Analytics brings fans closer to the action

For generations fans have strained their eyes to see whether a ball was in or out, over the line or still in play, all while debating the merits of one player against another. Now analytics is changing that debate forever, bringing fans closer to...


For generations fans have strained their eyes to see whether a ball was in or out, over the line or still in play, all while debating the merits of one player against another. Now analytics is changing that debate forever, bringing fans closer to the action and shining a light into the heart of sports. The experience is changing from being an outside observer to feeling that you are that player and experiencing all their trials and tribulations in real time.

Analytics not only allows fans to empathise with the players, but it also enables fans to engage with the decision making process of the officials. The Hawk-Eye system has now become a mainstream tool in several sports. This year’s Investec Ashes series has already seen its fair share of controversial umpiring decisions and once again Hawk-Eye has been used in a particularly effective way to enable fans to visualise the track of the ball and to help them understand the split second decisions made by the umpire.

The visualisation wrapped around this plays a key part in allowing the fans to analyse a decision in depth before a final outcome is given. For the first time this year, Sky Sports has integrated Hawk-Eye into an app for fans, giving them the ability to evaluate every ball virtually using a multitude of Hawk-Eye analysis tools, as used on screen in Sky Sport’s live coverage.

While cricket may have been one the first sports to use leverage statistics to heighten fan engagement, other sports are catching up fast. Similarly, during this year’s RBS Six Nations earlier this year, Accenture partnered with Opta Sports to bring about a new intimacy between fans and the action on the field that was previously impossible. Opta Sports produced raw data that had over 1000 different permutations of actions, e.g. not just a kick but what type of kick and what the outcome of this was. However, raw data on its own doesn’t drive engagement, so Accenture developed and created innovative insights using the data to give fans new experiences and enable them to see the game from a different angle. For example, highlighting coaching decisions such as the effectiveness of substitutions and how the team is converting pressure into points.

As data capture becomes ever more sophisticated, including the collection of biometric data, fans can now see the internal stresses players are experiencing. This aspect highlights a new and exciting layer of emotive engagement.

Additionally, with the increasing use of social media fans are also now being given a voice by which they can make their feelings known. This form of engagement can manifest in the following ways:

  • Through interacting on Twitter, fans are able to pose questions and receive answers back relating to how their team and players have played in previous matches
  • As fans express their opinion of players throughout the match, their sentiment can be assessed and used as a decision making tool by tournament officials and sponsors to select who the player of match is
  • The same is true if fans express their views on the quality of sporting facilities and stadiums. This can then be used by sports bodies - especially those that are under threat from diminishing fan bases - to react and make improvements to increase fan satisfaction levels
Finally, whilst the experience can be heightened by the different types of analytics, it is key that the mechanism by which the analytics are delivered is also able to retain the fans attention. In a world of multiple devices, the fan has to feel that there is a seamless transfer from their mobile phone to tablet to laptop computer. In addition an intuitive thread needs to run through the whole experience so that they can transfer between related analytic outputs in a matter of a click as opposed to having to think how they need to navigate e.g. being able to navigate to key statistics of a player when they are reading a Tweet relating to them.

As technology becomes more and more of an integral part of modern day sports so the depth and richness of data available grows exponentially e.g. Chelsea Football Club recently disclosed that they collated 32 million data points from 13,000 matches, and in Formula 1 each racing car generates at least a gigabyte of data during a single race. With such large volumes of information much of the challenge of analytics lies in both simplifying information into a compelling story that demystifies the complex aspects of the game, and ensuring that fans are not deluged with information they don’t want.

The role of analytics in driving fan engagement is evolving all the time, and will continue to do so in the future to meet the insatiable appetite for information. Bringing fans closer to the sports they love, and bringing those sports to life, will always remain at the root.

Posted by Will Gatehouse, Accenture Big Data Lead for EALA

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