Insights Blog

Data analytics in football: technology as the driver of time to insight

Blog snapshot

In the third blog of the series, Richard Battle, Founding Director of Left Field Football Consulting digs into:

  • Why the technology element is often under-represented when it comes to how insight can be extracted from football data
  • What types of technology need to be considered and how clubs can build a team that will take full advantage of it

In this blog series on data in football we’ve talked a lot about the importance of having the right information strategy – and how uncovering valuable insights is the end product of planned work clubs need to do to gain the competitive edge. Making the right moves in choosing the technology to deliver the strategy is critically important.

The importance of technology

Clubs now have greater volumes of data available to them than has ever been the case previously. They are obtained from, and stored in, a multitude of systems. Technology allows that data to be processed, understood and applied more quickly and with greater sophistication.

Yet, despite its importance, technology is often under-represented in discussions on how to extract insight from football data. For the clubs that get it right there will be gains in operational efficiency and quality of insight.

In an industry where such a large proportion of data is obtained from such a small number of commercial suppliers, two types of IP will emerge:

  • The obvious one – the insights themselves, which support and challenge decisions
  • The less obvious one – the way in which technologies and data processes are leveraged to deliver those insights

Some clubs, through foresight and expertise, have built a strong head start. But developments in technology mean that others could replicate what they have done more quickly than they were able to do it. The challenge of the first movers is to stay one step ahead. The challenge for the peloton is to close the gap.

What types of technology are we focusing on?

The market is well-versed in the football-specific (or sports-specific) platforms that exist across recruitment, performance analysis and sports science and are widely used within clubs. Equally there are technologies that will benefit the industry where clubs will be beneficiaries but will not need to implement the technology themselves – for example, the use of computer vision to obtain tracking data from broadcast footage.

Here we are focused on the technologies that will allow clubs to store, process, manipulate and analyse the data that is available to them. Often that will happen in parallel with, rather than as an alternative to, the technologies described above.

Both conceptually and in practise, clubs need to be able to separate their data from the systems and tech that capture and process it. This will provide the agility to change technology at the right time and for the right reasons. The decisions to not adopt a piece of technology (based on the time and money therefore saved) will be as important as what is adopted.

It is crucial to be proactively tracking the emergence of new technology – not to be an ‘early adopter’ for the sake of it, but to increase the quality and speed of the insights available to decision makers. How many more transfer windows do you want to go through with a lower quality of information than your competitors?

Remember to nurture the youth squad of tech talent

It is important to think about the people who will use the technology as well as the tech itself.

Football clubs are typically full of talented young people – off the pitch as well as on it. They will bring in new ideas and new skillsets that can quickly make the whole club more self-sufficient in terms of how  data is used. And this will filter into different roles. Literacy in a BI tool, for example, will start to be the norm rather than the exception for scouting co-ordinators, sports scientists and performance analysts entering the industry. After that will come a basic level of competence in science.

So, it is vital not only to consider the technology that is available today, but how to build a team that can adapt and work well with tomorrow’s technology. As the speed of development in technology is moving so fast, it will not be enough to recruit staff into data-focussed roles based on what they can do now. They will need to have the underlying expertise to identify, adopt, implement and derive value from the tools of the future.

What next?

We’ve seen how equipping a club with the right technology is an effective way to underpin an information strategy with the power, speed and agility you need to get the edge over competitors who are no doubt looking to do the same with their data.

In the final blog in this series I’ll be looking at the data and the skill sets required to help you put all of this into practice for a winning strategy.

Until next time.

Richard Battle is the Founding Director of Left Field Football Consulting, an independent consultancy which supports football clubs and organisations across strategy, information and analytics. His blend of experience in strategic consulting at a global firm and in the day-to-day operations of a Premier League training ground makes for a unique vantage point on the industry.


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