The evolution of sports data: Going beyond a ‘feeling’

by Christian Holzer, Managing Director at Sportec Solutions

How has the collection of sports data changed? How does its application feed into decision making? And what’s next for the industry?

Sportspeople and sports teams analysing games to try and gain an advantage over their opponents is nothing new. Since TV was invented, coaches have studied tapes of their own team’s performance and assessed their future opponents’ weaknesses.

But over the last few years, the depth of information available to sports teams – whether that is coaches, players, medical staff or recruitment – has been revolutionary, and has heralded a new era of sports data collection and implementation. What’s more, this data has helped broadcasters, journalists, businesses, and fans attain greater insight into what is truly happening with the games they report on and enjoy.

Our ground-breaking work at Sportec Solutions – a joint venture between DFL group and Deltatre headquartered in Cologne – means we are responsible for collecting some of the most comprehensive live data in the world of football. And we deploy the latest technologies and collection methods to do this.

At its heart, our work helps answer fundamental questions that all sports teams and players long to answer:

  1. Where are our strengths & weaknesses?
  2. What can we do to win?’

But how do we make sense of the mountain of data on offer, and how does it intertwine with gut-judgement?

Proving your intuition

There’s a wider debate about how much trust we should put in data, above and beyond what our intuition or gut feeling tells us. In sport, this might manifest itself in a coach simply believing that a player isn’t good enough based on what they’ve witnessed either in training or in a game. In this case, they may think there’s no need to look to data to confirm or counteract what they feel.

But the two elements should work in harmony, complementing each other to give a richer and more complete picture. If a coach or scout believes a player does not have the right playing style, for example – can this be confirmed in the data? How many physical challenges does the player win? What is his fitness regime, and can it be altered? Is the player performing well under pressure?

Similarly, data can be used to uncover things a coach may not be aware of. At Sportec Solutions, due to our comprehensive data capabilities, we’re able to showcase long-term trends such as passing patterns and tactical behaviour. To give a specific example, we can show if two people on the same team are reluctant to pass to one another, or how a team’s offensive playing patterns are developed. Using this information, the coach can then analyse at a deeper level – are there any topics that are preventing success?  – and if so, can they be fixed for the good of the team?

What’s next for sports data?

One of the reasons I love this industry is that no two days are the same, and new challenges and innovations continually present themselves. In the future, there’s no doubt that new technology will continue to improve player performance, broadcaster capabilities, and fan enjoyment.

For example, think of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the opportunities it presents. For teams and players, there is a chance to improve on game preparation and analysis. Think of a defender preparing to play against a league’s leading attacking player – what can AI tell you about the opponent’s playing style and tactical movements, and how can the defender adjust his game to counter this? For broadcasters, it will be possible to give fans a greater level of immersion and involvement in the experience than ever before.

Of course, different sports have different challenges, and there is no one single data point that a team should focus on. For example, in football, the game flows more and is less rigid in its play, compared to baseball or cricket, in which the same fundamental repeated action occurs. So, analysis needs to reflect this, and different patterns need to be identified.

With all this in mind, there’s never been a more exciting time to be part of this industry, and we can look forward to fans, broadcasters, teams and players all benefiting from the work that’s being done to improve their game.

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