At the outset, Sports might seem like an unlikely area for high volume of data, because the “entertainment factor” and “live action” experience play more significance role. Broadly, one can classify the sports loving population into two categories i.e. fans and fanatics. It is easy to spot out a hard core sports aficionado just by observing the vocabulary when they talk. They can recall data, statistical and even mundane information about players, games and events in an instant during everyday conversations. Sports and data are heavily intertwined and humongous volumes of data ares already there and we just have to look at the right source.
During initial era of sports, data collection primarily focused on documenting the result of a game, which essentially is the final scoreboard. Later as the needs of sports fans became apparent, the progress of a game was captured along with simple player statistics. Finally, data collected was published as a book for a consolidated look at the season’s performance. Amateur clubs slowly gave way to more professional environment and sports got a big boost when professional leagues came into picture. Sports became part of entertainment industry, franchisee’s mushroomed, money entered in a big way and started changing the face of sports itself. With investments flowing in, technology crept into sports and every second of the play was documented in detail. To give a gist of the depth and data collected, have a look at the stats of basket ball at NBA. (Quick Note: Data provided in this website is actually processed data, not the actual field level data collected during the games.)
Data collection in sports is not restricted to the game stats and player stats. Now, it is the era of motion analysis and video captures. Spider cam gives several unique perspectives of the game in addition to traditional off field cameras. The data collected from each game is analyzed frame by frame and reconstructed in order to build and play out different strategies and finalize the ones to be taken for subsequent games in a season. It is not just my team’s data, instead, access to all opponent data is also available and the flip side is that even all opponents have access to your data. It is getting imperative for teams and players to stratagize based on data before any game in order to have an edge in any game. In the movie Moneyball, the concepts and data and analytics has been showcased in a beautiful manner.
Now, data and analytics are used during a live game in progress. A team might start with one strategy and play during beginning of a game and during quarter break or half time the entire strategy might be revamped in dressing room and strategy will change the subsequent half. This became evident during FIFA Soccer World Cup 2014 and ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.
Apart from the games, data plays important role in non-game related decisions. One such example is player trading or buying by a team owner, where the pay package for a player depends on both the entire historical performance as well as future capabilities.
Whatever discussed till now are traditional games where individuals or teams played against each other. The size of data is only poised to grow as teams across sports Soccer, Football, Cricket, Tennis, Baseball, Basketball, Rugby just to name a few adopt new technologies to capture and analyze data. Just for fun, here are some off track pointers
- Formula 1 car has several hundred sensors that capture different parameters several times a second during the course of a race. Data collected during one season of racing can exceed couple of hundred terabytes.
- Poker may not be a sport, but one incident changed the face permanently. A miniature camera was inserted in the poker table that can show the entire room full of audience each players hand without revealing anything to players today. This has pushed data and analytics to be harnessed for each hand dealt setting of a series of calculations and predictions. Watching one season of Word Series Poker will shed light on what is mentioned here.
- Sports betting might be banned in several countries due to association with a vice. Majority of gamblers use gut feel to bet on match outcomes, but there are professionals who are methodical in analysis and place bets cautiously after in depth analysis of data.