With the Bundesliga having made a welcome return in Germany in the past month, it is absolutely crucial to emphasise how important the use of sports data has been in bringing us to this point, and also how needed it will be in the weeks and months ahead, for players, coaches, fans and broadcasters alike.
At Deltatre and Sportec Solutions (STS), we are particularly proud of our work in the preparation for the Bundesliga’s return after the coronavirus-enforced shutdown. Of course, like so many other businesses, we are very conscious of deploying social distancing in our operations, and we have implemented many measures to ensure a safe working environment. We have 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 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 is important to know the real ‘contact time’, and we are 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-19, over the first two weeks of resumption, players had less contact with one another. The average contact between players in the first two stages fell from 7 minutes to 6 minutes and 2 seconds. 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 per cent compared with 43 per cent before).
With such an extraordinary and unusual situation, it is vital that companies such as ours can deal in facts and help the decision-making process by providing in-depth data quickly.
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Data analysis never stops
While preparations were being made for the Bundesliga’s recommencement, data analysis remained crucial to club operations. By and large, the biggest teams across Europe chose to maintain their scouting operations while 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 aligns with the scout’s ‘live’ impression.
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 himself moving into contention for a transfer, as a club learns more about his ability and performance levels thanks to the extra time and insight afforded to him.
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 to 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 have worked on with teams during the break, offering webinars and guides on how to identify the ‘golden nuggets’ in the data they have access to.
Instead of individuals spending hours curating reports based on mountains of information, we want to provide the finding even before the individual comes looking for it
The resumption and the need for automated data
While teams have had 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 having begun again, medical and management staff will be anxious to know how the fitness levels of the players compares to those pre-Covid-19.
In addition, 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 the finding even before the individual comes looking for it.
With so much to consider going forward, teams will want to access 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
It is not just the players and management staff that this data informs. Fans, journalists and broadcasters are 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 stadiums. Therefore, using data to paint the fullest picture possible of what is occurring on the pitch is of upmost 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 is 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 and added ways of monetising their association with soccer and other sports. How can data serve that purpose?
It is up to us working within the industry to remember and re-enforce that at its heart, good use of data in sport centres on storytelling.