Big Data: the game changer

We often hear about how data is being used by players to boost performance or even in the form of wearable technology. But data can be used in many other ways


Regular sporting events like the English Premier League (EPL), Formula One or the Indian Premier League (IPL) have begun storing and leveraging big data to win the ultimate prize in their respective sporting discipline. Photo: Getty Images
Regular sporting events like the English Premier League (EPL), Formula One or the Indian Premier League (IPL) have begun storing and leveraging big data to win the ultimate prize in their respective sporting discipline. Photo: Getty Images

With the Rio Olympics, this has been yet another big year for an increasingly data-rich sports universe. Previous high-profile global sporting events like the 2014 Fifa Football World Cup and the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup had already pushed the boundaries of digitalization in the sports world. Not many, for instance, would be aware that a leading German technology giant helped the German football team win the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil through the use of a software system called ‘Match Insights’.

Similarly, regular sporting events like the English Premier League (EPL), Formula One or the Indian Premier League (IPL) have begun storing and leveraging big data to win the ultimate prize in their respective sporting discipline.

We often hear about how data is being used by players to boost performance or even in the form of wearable technology. But data, as we show below, can be used in many other ways:

Game day analysis: Coaching and scouting of current or new talent, recommending the ideal winning strategy or team combinations, pinpointing the movements of a particular football player or identifying the kind of balls that a batsman in cricket is susceptible to get out to, are some of the common practices of leveraging data—a strategy also highlighted in the popular Hollywood movie on baseball, Moneyball.

Broadcast sports production: This is probably the most recurring and commonplace data-driven activity in sports considering we see it all the time. The data generated for spectator programming such as replays, player/team statistics, cool game facts and other relevant real-time data sourced by broadcasters adds more value to viewers.

Broadcast and digital distribution: This is the distribution of content across multiple broadcast channels and the use of social media and consumer-generated content in the broadcast. It also includes the use of metrics to identify what is “making waves” and on what basis to charge advertisers.

Advertising: As is the norm these days, the promotional and commercial aspects around huge sporting events, irrespective of whether it is on-field and broadcast, as well as the associated metrics are big opportunities to use advertising to not only build a brand, but to also build a dedicated following as well.

Fans: Undoubtedly, the lifeline of sports. They could be spectators at the event, or even viewers at home or on the go. With popular media platforms like Hotstar and Cricinfo.com providing real-time match coverage and score updates, the consumption of sports has evolved beyond the traditional TV.

These cases simply enforce the mind-boggling reach and multiplicity of digital technologies today—for every 100 people in the world, there are 95 mobile phone subscriptions, 40 Internet users and 25 social media users. What took the telephone 75 years to reach 100 million global users since its invention has taken the likes of Facebook (4 years 6 months), WhatsApp (3 years and 4 months) and even popular gaming applications like Candy Crush Saga (1 year 3 months) far less time to reach the milestone.

The opportunities, therefore, are aplenty in the sporting arena for technology companies to partner and work with various sports leagues and teams across the globe to create and provide a unique experience for fans.

Consider the case of an Australian technology firm Ecal that has signed a deal with the English Premier League for the 2016/17 football season. Ecal will create a ‘Premier League Digital Calendar’, which will allow fans across the globe to integrate interactive schedules for their favourite teams into their personal devices—be it mobile or desktop.

A lot of the programming expenses are going into live sports because of the interest and value in watching it live. The building of die-hard fan communities to interact is another aspect with immense revenue generating potential. In fact, an upcoming area for fan experience is monitoring fan behaviour—the more reactive a stadium or team is to the live fans, the more passionate the experience becomes and the more likely it translates into extra revenue for the sporting team.

It’s worth noting, though, that irrespective of how far team owners go to create that exceptional experience for their fans, it’s the match day performance of their team that counts the most. In sports, you want to acquire the best player just like in any other business where you want to hire the best worker. It begs the question of how to do that in order to get the best outcome and optimal performance. The answer is data.

Anil Valluri is president at NetApp India and SAARC.

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