How Sports Clubs Can Leverage Big Data

Brian Kopp
Brian Kopp

I started my career in investment banking and private equity before moving into corporate strategy, and mergers and acquisitions, and corporate development roles after getting my MBA from Northwestern. In 2008, I took a strategic role for STATS. Kind of got thrust into building a new business unit within the company, based around player-tracking technology – using cameras to track the movements of athletes.

I did that for a number of years and built that business within STATS. That’s when I started looking around for what would be the next big thing in the sports market. I saw wearables as a huge growth opportunity at all levels. I joined Catapult three years ago to head up their North American business. We acquired XOS about a year ago.

I’ve since transitioned into more of an advisory role at Catapult, which gives me some flexibility to go out and step into similar roles for other companies. For instance, I now advise small start-ups to mid-stage companies that are trying to connect the dots within the sports tech industry. They either need to raise capital, connect [with] the right people in the industry, or strategically position their business.

Data Gaps in Sports and Specifically Wearables

There are data gaps.  As I think about the market, a lot of it starts with collecting all the data – whether that means tracking data from wearable devices or cameras, data that you’re observing, or data that an athlete is entering.

But once you’ve even gotten access to data, there’s a growing gap in the use and analytics of that data. How could you actually use data to make a meaningful difference or to solve a problem?

I think another gap in the sports tech space is there’s just still a lot of athletes that aren’t using anything. Professionals use sports data, but there are plenty of other athletes out there, like non-revenue scholarship athletes who are Division 1, or athletes from smaller colleges who aren’t yet providing emerging data. Their teams aren’t set up to mine data yet. I went to a Division 3 college, and while we didn’t have the same budget as a D1 school, we still took our sports seriously and looked for any edge we could get.

Then there’s the huge, fragmented youth and high school market. Those are areas that haven’t really been served at all, from a data technologies and physical wearable standpoint. I think that’s a gap that several companies are working to fill right now.

The pros and cons for coaches, pro athletes and consumers?

I think one major pro for coaches is they’re much more accepting of data and technology today. Ten years ago, I was introducing this stuff, and nobody wanted to listen to how you use it. It’s becoming more ingrained in how they coach and analyze athletes, which is great.

The cons – as more data comes to market it can be difficult to manage in a meaningful way. Plus it is increasingly hard to validate company claims around data and technology. When Catapult first started, they focused extensively on validity. Validation studies ensure that what you are collecting is truly what you want to collect and is validated by independent third parties. You don’t see that as much anymore. Today, data is as much for marketing as it is for performance.

For pro athletes, you see the impact in the dynamics of what the NFLPA is doing. Athletes are becoming more aware of what is being collected on them and how it can be used. It is essential to have athletes as a part of the data conversation as well.

In terms of consumers, you have seen the big companies like Fitbit and Jawbone that are good at marketing. They provide information and insight but struggle with showing people how having access to more data about themselves can help them get healthier.

I think augmented reality will start coming to sports in the next couple of years to further enhance the viewing experience by integrating data and graphics in unique and engaging ways.

Brian Kopp

Many Athletes and Consumers alike have concerns about who ultimately owns their data.

Data ownership, access, and rights are still in their infancy.  I think that if I was an athlete and I put something on, I would expect to have access to that information. So, we have separate issues with owning information and having the right to see and use information.

Ownership is sometimes less important than having access and rights to data. You can own data, but if you don’t have the right to use, commercialize, or access it in certain ways, you are limited. I think professional athletes are going to want more access and rights to their own data.

Bullish on Sports Tech

I think in the past there has been a pillar around data that’s used to improve performance outcomes. There’s also been a separate pillar that has been around tactical, strategic information. When I was at STATS doing SportVU, that was more around tactical, strategic information, game data. Catapult is the leader in performance data and analytics. I think up to this point those two – performance outcomes and tactical strategy – have been relatively independent of each other. I think they will start coming together as technology improves.

If you do it right, the same type of data allows you to then open-up a fan experience. People always talk about fan engagement. How can we continue to serve fans in different ways around sports? It won’t be the traditional broadband TV model. There’s a lot of other experiences that are out there. There’s been a lot of attention around virtual reality. The ability to combine what you see with different experiences that you can control yourself. I think augmented reality will start coming to sports in the next couple of years to further enhance the viewing experience by integrating data and graphics in unique and engaging ways.

Gathering Data in the Volume and Depth Carry its Own Risks.

Before SportVU, sports was focused on spreadsheet analytics, which you could do with Microsoft Excel. Once you start entering some of these other data sources, like SportVU and Catapult and others, you’re talking databases of information. Now machine learning algorithms are required to really get insight out of that volume of data.

Then it becomes another one of those dynamics where introduction to a lot of data is good, but needs to be harnessed and used the right way. At the end of the day, as much as we talk about big data in sports, the data that we capture is minuscule compared to a lot of other industries.

How Teams, Coaches and Organizations Stay on Top

To me, it all starts with organizational structure. Traditionally, you had analytics in a silo, training in a silo, coaching in a silo, and front office in a silo.  They talked to each other, but they did most of their work independently. So, there were disconnects between the decisions that were made, or how information was used.

The most successful organizations are starting to communicate, collaborate, and understand that what goes on when you’re out on the practice field impacts what goes on in the training room, which impacts decision-making in the front office. Having more complete information for communication is key. Some of that has been accelerated by technology. I think the best practices are those that don’t view those as independent jobs, but do it as a collaborative team effort.

Once you’ve done that, the way that technology and use of data comes in becomes pretty core to how they handle that as well. You look at things holistically. That’s true at the pro level, and at the college level.

Digital transformation: Better Understanding the Customer Experience

We’ve gone through a couple different evolutions as an industry.

Digital transformation is taking different data that’s being used in a lot of different ways, presenting it and using it in unique ways. Take augmented reality. I think the best augmented reality experiences are going to be those that integrate cool graphics with really cool and interesting insights that are based on the data you’re collecting.

The most successful organizations are starting to communicate, collaborate, and understand that what goes on when you’re out on the practice field impacts what goes on in the training room, which impacts decision-making in the front office.

Brian Kopp

A few years ago, the emphasis was around collecting and getting access to data. We’ve now evolved into more analytics, visualization, and application of that data. I think that’s where a lot of the transformation will take place. It’s matching up with the demands of the market, because people don’t want to just have the passive experience. They want to be more interactive with what they’re seeing across the board.

About The Author

About The Author

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