Case study

Sports performance data analytics fuels Opta’s business expansion

Brian McKenna

Football performance data could play a role in clubs’ scouting efforts and possibly even in footballer market evaluation, according to OptaSports Data.

Florian Diederichsen, chief operating officer at OptaSports Data, advances these thoughts as he reflects on the business, founded in 1996, and bought and developed by Aidan Cooney in 2002.

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The company supplies data to some 300 clients, including football leagues, clubs, betting companies and media organisations, such as Sky. It is the official statistics supplier to the major west European leagues, including the Scottish Premier League and, most recently, the Dutch Eredivise.

“No one else collects performance data”, says Diederichsen. There are other companies who provide results data, but Opta specialises in event information, such as tackles and passes in football, he says. “Around 80% of the value comes from ball tracking”, but the firm also does optical tracking on all the players in the Spanish La Liga and the German Bundesliga. 

Opta also provides data for other sports, like cricket and rugby.

Managing large numbers

It covers 50,000 fixtures a year, capturing about 2,500 elements per fixture, with three analysts covering each match. Diederichsen stresses the “strong editorial team” at the core of the Opta business, which is also known for its Twitter handles OptaJoe, OptaJosé, OptaJean and so on.

Diederichsen confirms the company’s strategic goals are to extend its “reach in being official” by signing up more leagues; providing more bespoke services for clients, as it does for Sky; and providing direct access to the company’s data. They also plan to expand into new geographical markets in eastern Europe and Asia.

NetSuite assists for a quick set up

In setting up new subsidiaries rapidly, the company finds its use of cloud-based NetSuite for financial planning useful, reports Natalie Young, financial controller at the company

OptaSports replaced Sage 50 and a host of spreadsheets with NetSuite’s CRM [customer relationship management] technology in 2005, then took the supplier’s OneWorld service. 

“When we open a new subsidiary in a new location all the tax information is there already in multiple languages”, Young says.

The UK-based company opened a German office in 2005, an Italian one in 2006, and took a stake in a Spanish company, Geca Sport in 2007. It has since opened offices in France, New York, Sydney, and Montevideo, Uruguay.

Diederichson adds: “There is also more room for expansion on the predictive data analytics side, on the betting front, yes, but also in offering objective valuation of players". 

At present, there are football clubs using their data set to identify players who fit sets of criteria instead of “indiscriminate scouting”. Diederichson confirms Chelsea is one club that takes the entire data set and Manchester City is also a client.

Opta uses a MySQL database with 10 nodes over two datacentres. It also opens up the database as a ‘playground’ for users to do their own analysis

“We have a lot of startups and university students creating apps around the database," says Diederichson. 

"This is still an emerging thing for us, more of an investment for the future. ESPN has a similar programme. If it works for them, why not for us?”


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