It only happens once every four years, but the FIFA World Cup is one of the most important events in the global sports world. With its massive global audience in the billions, it’s also a major showcase for the latest and greatest in technology innovation. I’m going to spotlight one that played an important role in both how teams competed and how fans enjoyed the tournament: Data & Analytics (D&A).
D&A in the sports world is actually not a recent phenomenon. Back in 2004, the popular book (and later film) Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game detailed how a budget-challenged Major League Baseball franchise—the Oakland Athletics—used game statistics to identify undervalued skills, such as on-base percentage. Statistical analysis revealed that these skills directly contributed to a team’s ability to score runs and win games. Oakland began using D&A to optimize the team’s performance without signing expensive players. As a result, the Athletics—competing with teams that outspent them by nearly triple in payroll—far exceeded expectations, reaching the playoffs and at one point winning 20 consecutive games1
By the time the 2018 World Cup kicked off, D&A capabilities had advanced so dramatically that they are now critical tools for defeating opponents. Teams like Germany—considered pioneers in crunching data to gain an edge on the field—now use statistical analysis for a range of insights. Penalty records help predict where a player is most likely to aim. Information on an opponent’s formation can be used to exploit weak spots. Data on attacking patterns help shape defensive tactics. Understanding the typical trajectory of a player’s past free kick attempts helps position the wall and the goalkeeper2.
When you factor in real-time data, the power of D&A is enormous. The 2018 World Cup marked the first time FIFA allowed teams to use player tracking systems during games, even giving every World Cup qualifier two tablets for accessing real-time player tracking data from the sidelines3. Numerous national teams used data analytics for game prep, in-game tactics, and post-game analysis. Referees also wore sophisticated smartwatches that helped track game statistics like the number of cards and player substitutions, and even interfaced with goal-line technology. See my companion article for more insight on wearables.
Now, nearly every professional sports franchise has adopted its own version of D&A, applying statistical analysis to everything from player evaluation to negotiating contracts to in-game coaching decisions. And a decade and a half later, analytics continues to shape how sports teams are managed, how schedules are created, how coaches make tactical decisions, how athletes train and compete, and how fans experience the sport.
KPMG’s Sports Advisory practice even leverages D&A to create the Football Benchmark report, which is designed to assist the decision-making process of football industry stakeholders. It analyzes financial and operational performance data from more than 200 European and South American professional football clubs and social media performance metrics from more than 500 clubs and over 2,000 football players.
D&A is also reshaping the fan experience. There’s a nearly endless stream of statistics on favorite players and teams flooding both the sports and mainstream media. As a result, fans can view football (and nearly every other sport) much more actively. They can dig into granular data for arm chair analysis, whether to impress their friends at the bar, win their fantasy sports league, or win money betting on sports. While hardly realizing it, billions of sports fans worldwide have become acclimated to advanced D&A and find the value indispensable. This is another example of how global sports have accelerated mass awareness and adoption of an emerging technology.
It appears the C-Suite, however, has a more ambivalent relationship with D&A. When confronted with a critical decision and data-driven insights contrary to their experience, 70 percent of technology industry CEOs have overlooked these data-driven insights and gone with their intuition, as revealed in the KPMG Technology Industry CEO Outlook.
Despite this somewhat surprising finding, there are several reasons organizations in any industry should invest in D&A as a continuous transformation tool:
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1 Lewis, M. (2003). Moneyball: The art of winning an unfair game. New York: W.W. Norton.
2 World Cup 2018: Can Big Data Analytics Save Germany's Tournament? (Forbes.com, June 21, 2018)
3 Inside the Use of In-Game Tracking Data at the World Cup (Sporttechie.com, July 2, 2018)