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Sir Alex Ferguson

What Would Sir Alex Ferguson Do?  

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Boycott, Bowled Out?

Picture the scene: Geoffrey Boycott has just been given a LBW on a ball, which he thinks is going to miss off stump. As he trudges back up the steps to the dressing room, livid as only Geoffrey Boycott can be, someone pipes up:

“in 50 years’ time, we’ll have a little black box that we point at the pitch to tell us instantly EXACTLY where that ball would have gone. The umpire can see it. Everyone watching on TV will see it.”


What Would Alex Ferguson Do?

Or how about this one: Its 1985, (Sir) Alex Ferguson has just reached the end of the game and is walking back to the Aberdeen dressing room. He’s ready to give the ‘hair dryer treatment’ to his mid-field about how they failed to press far enough, how the back line was always 5 yards too deep, and how the center forward was a pansy for failing to compete on any cross into the box. And someone pipes up;

“in 30 years’ time we’ll be able to tell you EXACTLY how far players ran on the pitch, their average pitch position, and how many times a player wins a header on crosses to the near or far post.”

In both cases, I’m sure the person who had just interrupted would have been probed and made to give up that information now. Either that or they would have been met with ridicule at the thought of such a ludicrous idea!


Game Changer

In sports we often see technical developments influencing the data that people collect and changing the way that they use that data to make decisions. That new tech, and its different uses, often then filters down into everyday practice.

Look at, for example, player tracking in Football. There are two main providers of this kind of data capture: Opta and Prozone.


Opta: Data The Manual Way

Opta not only powers the Premier League infographics we get from the BBC and Sky, but it also provides all the data that is collected for the Rugby World Cup (and numerous other major sporting events).

Despite the fact that we are living in the age of the miniature GPS monitor, Opta, interestingly, still uses a relatively ‘low tech’ method for its data capture.

It has a horde of analysts who manually track and log all the activities on the pitch. They produce a feed of data in real time that covers everything, from an individual’s actions (did they shoot, pass, cross etc.), to their coordinates on the pitch.

Now, I normally screw my face up at anything that has a manual data capture element. But the advantage of this system is that any historical sporting event of which there is video footage can be analysed in this way. Every Rugby World Cup from 1987 onwards, for example.


Prozone: Modern Data Capture

Prozone, in contrast, makes use of more modern technology. It uses visual recognition software, to track and understand player activity and performance.

Working with anywhere from one camera to a collection of cameras (depending on the level of analysis you choose to purchase from them), Prozone offers a robust analysis of player movement and performance. It also provides a platform on which to view that data and its insights.

Regardless of methodology this information has empowered coaches to make more informed decisions and analyse performance in a different way. Decisions are no longer simply based on opinion and conjecture; you have empirical evidence at your disposal.


Targeted Marketing Scores

This abundance of data appears in a number of sports and not all coaches embrace it. The important thing, however, is that this data is accurate and that advances have been made to make it readily available to all that wish to use it.

These types of tracking and data collection can be of great use to businesses in a number of ways.
Picture the scene: It’s Saturday. Today’s the big match between Man Utd. and Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge. The manager has been preparing everyone for this moment. His game plan has been honed during the weeks building up to the match to make sure all goes to plan.

And then it happens. Just before half time. The move starts; slow at first, but it’s building speed. Passing 1… 2… 3… until he is in the space and able to finish! He’s done it!! Ticket holder 84732 has gone into the club shop and bought a brand new away strip with Eden Hazard’s name on the back!!

After weeks of his walking passed the shop at half time, but never actually entering, now targeted marketing has scored. This man’s geolocation, his past searches on the Chelsea website, and his previous purchasing behavior – the collection of all this data has finally paid off.

Slightly Big Brother-esque? Yes. The kind of information that can be gleaned with an app or with visual recognition, with a suitable privacy policy, and the right tools that deliver accurate data? Definitely.

Interestingly, with the focus on off-field technology that big clubs such as Chelsea F.C. and Manchester United are now honing in on, it’s not necessarily as far away as you would think!


What Does This Mean For Me?

There are other regular uses of this kind of tech, too – for example, visual recognition impacts everyone who travels through airports as it’s used in queue management.

Unquestionably, the technology is now in place to monitor movement and understand activity like never before. But, when looking at this kind of data it is important to remember one fact:

The number of data sources and visualisation principles may have increased, but talented analysts are still needed to make sense of the figures.

Yes, we can use Opta and Prozone to collect vast amounts of data. But that doesn’t mean that everyone with access to this kind of intelligence will be the next Sir Alex Ferguson. Hawkeye can provide you with great data; it won’t tee you up to be the next Geoff Boycott. It’s what you do with the data that counts.

Likewise, in business, the data on its own is not enough. You must have a strategy for its use, and a plan for where you want it to take you.

At Station10 we find that the businesses that use data most effectively are those that have developed a strong data-driven culture; those that have ingrained data analysis into their processes and use customer insights to steer the business forward and influence its direction.

If you are interested in using new tools and capitalising on these advancements in data analysis – or just want some help to look more like Sir Alex and less like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – then please get in touch.

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