A week or two on, and the sting is slowly beginning to diminish from a Six Nations defeat for England. Ahead on almost all of the new wave of performance statistics you could be mistaken in thinking England were Championship winners two years on the trot. Clearly the score boards and engravings on the trophy show differently!
Rugby, the last of the great amateur sports to professionalise, has hit a new era. Every aspect of the game is under careful scrutiny and analysis. Wearable devices track movement, speeds, impact, possession, territorial advantage and momentum. Those calling the games have also benefitted from the improved vision that Spidercam delivers. And clearly it’s not just Rugby. Cricket and Tennis have Hawkeye, and Football variously goal line cameras, or not.
At the front end the insights that data provide are long past the simple post-match ‘stato’ reporting of yesteryear. The ‘moneyball’ principles of performance & team dynamics in US baseball back in the early noughties put real substance into deeper analysis. And for many a long year IBM has been packaging post match performance statistics at Wimbledon and other events for the tour players. So, why is this so remarkable now?
In simple terms it is the speed and veracity of the data which is, if you pardon the pun, game changing. What can be delivered, to whom, and in what time frame, is giving real performance advantage to players, coaches, broadcasters, advertisers. But the piece that touches us all is that we are no longer just viewers of sport. We are consumers of Sport. The battle is being fought in the rich choice of options to enhance, embolden and enrich our participation in major sporting events. Appetites to consume knowledge and insight, to be an expert upon your favoured sport, team or player(s) are vast. Post-match it has always been so, but the battle is now ‘in –game’. Connectivity through digital TV, apps and online provide deeper user experience and engagement. There were nearly 3 million of the Six Nations apps, downloaded across 150 countries. In yesteryear people stood rapt in the stands, this season there is footage of fans with one eye on the game, and another on their smart phone, seeing the game in more detail than you get from a cherished debenture seat alone.
The apps of course are the front end, and they shape the user experience. With each download comes an opportunity to directly reach a two-way real time dialogue with a consumer. These apps are fed by huge data sources; in each game the Six Nations Accenture team captured some 2 million lines of data alone. While this isn’t a truly massive volume, converting it into distributable and consumable packages of insight that keep up with the state of play, is the real achievement and indicator of how far we’ve come. One example cited was the France v Wales match where the score line said one thing and the match data said another. All indicators bar one suggested the Welsh were being played off the park and yet they had a meaningful points lead. One statistic stood out as different – defensive turnovers. Wales were forcing errors and offering scoring opportunities from penalties. Insight in the hands of fans, as it happened. Viewers brought directly into the detail of the game, via the media of their choosing.
So, while the data doesn’t always give the full picture, the devil is in the detail. And international sport is all about the watching! Bring on the Rugby World Cup… on whatever device or mode you chose to consume it!
Matt Cockbill is a Partner, and Head of IT Leadership & Technology Practices for Berwick Partners.