Archive: May 2015

The Future of Big Data in Football

With the introduction of the TRACAB positioning system in the Premier League, clubs will have access to high-resolution player tracking data during matches.  This is a potential game-changer, and as with all such innovations, we can expect a roller-coaster ride before the technology delivers real benefits.

The Gartner Hype Cycle for new technologies illustrates the typical evolution of this kind of change.

Following a Technology Trigger event, a wave of excitement is generated, with much jumping on band-wagons.  (Especially by Americans.) As we approach the Peak of Expectations, conferences are held, books are written and gurus emerge.  But in a fairly short while, a reaction sets in; studies are conducted showing the benefits have been vastly overstated; highly-visible strategies based on the new technology fail spectacularly.  Now the press pundits explain in great detail why they were right to mistrust the new-fangled development all along,  and amateurs who never understood the issues anyway  churn out a  bunch of I-told-you-so blogs.  At this stage, many users  will abandon the technology and take up the next great thing they hope will answer all their prayers.

Yet the real visionaries persist. They continue the slow painstaking development effort, taking one step backwards for each step forward as they work through the Stage of Enlightenment. Eventually, the Plateau of Productivity is reached, and the innovation is mature.

The basic Gartner cycle is illustrated below.


I’m reasonably confident, that TRACAB will follow this pattern.  Some people will argue that the introduction of TRACAB doesn’t really count as a technology trigger.  They will (rightly) say that TRACAB is actually a second-generation product (Prozone being the first). Nor will clubs be paying a high price for the data.  However, in my opinion,  the integration of TRACAB and Opta data takes us to a new stage. And although the cost of the data itself is not a barrier to take-up, there is definitely a need for customization and deep analysis; turning the data into useful information is likely to be costly (at least if you want someone who knows what they are doing.)  So I think we can reasonably talk about a real trigger event, and a potential step forward here.

My guess for the coming timeline is shown below, with benefits appearing in 2022.  I’m basing this partly on the notion that modern performance analytics in football began to attract interest and investment from clubs around 2008 and only now, about 7 years later, are we beginning to see some genuine benefit.  So here’s my stab at a possible future …


But I could be horribly wrong either way! What’s your guess?