Sports Analytics


The utilisation of analytics in the sports sector is rapidly increasing. As a keen sports supporter I find this fascinating. Personally I think it’s one of the biggest growth areas for analytics.

I have come to witness the power of analytics over the years. As a Business Intelligence and Analytics expert, speaker, author and technology enthusiast, I have seen analytics make an impact in a host of different industries. Take for example transport, where in some areas of the world people are dealing with less traffic and less congestion because of analytics. Another great example is the health industry – where insight is being extracted from care-givers all over the world to assist with patients that have rare diseases, given that access to some patients’ medical histories is now only a click away. Now, analytics is being used more and more in sports.

As a fan, I often find myself analysing the game – and that’s what got me thinking about analytics in the sporting arena, especially having just read an article entitled  8 ways big data and analytics will change sports. I grew up in South Africa where soccer (football), rugby and cricket are some of the sports that have always had a huge following over the years. Having been part of many debates over a missed wicket or an unfair red card, I wanted to share two key areas that I believe analytics can impact in sports.

From decisions to better decisions – formulating a better game plan

Field positioning and team tactics, especially in sports like cricket, football and tennis can make or break a game. Using real-time analytics to track current play on the field, can really assist a coach in determining better player positioning during the game. In fact, the game tactics extrapolated can take into consideration aspects like current field conditions, weather influences (wet pitch, wind direction, temperature), player statistics, psychological factors (like home crowd support, player morale, etc.) and even the team and the oppositions’ areas of weakness. Now reacting on all this in real time just has to be a game changer.

 Creating new opportunities

In soccer, some big league teams sometimes perform badly during one leg of a season, while some small clubs perform well. This all can affect the clubs fan following. Real loyal fans don’t easily switch their allegiance, but it definitely affects their match-day attendance.  Management and coaches understand that if they do not have a certain number of active and fans present, it affects the game. So fan management in sport is just as important as customer management in retail and telecommunications. As such, either the coach needs to shuffle the team or the team needs to perform better on the pitch – and analytics can assist with both these aspects. If coaches have the right data that helps explain for example that players 5, 8 and 12 are the quickest goal scorers and strikers on a particular pitch against a particular opponent, surely this will then inform a revised team strategy, which can lead to the required changes needed – resulting in a better performing team under those particular circumstances. Analytics can also assist in highlighting weaknesses in players, as well as areas that need to be worked on or conditioned, for better performance.

 Other applications

These are just two examples. Other applications in sports include:

  • Analysing and predicting individual player performance
  • Team tactics and game strategy analysis
  • Load monitoring to devise optimal training strategies
  • Player selection and tenure prediction
  • Injury prediction and prevention
  • Fantasy teams and gaming

 Concluding remarks

I am sure you will agree that the role of analytics can provide for interesting developments in the sporting arena. While I know there is a certain perception around analytics in sports, the fact of the matter is that it has come to stay. So many high level sports are already using it – and sport has become big business. You might as well get on board and enjoy the ride.

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