Insights Blog

Data in football – what’s the score?

Richard Battle, Founding Director of Left Field Football Consulting

Blog snapshot:

In this post, Richard Battle, Founding Director of Left Field Football Consulting, will:

  • Outline why information strategies are so important in football
  • Introduce the key components of an effective information strategy

The need for an information strategy

Football, like the majority of other industries, currently exists in a context where there is more data than ever before. It is collected by and stored in an ever-increasing number of systems. Technological improvements allow that data to be transformed into useful information with ever-increasing speed and sophistication. When the right questions are asked, new insights can be formed giving us a deeper understanding of the game.

The question therefore becomes ‘how’, as opposed to ‘whether’, a club should invest in analytics. In short, I would expect any investment to be guided by an information strategy. These information strategies will vary from one club to another, according to a club’s broader strategy, its means and the potential reward (in both football and financial terms).

Over the course of four blogs in the coming weeks, I will be introducing and assessing the three key components of an effective information strategy within a football environment. Based on my experience of the game, there is a great opportunity for clubs to build a sustainable competitive advantage, but only by taking a holistic, strategic approach.

Why information strategies are critical

The design and implementation of an effective information strategy should provide clubs with a competitive advantage across the full breadth of their football operation by enhancing the quality of information which can inform and challenge their most important decisions.

Key to developing a competitive advantage will be the ability to become self-sufficient. In an industry where clubs at the top level have access to largely homogenous data types, it will be difficult for clubs to out-do their closest rivals using ‘off the shelf’ analytics.

Self-sufficiency will involve combining skill sets, technology and data to provide information which enhances the decision-making of key staff such as Directors of Football, Managers and Scouts. Most raw data will still be sourced from third parties, and the technologies and skill sets will – in almost all cases – be available to competitors. The value will come in the unique way that a club combines them to derive insight in respect of its most important questions.

How are clubs working with data analytics today?

There is an appreciation of the (potential) value of data in the football industry, but only a small number of clubs have committed the resources to turn it into a strategic focus. Many clubs have taken steps in the right direction over recent seasons by investing in BI tools and analysts to use them. A small number have recruited a data scientist.

The next stage of generating greater value from these, and further investments, will be to place more focus on strategically identifying the most valuable use cases for analytics and the role that technology will play in delivering these. Central to that will be the advent of no-code/low-code apps and automated Loading...machine learning tools.

A small number of individuals in an ‘Analytics’ or ‘R+D’ department cannot single-handedly deliver an information strategy. Clubs have experts across the disciplines housed within training grounds and academies who understand their data and their needs better than anyone. Empowering and upskilling these staff with better data, more efficient processes and improved outputs can embed a culture of data-informed decision-making.

The key components of an effective information strategy

Changing the way a business works – regardless of industry – requires careful planning. Which is why, when clubs are ready to commit to it, an information strategy needs to be clearly broken down. There are three core areas to take into account, that over the course of the next three blogs, I will explore in detail.

  1. Consider the use cases – to build the foundations of a strong information strategy, both the data specialists and domain experts (coaches, medical staff, head of recruitment for example) need to work together effectively. Not only do they need to understand the data at their disposal, they need to know what they want to get from it.
  2. Assess the technology – football clubs handle more data than ever before and choosing the right technology holds the key to managing and using it effectively. This can often be underestimated in the sports industry despite its importance. A key question that clubs have to explore is how can they match the right technology with the right mindset?
  3. Match statistics with skills – having access to the data and the right technology is critical, but clubs need to build teams from the right people who can take advantage of it. What are these skill sets and what structures need to be in place to make a long-term success of an information strategy?

By taking this structured approach teams will have the best chance of deploying an effective long-term strategy. The volume of data and the speed at which it can be processed has never been possible before – now is a key crossroads – clubs have a great opportunity. Look out for the next 3 blogs where I will demonstrate how this chance can be grasped.

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.