Sports and data: Where to start?


How Dutch sports clubs and associations take their (first) data steps

Whether it’s hockey, a football club, or a general sports association, the idea that they need ‘something’ with data has now dawned on them. LINKIT organized an interactive round table session with 12 participants who work with data at their respective sports organizations to exchange insights and experiences. And getting started with data is not easy. Budgets are sometimes an issue as data has to prove itself first. This article summarises the insights of the participants in the session.

1. The Challenges

Making the first choice

If you look closely, there is a lot of data to collect for a sports club. Data about the players, performances on the field, training, and scouting players. There is also a lot of commercial data to collect. For example, many clubs only have about ten per cent of their fan base in their sights. At a football club, most fans are at home behind the television. But who are they?

It is (budgetary) not feasible for most clubs and associations to fully bet on all points. And so they have to make a choice. Do they opt for performance or commercial data? It is a challenge for clubs and associations that are more advanced to make the best possible use of the available data. In many clubs, data is still in the phase where it has to prove itself.

“Data about fan experience and performance of athletes are currently two separate worlds. However, this is coming closer together.”

The quality and quantity of the data

Of course, data is often already available. Especially at professional clubs, player performance is extensively tracked and analyzed. It would help if you always compared it with the average of older performances based on standardized values: the benchmark to gain insight from data.

The role of data within the organization

You have to avoid being seen as an ‘outsider’ that comes to the coach with a bunch of data, telling them how to do it. Data should be advisory and help the coach, not replace it. You have to look for a balance of added value without being disruptive in the current process. This is a culture change in which some clubs are more advanced than others.

2. The vision

Having a vision is not limited by any budget. So you can think about this a little more freely. What can clubs and associations achieve with data?

More insight into the fan base

To keep in touch with fans, you cannot avoid collecting data, a name and email addresses. But much more is possible with marketing tooling. For example, by using indicators to find and serve your fan base online. How do you ensure that someone who is a supporter of your club not only cheers in front of the TV, but also buys a shirt, or a season ticket?

“Using data to improve the fan experience is about emotion.”

Open source

One of the challenges is having sufficient historical data to determine the benchmark. But what if you made the averages of the data of, for example, all hockey clubs open source? You share the data with each other, making it easier to compare performance. Of course, no club wants to reveal too much to the competition. There may also be a role for a sports association as a neutral manager of the data. You get the benchmark of the competition in exchange for your data. In any case, many sports associations see it as their task to facilitate the use and collection of data.

“Many associations don’t have the manpower, so we hope to support them in this with collaborations.”

Better player profiles

Scouting new players is something vital to the success of clubs. Judging players is now often based on the opinion of the youth coach towards the scout of a club. At the same time, youth players fluctuate quite a bit in their performance. For example, suppose there are family difficulties, such as a divorce or death; this may significantly affect performance. By collecting more and better information from talented youth players, a much more complete picture is created, and a one-off event has less impact on the total assessment of a player.

Here you start!

LINKIT has an excellent track record in all phases of this kind of ‘data adventure’, both in business and sports. As an innovation partner, our approach is to support organizations in extracting value from their data. We do this by drawing up a plan for this, helping them to set up the infrastructure for this and advising them on how to use it.