The professional sports industry has embarked on something of a data transformation over the past decade, both in terms of game analysis and the delivery of content to fans.
A significant example can be found in Spain, where the national football league, LaLiga, pivoted to a data-centric model designed to improve the quality of resources available to teams and, by extension, the end result for spectators.
To find out more, we spoke to Rafael Zambrano, Head of Data Science at LaLiga Tech, who told us about the league’s new data strategy, the goal of its dedicated tech arm, and how the sport will evolve as the use of data grows.
Give us an overview of LaLiga’s data strategy and what it’s designed to achieve
Before 2013 and the change of La Liga presidency, there was no real data or technology strategy, which meant that each club would have its own processes and there was no centralized way to do it. to manage. We wanted to revamp our approach, transform our ability to analyze and interpret data for the benefit of players, fans and customers.
Adoption of the Databricks Lakehouse platform played a big role here and laid the foundation for LaLiga Tech (opens in a new tab)the technology arm of LaLiga – allowing us to use data as a tool to improve the game and set the bar for the industry as a whole, pioneering data-driven sports.
Today, LaLiga Tech has a team of over 150 in-house experts from a variety of backgrounds, from sports, finance, law and even retail. The team was built on their expertise in data science, analytics and programming, skills that were lacking in the sports and entertainment industry a few years ago.
How does LaLiga’s approach differ from other major football leagues?
Football clubs have never used data for decision-making, or at least not centrally. LaLiga’s mission is to change that by giving sports properties the ability to analyze real-time insights from any part of the sports ecosystem: matches, fan engagement, competition management, and more. This allows them to better understand how to get the most out of their players and provide the best fan experience. With a better understanding of this information, clubs can improve match results, prevent player injuries and provide the accurate information fans need to build loyalty and generate revenue.
We try to be one step ahead of what other leagues are doing, and our technology is among the most advanced available. For example, our goal probability metric was the first of its kind, measuring factors such as the distance between the ball and the goal, and even the success rate of each shooter to predict their chances of scoring a goal.
What is the purpose and mission of LaLiga Tech? What types of clients does it serve?
LaLiga Tech’s goal is to transform the world of sport and entertainment. Through our digital ecosystem, customers are able to develop new platforms to advance their competitors, such as creating their own OTT platform, analyzing real-time data of their matches, digital management from the selection of match kits or the protection of content against piracy. The real-time data generated from all of these platforms delivers an unprecedented level of actionable insights, revolutionizing the way the game is trained, played and enjoyed.
The data is also used to create highly successful personalized and impactful customer campaigns. From spearheading innovation within LaLiga, LaLiga Tech has grown into a full-fledged data and AI company, bringing these capabilities to sports teams around the world.
The technology on offer also extends beyond sports, with the potential to revolutionize how data can be used across the entertainment industry as a whole to better understand fan behavior.
What types of information does LaLiga generate through its image analysis? And who has access to this information?
Our technology and data solutions are available to all clubs. Through Mediacoach, our match data analysis and visualization platform, we collect over 3.5 million positioning metrics per match, which are provided to clubs in clear folders that can be studied to analyze past matches. or future opponents.
As a league, it is important that we extend our expertise and innovations to all participants to help the competition grow collectively. Adoption has generally been strong. Part of our role as a league is to introduce these new opportunities to clubs and provide training and advice, which has helped even smaller clubs with limited internal resources to exploit the value we offer. Media partners also receive information packages regarding our matches before, after and during the match, which means that they can prepare unique match previews, reports or add our real-time data to the match transmission, as we see it now.
How are LaLiga Tech’s data efforts translating into new fan experiences?
On match day, cameras in each stadium capture everything in high definition, making it possible to capture and store every movement of the ball. The cameras capture over 25 frames per second.
This creates dozens of valuable pieces of information that can be analyzed by each club’s team of data scientists and used to gain tactical insights that influence decision-making.
Data scientists at LaLiga Tech are also tasked with visualizing and interpreting this data for broadcast audiences on matchday. Every game is an opportunity to learn more and more about the game. These learnings can then be used to improve and reimagine the way sports are experienced on a larger scale.
Tell us about the importance of moving to a data lakehouse system. What specifically did this allow LaLiga to achieve?
Previously, LaLiga’s technology was piecemeal – running isolated processes but without a central repository to analyze the information we were creating. To combat this, we set up our business and analytics teams, but we were still faced with the need to mine massive amounts of structured and unstructured data. Faced with this, we struggled to effectively ingest the volumes of live action data and extract insights that business stakeholders could understand and act upon. We needed a solution that unified all data on a single platform and allowed us to gain real-time insights, enabling machine learning at scale.
The Databricks Lakehouse platform was a natural fit for us because it removed a lot of the complexity and simplified everything into a single data lake. We are now able to perform AI, ML and BI on a single platform that the whole team can access quickly and easily. This new ecosystem is a game-changer for fans and club data scientists, as data collected during matches can be viewed in real-time and then used both for in-game analysis, to make tactical changes or to predict player injuries before they happen. This use of data presents a new asset that can be used by teams to gain a competitive edge, so in our view the whole area of analytics will become a new battleground for clubs.
With the adoption of the Databricks Lakehouse platform, we have made significant progress in our ability to analyze and interpret data for the benefit of players, fans and customers. We are now able to gain unprecedented insights, using match stats and in-game analysis to improve performance.
What will be the wider effect as football becomes increasingly data driven? What aspects of the game are likely to see the biggest change?
This is just the beginning for us. What we have achieved so far is just the tip of the iceberg of what could be achieved through data and AI in the sports and entertainment industry. Going forward, the data will be used more widely to enrich the experience for sports fans, as well as clubs and players. It will also bring benefits to other sports organizations that are currently working on how to execute their own digital transformation. From LaLiga Tech, we can offer these organizations a way to accelerate this transformation through the solutions we have been perfecting for many years and the expertise we offer as both a sporting competition and a technology provider. There are many sports technologies on the market, but none with the comprehensive, industry-focused approach that we have been able to create.
Additionally, one of the main benefits of becoming data-driven will be understanding changing fan behavior. Some fans, especially among younger generations, have become less interested in traditional ways of watching sports, choosing digital platforms instead. Armed with data, clubs can learn more about what fans are interacting with in sport and what content they are consuming, creating a more complete fan profile, allowing us to build much stronger relationships and directly with them. In this way, technology can play a crucial role in enabling sports entities to keep up with an evolving industry and transform into data-driven companies capable of making more informed decisions.