Why data is integral to sport’s return and the ‘new’ viewing experience


by Christian Holzer & Editorial Staff

With the Bundesliga up and running again, Christian Holzer, Managing Director at Deltatre AG and Sportec Solutions - a joint venture between Deltatre and the DFL - reflects on why the collection and use of sports data will be integral to teams and fans in our ‘new normal’


by Christian Holzer & Editorial Staff

With the Bundesliga up and running again, Christian Holzer, Managing Director at Deltatre AG and Sportec Solutions - a joint venture between Deltatre and the DFL - reflects on why the collection and use of sports data will be integral to teams and fans in our ‘new normal’

As top-level football makes its welcome return in Germany, it’s absolutely crucial to emphasize how important the use of sports data has been in bringing us to this point, and also how needed it will be in the days and weeks ahead, for players, coaches, fans and broadcasters.

At Deltatre and Sportec Solutions (STS), we are particularly proud of our work in preparation for the Bundesliga’s return. Of course, like so many other businesses, we are very conscious of deploying social distancing in our operations, and we’ve implemented many measures to ensure a safe working environment. We’ve also worked in tandem with the league to provide the critical data which fed into the decision-making process to restart activities.

Deltatre and STS have supported the restart of Bundesliga by providing a sophisticated algorithm and analytics which explored player contact and player-to-player distance on the field. Naturally, sports which rely so much on human contact, in which players jostle and compete for possession of the ball require different analysis to individual sports such as golf. Therefore, it’s important to know the real ‘contact time’, and we’re working to provide post-match reports which detail exactly that.

Analysis from the first round of games unearthed some fascinating insights. For example, compared to the average from the season ‘pre Covid’, over the first two weeks of resumption, players had less contact with one another. The average contact between players in the first two stages was reduced from 7 minutes to 6:02. There has also been an increase in ‘playing time’. This helps re-enforce the belief that there was less arguing with officials, fewer quarrels between players – particularly when disputing throw-ins or other set-pieces, and less ‘time-wasting’ in general.

A lot has been made of the potential impact of empty stadiums and how this would negate ‘home advantage’. Looking at the first two weeks of the restart, we can see that the percentage of home wins is well down on average (16% down from 43%).

With such an extraordinary and unusual situation, it's vital that companies such as ours can deal in facts and help the decision-making process by providing in-depth data quickly.

Data analysis never stops

While preparations were being made for the league’s recommencement, data analysis remained crucial to club operations. By and large, the biggest teams across Europe chose to maintain their scouting operations whilst their respective seasons were in hiatus. This may seem peculiar. After all, with no live games to go to and to watch, players could not be assessed in real time. However, so much of modern-day scouting strategy is about data, and how this data aligns with the scout’s ‘live’ impression.

During this time, this has meant that scouts and management staff have been able to pore over potential transfer targets, perhaps in even greater detail than before. Indeed, a player further down on a club’s ‘target list’, may find themselves moving into contention for a transfer, as a club learns more about their ability and performance levels thanks to the extra time and insight afforded to them.

Additionally, this time without games to prepare for has meant that clubs’ management and performance analysts have had the opportunity to reflect on what has worked, and what has not, up until this point in the season. Has a team lost more goals to choreographed corner routines or free kicks? Does a team concede goals in the last few minutes of a half? Which opposition player receives few headlines for his play, but is extremely effective and must be counteracted? This is something we’ve worked on with teams during the break, offering webinars and guides on how to identify the ‘golden nuggets’ amongst the data they have access to.

As games resume, data is more important than ever

While teams have sophisticated training plans in place for players to complete at home, competitive training and games are the real test of fitness and sharpness. This is where granular data analysis comes into its own. With games beginning again, medical and management staff within teams will be anxious to know how the fitness levels of the players compares to those pre-COVID-19.

To give a few simple examples, how many runs into the box is a team’s central midfielder making after 75 minutes, and is this more or less than they were completing before? Are teams defending deeper, pressing less, due to increased fatigue levels? Similarly, is a winger dribbling on fewer occasions, and is the pass completion level of a team far below what we’d expect?

Of course, it's not just identifying this that’s important. The key is to react to it in a proactive way. This may be simply be in terms of a new fitness regime, or it may be more sophisticated tactical innovations. Might it be the use of substitutes with far more emphasis on fatigues levels, rather than on formation tweaking? Formulating a strategy to avoid injuries will also be crucial, with so many games now scheduled in a short period of time.

The need for automated data

I believe we will see a far greater emphasis and demand for automated data. Instead of individuals spending hours curating reports based on mountains of information, we want to provide that finding even before the individual comes looking for it. With so much to consider in the weeks and months ahead, teams will want to access their data in a quick, concise, and effective way, and that presents an opportunity for our industry. For teams and players, that means identifying which metrics are most important to them, and which have the greatest impact on performance.

Data in storytelling – for fans, journalists and broadcasters

And it’s not just the players and management staff that this data informs. Fans, journalists and broadcasters are naturally extremely excited about the resumption of leagues. They will want to fully immerse themselves in the game, especially as for now there will be no supporters in the stadium. Therefore, using data to paint the fullest picture possible of what is occurring on the pitch is of utmost importance.

Naturally, these groups will be curious about how the performance levels of the players compare to before. They will still want to be aware of those little details that they notice while in the stadium. The challenge is meeting that demand with data that is easy to understand, but in-depth enough to satisfy.

Not only this, it’s important to remember that data will also support other leisure activities linked to the game, such as betting and fantasy football. Sponsors will be looking for new or added ways of monetizing their association with football and other sports – how can data serve that purpose?

It’s up to us working within the industry to remember and re-enforce that at its heart, good use of data in sports centres on storytelling.

The piece first appeared on Sportcal earlier this week, as part of this month's 'The Boardroom'. Click here to read it.

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