There’s a big summer of sport ahead of us; the 2018 World Cup in Russia has just kicked off and this year’s Wimbledon tournament is just around the corner. Widely regarded as the top honours in football and tennis respectively, fans and pundits alike are gearing up to enjoy the action.
Although they may be very different sports, the modern-day explosion of big data and data analytics has made its mark on both the football pitch and the tennis court, as well as behind the scenes. Here are some of the ways data and its analysis is becoming a key player in this year’s World Cup and Wimbledon showdowns.
Selecting a national team capable of lifting football’s most coveted trophy may seem more straightforward than signing players for the Premier League, but there’s still an awful lot for national managers to consider. Crafting a starting eleven for each match, assigning positions and picking subs can all have an impact on whether a team comes out on top.
To make this task easier, some national teams are turning to big data and artificial intelligence (AI). This year, those players selected for the Belgian team will have data analytics at least partly to thank for their selection. The team is working with Dutch sports analytics company SciSports to assess the skills of each of its players, using AI-powered software that predicts how each one could influence overall team performance. SciSports creates football simulations based on the data from thousands of analysed matches and training sessions, tracking players as they move around the pitch, then weighs up how likely it is that various tactics and strategies will result in a goal.
This year in Russia, analysts and coaches from the World Cup teams will be able to communicate and make data-led decisions in real-time thanks to handheld technology. FIFA is to offer each team two tablet-style devices; the first will connect analysts positioned in the media section with coaches on the bench, allowing them to send footage annotated with statistical observations and suggestions through to the technical area.
The secure software infrastructure should revolutionise the way teams make in-match tactical adjustments, especially considering that during the last World Cup in 2014, information from analysts was only made available to coaches at half time. As well as captured footage, analysts will be able to share player metrics, strategy breakdowns and positional data with coaches mid-match.
After Germany’s triumph at the 2014 World Cup, it was widely publicised that the team made heavy use of data analytics to help them do it. Working with enterprise application software experts SAP, the German team developed Match Insights, a platform able to process huge amounts of data on its own and opposing nations’ players, logging KPIs such as average time on the ball, number of touches and speed across the pitch. Match Insights then visualised the data in an impactful and easily-digestible app, giving players and coaches instant insights on the potential weaknesses of their rivals and ways to exploit them.
Away from the number-crunching that contributes to optimal performance on the pitch, there’s only one prediction most football fans are interested in when it comes to World Cup; who’s going to win? Bookmakers generate one set of World Cup projections, for but data scientists, the challenge lies in using predictive analytics to accurately pinpoint the winning nation. This year, finance firm Goldman Sachs has developed
It remains to be seen whether algorithms and machine learning can predict who will win the 2018 World Cup away from the tournament, but it could be that the winning team is the one who best leverages big data to defeat the competition.
When it comes to tennis and arguably the world’s best Grand Slam, data analytics is less about augmenting player performance and more about enhancing the experience of the tournament for fans. Hundreds of thousands of tennis enthusiasts flock to SW19 each year, but for those behind the scenes at Wimbledon, the challenge is to up viewer engagement with the millions of fans who can’t attend in person. To help them do this, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) has worked with tech giant IBM for almost two decades.
Last year, IBM debuted a new feature fans could access both at the grounds and through the Wimbledon website and app – the ‘Ask Fred’ chatbot. Named after British tennis great Fred Perry, the chatbot uses AI and Natural Language Programming to answer questions about players and matches, and facilities at Wimbledon.
IBM are also helping content creators at Wimbledon to identify the most action-packed live matches to feature prominently online. The most engaging matches aren’t always the biggest and highlighting the best tennis is a great way to showcase up-and-coming talent. With 18 courts in action practically all-day, picking up on every exciting skirmish as it happens would keep a whole team busy, which is why IBM have developed a machine-learning system that flags up certain features of play. For example, where a match has a high number of unforced errors from both players, it would suggest it’s being tightly-fought. If so, the content team can immediately tune in and draw attention to it through the website and app.
It’s one thing to see and hear how a live audience are responding to a tennis match as it’s played out before them, but Wimbledon have gone one step further to assess crowd feeling. In 2015, during their collaboration with car sponsor Jaguar, the AELTC picked audience members at random to wear biometric wristbands, able to record heart rate, location and movement data in real-time. Alongside this, sensors in the ground within the stadium capture data on sound levels, crowd movement and infrared, while they also used social listening to gauge real-time sentiment on social media during matches.
Altogether, this campaign allowed Wimbledon to get a moment-by-moment data insight into crowd engagement and response, both live at the grounds and around the world. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the data revealed spikes in both atmospheric and biometric nervous energy during Andy Murray’s matches, as home fans willed the nation’s number one on.
Whether within the arena or not, it’s clear that data analytics has vast scope to enhance the competition and spectatorship of international sporting events. Creative uses of data are giving football teams a leading edge and allowing tennis tournament organisers to immerse fans further in the live experience. At Quant, we can help you formulate innovation through data for your own business, enabling you to better understand your customers and optimise the way you communicate with them. Interested in finding out more? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.