How data analysis in sports is changing the game

How data analysis in sports is changing the game
(Image credit: Pixabay)
About the author

James Petter is the VP International of Pure Storage.

Who can forget when the unpredictable happened and Leicester City won the Premier League in 2016? Thanks are due, in part, to data and analytics. When it comes to data-driven insights in football, the club is one of the most advanced in the Premier League. This year, in an attempt to ramp up their analytics approach ahead of the upcoming season, Leicester City appointed its first Head of Football analytics.

We are witnessing data becoming entrenched in sports, for the same reason it is becoming embedded into the enterprise – to stay at the forefront of innovation. Collecting and analysing data onsite during an event allows for tactics to be decided in real time, but also offers the opportunity for data to be used for long term research and development of sports equipment and machinery such as F1 cars or bicycles.

It’s not only football that is being transformed by data’s mounting capabilities; technology is revolutionising sports across the board, from tennis to motor racing, to cycling.

Game, tech and match: the technology behind Wimbledon 

Whilst Wimbledon remains steeped in British history, tennis was actually one of the first sports to embrace innovation, dating back to 2006 with the first use of 'Hawk-Eye' to challenge line calls. More recently, the tournament is providing an elevated stage to exhibit innovations beyond the baseline. Powered by sophisticated cloud computing, the tournament now has a multitude of data-driven insights and AI services for organisers, fans and even players to use, to drive efficiency as well as fan engagement. 

This year, technology at the tournament has ramped up, thanks to an AI-powered service that uses cameras and sensors to track all factors of play and create a tight and effective highlights package. Each bit of action, from player grunts, crowd cheers, to the sound of the racket is monitored and ranked via its statistical importance within the match. This allows analyzers to understand exactly when play is happening, and to clip the best moments almost instantly, to make them available for the world to enjoy. 

Putting data in the saddle

While data analytics can be the difference between 1st and 2nd place, it has been equally pivotal in revolutionizing the sports fan experience of viewing the games. During the course of last year’s Tour de France, over 150 million data points were collected and transformed into compelling stories of innovation for fans to engage with across mobile, social, digital and broadcast.

The complicated challenge of improving the viewer experience is achieved by each bicycle being fitted with a simple device that captures a GPS positioning point every second. In the same vein, this location data is tapped into for the cyclists’ own performance evaluation and decision making optimization. Data is utilized to calculate real-time insight into the cyclist’s progress, such as rider speed and relative distance. Comparing this with third party data allows for deeper analysis to reflect on gradient and elevation gain, weather impact and even visually enhanced 3D mapping.

Data: Motorsport’s Secret Weapon

Motorsports has currently reached an unprecedented level of technical sophistication due to engineering proficiencies, thanks in part to data. Almost every race car is now equipped with a device that enables engineers, technicians and drivers to measure, understand and evaluate car driver behavior and interaction. In turn, allowing them to accurately adjust strategies to optimize overall performance.

For example, the Mercedes AMG-Petronas Formula One Team has become one of the most successful teams in F1 history, but finding new means to efficiently collect, manage and share ever-increasing amounts of data used to improve racecar design and performance can be a challenge.

Mercedes required an infrastructure that is portable, and that accommodates for the multi-disciplinary design and engineering requirements. Pure Storage eliminates the need for bulky equipment, while also improving performance - allowing the team to put performance-critical workloads trackside.

Team members both trackside and at the factory now have instant access to critical data used to continually improve race car performance, ensuring that the race cars are functioning optimally at every second on and off the race course.

Data analytics for a winning formula

For too long, data has been treated as a liability and not an asset, often due to challenges to collecting, storing and managing massive volumes of it. Yet the ever-improving capabilities of big data platforms are creating undeniable opportunities for industries across the board – from medicine, construction, retail, to banking. Data is becoming recognized as one of the most important assets for innovation today, especially in sports, where benefits are reaped by both sportsmen and viewers alike.

What distinguishes the winners from losers when it comes to data-driven sports, is that they have developed the ability to manage data as an asset. To achieve this, organisations need to have a modern IT infrastructure in place to collect, manage and store the data in real-time (and more importantly to achieve that much desired gold medal or trophy).


James Petter is the VP International of Pure Storage.

James Petter

James Petter is VP International at Pure Storage.

He is passionate about growing and scaling international businesses and fascinated about the power of data to change the world for the better. As VP International at Pure Storage, he helps businesses across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and South America to achieve growth by harnessing data and implementing digital transformation. He is proud to have built diverse teams across global markets for Pure Storage and previously at Cisco and EMC, and place huge importance on nurturing and developing talent. He has a keen interest in the way in which the IT industry is evolving - Artificial Intelligence and Ethics in Technology are both areas he watches closely, as these are issues which will shape the industry in the years to come.