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February 5, 2016updated 04 Sep 2016 10:29pm

How big data analytics is changing the Super Bowl, RBS 6 Nations rugby and how Football Manager is predicting who will win the Premier League

Data analytics plays an increasingly important role across all big money sports. This weekend Carolina Panthers take on Denver Broncos, the six nations kicks off and the business end of the Premier League approaches. We look at the data and give you the predictions

By James Nunns

Big data is becoming more important in the business world but it is also playing an important role in revolutionising sports for teams and fans.

So ahead of a big weekend of sport with the RBS 6 Nations kicking off on Saturday and the Super Bowl on Sunday, how is big data changing it and how can you use analytics to predict the winner of the Premier League?

 

Super Bowl

The Super Bowl one of the biggest sporting events in the world with a viewership of around 160 million worldwide takes place this weekend in San Francisco between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers.

A big money event watched by millions of people means there are huge pressures on players on coaches to deliver. To help them get the best performance out of both many NFL teams are turning to data analytics to guide their decision making.

Last year the NFL signed a deal with Zebra to install RFID data sensors in players’ shoulder pads, helmets and across NFL stadiums.

These chips detect data such as how quickly they are running and can also detect how heavy an impact a player has taken, which is particularly important in helping to diagnose damaging blows to the head.

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After a successful pilot the technology has now been expanded to all 32 teams with the goal of tracking the coordinates of every player on the field and ball down to inches.

What this gives the coaches is a mass of accurate stats to be able to quickly assess the success of plays and individual players; this can be fed straight to the players so that they can improve. No longer do they just have to wait for a post-match debrief to see where it all went wrong.

The NFL can now track every player 15 times a second, once that data is collected though it needs analysing. First the data needs to be validated so that you know it’s accurate and then it needs to be correlated into a meaningful outcome.

The NFL along with Booz Allen are working on making that data easily consumable for players and coaches and soon data analysis will drive pretty much every element of the game.

Aside from the player and performance benefits, a number of sports analysts are increasingly looking at data to try and predict the outcome.

Electronic Arts for example managed to effectively predict the outcome of the 2015 Super Bowl thanks to analysing over 60 points of data on each player.

RBS 6 Nations

Away from the shoulder pads and helmets, rugby is a sport that is moving quickly to embrace modern technology.

Virtual Reality is one area that the sport is looking at but for me and the purposes of this list, it is the analytics side where the real value comes in.

Working together with its technology partner Accenture, the RBS 6 Nations is aiming to improve fans experiences as well as giving more easily consumable data for coaches.

For each game around 20 million rows of data are collected and processed in real time to drive visualisations.

Microsoft SQL Server works as the main database for storing the match data while Alteryx helps to shape the data for visualisations along with data visualisation tools on the front end from Qlik, all of which is powered by Amazon Web Services and goes on to web, iOS and Android apps.

The goal is to give fans more insight into the game so that they along with the coaches and players can see how a team is performing at a granular level.

This includes seeing kicking tactics such as distance of kicks, which can be correlated with other data such as the return rate and how successful they are. Stats on rucks, turnovers, handling errors and a number of other areas really give the fan the facts about a game.

Accenture player tracker

 

Some elements though aren’t tangible, such as the importance of the role of the captain in bringing the team together.

In a briefing attended by CBR former South Africa head coach Nick Mallet warned about just looking at the numbers.

Mallet, said: "I dropped our captain, we’d won 17 consecutive games, we equalled the world record with South Africa and a year later he was injured a lot, he was really battling with his form and there was a young up and coming number eight who was outstanding and in every one of these match stats.

"Bobby Skinstad was miles better than Gary Tiechmann and I picked it purely on stats, which was a hell of a bad mistake because this guy was an outstanding leader and in South Africa you cannot replace a good leader easily."

Mallet ended up getting rid of a captain that made the players feel secure in order to put in a talented player but he ended up losing 10% of everybody else’s performance, which Mallet says arguably cost them the world cup in 1999.

The point is that you can’t just go on the stats, there are other factors that need to be included as well.

At the same event Nick Millman, MD of Accenture’s big data and analytics division, said: "It’s the same in the business world, what everyone measure is the easy stuff to measure and you always have to have that critical lens to say you’re measuring all this stuff but am I measuring the right stuff and are there ways of the harder to measure stuff that would guide me to a better decision."

So by all means look at the stats but don’t forget the other factors as well.

 

Football

Football is no stranger to stats and analytics to help improve performance. In preparation for the last World Cup the German national team worked with SAP to develop a "Match Insights" software system.

The system helped the team through data captured by video cameras around the pitch which was turned into information that could be viewed on tablets or mobile devices.

The plan was to give the coaches and players insights into performances in order to view the strengths and weaknesses of opponents, something that clearly worked as Germany won the World Cup.

SAP has now developed a sports-specific cloud solution, the Sports One solution for football that is powered by the HANA platform.

Users have access to components that help to assist with team management, training planning, player fitness management and performance analysis. It helps to track the detailed histories of injured and performance diagnostics which build a comprehensive file on each player in order to aid in the reduction of injuries.

The playing side is just one of the areas that is greatly aided by the input of analytics, another area is that of betting.

Here is where CBR will give you a little tip of who is going to win the Premier League title, well I say CBR, it’s data compiled by the people behind Football Manager.

Every year as soon as the transfer window closes they update the squad details in the game and then run a simulation of the rest of the season to see who will win the Premier League and Championship – it has got the winners right for the last three seasons.

So who will win? Look away now if you don’t want to see the result.

It will be Manchester City, [your disappointed reporter is an Arsenal fan] .

According to the simulation City will claim a 3-1 victory over Arsenal in the penultimate game of the season. Arsenal will finish second a point behind City while Leicester finish 10 points behind in third and Tottenham will claim fourth spot.
The three teams relegated will be Aston Villa, Sunderland and Bournemouth.

In the Championship it will be Hull and Middlesbrough who are promoted while Burnley, Derby, Brighton and Cardiff will fight it out in the playoffs.

The three teams relegated will be Bolton, Rotherham and MK Dons, sorry about that.

Just remember not to get lost in the stats, these are just predictions and in the end they could be wrong so if you are thinking of placing a bet, do so sensibly.

Last year CBR reported that data analytics was starting to become commonplace in sports such as Basketball, Tennis and Golf, this year big data has become a hot topic for sporting events as major sporting events such as the RBS 6 Nations and Super Bowl go all out to take data to the people for a better fan experience.

The collection of data by sports teams isn’t particularly new, just watch the film Moneyball and you can see that data has been used to influence team decisions.

For those of you that don’t know, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is a book about the Oakland Athletics baseball team and its general manager Billy Beane, it is based on the team’s analytical, evidence based, sambermetric approach to assembling a baseball team.

Sambermetrics is the empirical analysis of baseball and particularly the analysis of baseball statistics, the book was turned into a film which starred Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

The point being, it’s nothing new but it has taken a long time for it to really reach the mainstream.

This is partly because it has taken a long time for analytics software to become easily consumable and because it has taken a while for people to realise the value of analytics. It can’t really be held against them when you consider that there are many businesses that still don’t use analytics despite the business value being apparent.

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