Game of inches: the rise of data analytics in sport

by Stephen Wright
The Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane, can be credited for launching a data movement centred around determining sporting prowess using numbers rather than gut instict. His method for evaluating potential baseball players, chronicled in the 2003 book, “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis, looked at data as a way to discover players under or over valued based purely on statistics.
Since then we have seen an explosion in the use of data in sports:

  • The NFL have used chips in players shoulder pads for a few years and recently introduced balls with embedded chips to track how each quarterback release the ball.

  • The reigning NBA champions and power team, the Golden State Warriors use player tracking to help manage player minutes and fatigue through the long season.

  • The NRL and the AFL have both been using player tracking for a few years, and recently gave fans a glimpse into the data the clubs receive in their live telecasts in conjunction with Telstra & Channel 9.

Recently Data Hatch attended the Sports Analytics conference in Melbourne and discovered some of the interesting things happening in the world of sports tracking.
Here are a few of the things that caught our eye from the event.

Golf is a sport that is launching itself into data with virtual caddies, smart clubs and grips and even radar tracking”

Golf, a $70 billion dollar industry is finding value in the volume of data players produce.
An individual sport like golf has traditionally been thought of as a ‘practice makes perfect’ type of sport. However, increasingly the use of other players performance is playing a part in minimising the risk in shots and using probability modelling to improve performance.
Arccos Golf claims to improve your handicap 36 times faster than the average golfer by using their tracking products.

Bryson DeChambeau is known as the ‘scientist’ because of his love for sports analytics.

Golf is a sport that is launching itself into data with virtual caddies, smart clubs and grips and even radar tracking.

Sensoria is helping build smart sports equipment to provide player feedback.


Video tracking has improved significantly over the past few years.

A video analysis company called Hudl has helped video analysts slice in game events into short clips that can easily be shared with players and coaches wishing to highlight improvements that can be made. The only problem is that its still a fairly manual process with an analyst needing to trawl through hours and hours of footage to find these insights.
It seems that video analysis is here to stay, but there is a real need for some form of machine learning to speed up the codifying process. Perhaps the developments being made in image recognition for autonomous vehicles may help in the future, after all if a car can analyse the world around it then why can’t the same principals be applied to sports?

Fan engagement will be improved with Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.

The NBA is leading the way on this front, but its only a matter of time before fans are invited to view their favourite Australian sports from a different perspective using either Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality.

The NBA finals 2017 in VR.

With over 90% of NBA fans globally not being able to attend games in person, the league is investing heavily in taking the game to the fans using VR. The NBA launched an initiative in 2017 whereby one game a week was streamed to fans in VR.

The Golden State Warriors are helping fan adoption of VR.

It is important for sports organisations to help with fan adoption of this new technology, and the Golden State Warriors basketball team in conjunction with Accenture provided 30 thousand Google Cardboard headsets to fans to get them comfortable with VR.
Sport is a business, and with that we are only going to see an increase in the use of analytics in sport moving forward.


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