By James Petter, VP International, Pure Storage
2021 has been a summer of sport like no other, and as the Olympics has captivated us with amazing feats of strength, speed and precision, it’s easy to forget that domestic football is almost upon us once more.
As the anticipation for the new Premier League season builds, it’s easy to overlook the role that data plays in every team’s preparations. In our digital age, victory is no longer dependent upon player performance alone, it is strongly supported by the club staff and coaches closely scrutinising match and training data collected in real time.
From clubs in the Premier League down to the lower leagues, a data strategy has become as important as scouting, transfers or the players’ dietary regime. Why? It’s estimated that 16 players with six balls can generate around 13 million data points in just 10 minutes- providing crucial insights into everything from player run-rates to touches of the ball and passing. And, this is just from the training pitch.
Mirroring IDC’s predictions of unbridled growth of unstructured data by 2025, football is now awash with different data streams which must be effectively managed by clubs if they are to deliver optimal performance on the pitch week-in, week-out, and get ahead of the competition.
The new 12th man
As the value of insights distilled from data increases, we are witnessing an evolution in football. From a fan’s perspective, we’re now closer than ever to our favourite clubs and players, with instant access to stats like player heatmaps and expected goals from companies like Opta or Squawka. At a club level, we’re seeing an emulation of modern technology businesses – those outpacing their peers have a digital mindset and invest in a robust IT estate to handle unstructured data to provide consistent data insights for real-time changes during matches.
The journey of a new entrant to the Premier League demonstrates the value of acting like a technology business. Over the past decade, Brentford FC has overhauled its approach to data to great success. Recognising the impact that real-time data analysis can have, the club has effectively monitored how and when its players pass the ball or shoot at goal, as well as the team’s defensive structure and off-the-ball positioning. As a result, backed by this smart data, the club found a new competitive edge – rising quickly from League One to the very top.
However, this evolution in mindset from a traditional sports team to one of a de facto technology business is not easy. Many will try to emulate the success of their approach but very few will be able to achieve it, at least not this season, unless they truly understand the challenges they face with their IT estate.
Overcoming unwanted legacy
With legacy IT infrastructure, most clubs today face slow and unpredictable performances in search queries which prevents fast access to data points which could lead to crucial insights being missed. What’s more, the art of player monitoring produces siloed and segmented data which can create inefficiencies and gaps in data pipelines, leading to inaccurate or less effective results. These legacy architectures and complex operational structures can stall improvements in performance as teams battle to glean useful insights from their overwhelmed analytics platforms.
We all know how frustrating it is waiting for a website to load on slow Wi-Fi. It breaks concentration and for those in a profession as high-pressure as elite sport, every moment matters. At no point can clubs allow their technology to be a bottleneck.
To take full advantage of the data at their disposal, teams and their data scientists are turning to modern infrastructure solutions such as a Unified Fast File and Object (UFFO) storage platform. UFFO storage scales in tandem with the huge volume of data produced from clubs’ sensors and technologies, consolidating file and object data in one place to eliminate silos and deliver consistent and reliable data in real-time. This in turn, empowers staff to swiftly derive value and insights that better inform strategy and tactics.
Reaching the next level
For teams looking to kickstart their digital transformation journey as the new season begins, it’s important to note that tackling the volume of disaggregated data produced by the modern game is not an insurmountable challenge.
In fact, they could take comfort from the business transformation of Southampton FC. Working with Pure, the club is achieving targets across its sporting and commercial operations. Previously, its existing systems were running out of storage space, and data-intensive requirements needed a new approach. Now the club relies on Pure to join up data from every aspect of the club for optimum performance on and off the field.
By overhauling legacy infrastructure, among other improvements, their average application performance increased by 37%. In practice this supports the club’s vision of being able to analyse, measure, and optimise every aspect of its operations, from discovering the latest hot prospects in its youth teams, through to helping senior players make a faster recovery from injury. The club sees this as a means of differentiating from the other clubs in the league.
Data as the playmaker to success
As the new season begins, clubs must have a modern, robust data strategy in place if they wish to maximise their chances of success. For those in the Premier League and beyond, Brentford FC and Southampton FC provide excellent examples of why having the means to effectively manage different data streams, reduce silos and deliver consistent real-time analysis that can transform tactics and lead to optimal performance.