And because of the pressures of the world these days, it’s imperative for teams and athletes to grab any marginal gains they can.
Ken Fuchs is the CEO of STATS, a sports technology, data and content company, something that’s been incredibly relevant to the sporting world for the last decade and more, but will only become more important to the future of the industry. In-game statistics are vital not just to athletes’ progress on the field, but also to fan enjoyment and understanding of the sport they’re watching in front of them.
Fuchs chatted about data to Dan McLaren on the Digital Sport Insiders podcast this week, and touched on some interesting points about what makes for good statistics. Not every stat is as interesting as it sounds, and just piling up a mound of statistics won’t give you the greatest understanding of what actually happened unless you add context.
Technology like the types that STATS are using can help, though. Things like special optical camera rays and placing wearable sensors on players can help us to collect even more data to piece together even more information about what’s actually happening. “That allows us suddenly to say ‘we’re not just collecting goals and assists and crosses, we’re collecting every XY co-ordinate of a player, every second of every game, every touch, every position of the ball 25 times a second – and you’re going from hundreds of thousands to millions of data points for every single game,” Fuchs said, speaking on the podcast.
“But it’s meaningless information unless you match that with data science and machine learning on the output, which then takes that data and turns it into something that you can actually do something with. And that’s really the shift for STATS. We’ve always been very good at collecting data and processing it, storing it, enriching it, distributing it as feeds to Google and Apple… and all these other companies. But now what we’re doing is taking that asset, which is really a goldmine, of having in some cases hundreds of years of data points and being able to push it through a data science team and a data platform that can understand all that information in ways you couldn’t four or five years ago.”
That’s the scale of the sort of big data that is helping to transform sport, especially at the elite levels. Clubs can get hold of data for every second of the game, monitoring their player’s touch and the movement of the ball, as well as just the number of goals, assists and passes they made. But having a massive backlog of data means you need to do something with it in order to interpret what you’re seeing. You have to develop some sort of system to process the big data you’ve collected, and when you do, you get big possibilities.
“The output is intelligence that tells you what that data means. If you have every variant of what could potentially happen in a game then you could say what’s likely to happen next,” says Fuchs.
“You could look at every time you’ve run a certain player, certain set or a certain style, and the outcome of that, from every variable from whenever to whenever, and then we can start to make recommendations and predictions and things. And to do that, you need a number of things. You need access to the data, you need strong data science team… you need great developers and a vision of what you’re going to do with that information.”
The uses for sport are huge, though. From elite clubs, to broadcasters seeking to enhance their coverage and the fans at home looking for a better understanding. Even the engaged fantasy football coach needs to be able to delve deeper to understand the data they’re basing their decisions on.
“It’s incredibly powerful, it’s disrupting every industry from self-driving cars to sport,” says Fuchs, in what is only a snippet of the full conversation – make sure you listen to the podcast here.
You might also like
Arsenal v Manchester City was the biggest match of the weekend – and it thrust social media into the spotlight afterwards.
The Premier League is back – but according to the numbers, who had the best weekend on social media?