Big Data for the Big Game

Rugby…in Melbourne?

If you didn’t manage to catch it, the first game of this year’s State of Origin was played this week. Once again, Victoria played host to the gruelling NSW vs Queensland grudge match.

Just another chance for the city to highlight their sporting prowess. But, let’s talk about the game. As someone who has lived in and has family in Queensland I’m not going to dwell too much on the result though…

That second half was a tactical outclassing.

The NSW blues managed to roar home with three unanswered tries that would win them the game. A staunch comeback from being 12­–8 down mid-way through the second half.

There was no doubt that NSW looked like the better team on the night. But, as a Qld fan I’m not too worried. There are two games to go after all.

Now, I’m more of a casual fan. I’ll watch the game, cheer for the maroons, but that’s about all. My friends on the other hand get right into it. And throughout the game they love to analyse the ‘Telstra Tracker’.

This is the data that will sometimes be shown on screen. Giving detailed stats about player performance and team structure. The kind of data that can be used to give sides an edge.

There’s a reason all the coaches are inundated by laptops and gadgets nowadays. Data is as important to winning as fitness, talent and structure. As a casual fan you can’t always see its impact, but it definitely plays a role.

In fact, this data is pushing the game to new levels of intensity according to former coach Michael Maguire, commenting:

The intensity around what you can get out of an Origin and the information you can show players builds their knowledge that they can go to a higher place than where they’ve been and gives them confidence and belief about where they are.

You’re seeing gaps that might have been a metre, now look two metres wide because you’re seeing it in a different light because of being able to hand[le] the intensity of a game. Where the information can take us is mind-boggling.

The Winning Edge

Technology is fast-becoming an integral part of sports science. The data and numbers simply don’t lie. And while strategy has always played a role in sport, technology can perfect and streamline those strategies like never before.

It’s a topic that our own Sam Volkering has discussed previously as well. Such as this insight from Tech Insider, 30 January 2015:

The NFL Super Bowl. It’s one of the world’s great sports events. It’s in my top five bucket list sports events. 

From helmet tech to broadcast technology, the NFL also uses some pretty high tech gear.

One of the game’s more recent developments came from a collaboration with Microsoft. NFL is very much like a game of chess (although some of you might find that hard to believe).

It’s a game of strategy and territory. To score points, you must march down the field, running set ‘plays’ from an unbelievably large playbook. Most teams will run hundreds of different plays during a game.

That means players need to instinctively learn these plays and commit them to memory. Trent Dilfer (former NFL quarterback) explained to, ‘If you’re not spending an hour every day in your playbook, you’re cheating your teammates.’ He went on to say a quarterback will spend at least three hours a day studying.

And just to help make things more complicated, he explained some of the terminology, ‘Red Right 22 Texas is a West Coast play. In another system, it’s Split Right Scat Right 639 F Angle. What some players will do when they go to a new team, is when it’s Split Right Scat Right, they go, “Oh, that’s 22 Texas.”

Yeah. Exactly. Try figuring that all out.

In days gone by, a playbook might look something like this…


Source: ESPN

Today these are still pretty common. However, a few teams are beginning to look to the future in how they manage their teams. Microsoft made a big push into the NFL recently by making NFL specific Surface tablets.

The NFL and Microsoft now provide 25 Surface Pro 2 tablets for every team, every game. The NFL also feeds pictures of the game in real time back to the tablets. This way coaches and players can instantly analyse the plays, as soon as they’re off the field.

I had a look at this firsthand at a Microsoft demo at CES.

Microsoft has beefed up the tablet too. It can sustain temperatures from -42 to 48 degrees Celsius. And Microsoft claims a frustrated coach can slam the tablet on the ground and it will still work.

Microsoft has a five year, $400 million contract with the NFL and its players. The aim is that longer term the traditional playbook disappears. And then every player at or away from games uses the Surface to learn their team’s strategies and analyse their game.

Of course, this is just one small example of new tech in elite sports. Sports tech globally is a multi-billion dollar business. Whether its clothing and apparel or hardware like the surface, there’s plenty of money to be made.

Microsoft clearly thinks it will lead to big things for their tablets, and they might be right. And there will be others that tap into this sports market and make a lot of money along the way.

Beyond game day

Today sports tech is growing even beyond the game itself. Most players wear some kind of tracking device in their jersey on game day. That’s how we get all that rich data.

But, the American NFL, National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB) have taken it to a completely new level. Athletes in these sports now wear a WHOOP device. A wearable that provides data constantly.

They can see how much sleep a player is getting. Or whether their recovery times are off post-workout. Coaches can essentially monitor these players 24/7 if they wanted to.

Here’s the really incredible part though. Players have the rights to their own data. Meaning they can do whatever they want with it, including sell it.

Fantasy sports leagues, betting companies, video game developers — all of them thrive on this rich data. Information that they can use to create new products or services.

Sports data is now a valuable commodity outside of sports itself. It’s an incredible situation. One that really highlights how valuable data can be to a lot of unique businesses.

It’s a window into where I believe society is headed. One that revolves around data (which is already happening), but, with the caveat that people understand the value of their personal data.

Right now though it’s worth just enjoying the spectacle of watching the sporting industry develop. And hey, if you want to start managing your own data, you can buy your own WHOOP device.

The point is that the technology is getting better and better. And now, the economics of the data trade are really starting to come to the fore.

Just something to think about next time you agree to waive away your data for free.


Ryan Clarkson-Ledward,
Editor, Tech Insider

Ryan Clarkson-Ledward is an Editor at Money Morning.

Ryan holds degrees in both communication and international business. He helps bring Money Morning readers the latest market updates, both locally and abroad. Ryan tackles all the issues investors need to know about that the mainstream media neglects.

Ryan is also the Editor of Australian Small-Cap Investigator, a stock tipping newsletter that hunts down promising small-cap stocks by dissecting the latest events affecting the world.

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