THE SOURCE FOR TECH BUYING ADVICE
The Head of Data Science at LaLiga Tech talks us through the league’s data-first strategy. Over the past ten years, the professional sports industry has undergone something of a data makeover, both in terms of play analysis and fan content delivery.
One noteworthy instance is the national football league of Spain, LaLiga, which has shifted to a data-centric approach in an effort to enhance the quality of resources available to teams and, consequently, the end-result for viewers.
We chatted with Rafael Zambrano, Head of Data Science at LaLiga Tech, to learn more about the league’s new data strategy, the goal of its dedicated technology division, and the ways in which sports will change as data consumption increases.
Give us an overview of the LaLiga data strategy and what it is designed to achieve
Before 2013, when LaLiga’s presidency changed, there wasn’t really a data or technology strategy, so each club would have to manage things on their own and there wasn’t a centralized way to do it. For the sake of athletes, fans, and clients alike, we intended to completely revamp our strategy and transform our capacity for data analysis and interpretation.
Adopting the Databricks Lakehouse platform was crucial in this regard since it laid the groundwork for LaLiga Tech, the league’s technology division, and allowed us to use data as a tool to advance data-driven sports and raise the bar for the industry as a whole.
Today, LaLiga Tech employs over 150 in-house specialists from a number of fields, including sports, finance, law, and even retail. The team’s foundation is its proficiency in data science, analysis, and programming—skills that, until recently, we saw to be lacking in the sports and entertainment industries.
How does LaLiga’s approach differ from other major football leagues?
Historically, or at least not in a centralized manner, football clubs haven’t used data for decision-making. LaLiga’s goal is to alter that by giving sports properties the chance to examine real-time data from any area of the sports ecosystem, including games, fan engagement, competition administration, and more.
They gain a better grasp of how to maximize the performance of their athletes and provide the best possible experience for the fans as a result. Clubs can enhance match outcomes, minimize player injury, and provide the precise information people demand to increase fan loyalty and income with a greater grasp of these data insights.
Our technology is among the most cutting-edge available, and we constantly work to stay one step ahead of what other leagues are doing. For instance, our goal probability meter, which was the first of its kind, used measurements of the ball’s distance from the goal and even the success rate of each individual shooter to forecast the likelihood that a goal would be scored.
What is the purpose and remit of LaLiga Tech? What kinds of customers does it serve?
The goal of LaLiga Tech is to change the sports and entertainment industries. Through our digital ecosystem, clients can create new platforms to get an advantage over the competition, such as their own OTT platform, real-time data analysis from their matches, digital match kit selection, or content piracy protection.
The level of actionable insights provided by the real-time data gathered by all of these platforms is unprecedented, altering how the game is taught, played, and enjoyed.
Additionally, the data is being used to develop highly effective and personalized customer promotions. After driving innovation within LaLiga, LaLiga Tech has evolved into a data and AI company of note, providing these services to sports organizations all around the world.
In order to better understand fan behavior, the technology available goes beyond sports and has the potential to transform how data is used in the entertainment sector as a whole.
What types of insights does LaLiga produce from its study of video? And to whom are these insights available?
All clubs can use our data and technology solutions. Over 3.5 million positioning measures are collected through Mediacoach, our match data analysis and visualisation platform, per match. These metrics are supplied to clubs in transparent dossiers that can be reviewed to analyze previous matches or upcoming opponents.
We must share our knowledge and inventions with all competitors in order for the league to advance the competition as a whole. In general, adoption has been strong. Even smaller teams with fewer internal resources have been able to take advantage of the value we are providing thanks in part to the teaching and consulting we provide as part of our role as a league in presenting these new options to clubs. Before, after, and during our matches, media partners also receive dossiers of information, allowing them to create original match previews and reports or, as is the case right now, include our real-time data into the match transmission.
How do LaLiga Tech’s data efforts translate into new experiences for fans?
On game day, cameras are installed throughout each stadium to record everything in high definition, allowing for the recording and storage of each and every ball movement. More than 25 frames are captured every second by the cameras.
This generates a ton of useful data that each club’s data scientists may analyze to produce tactical insights that affect decision-making.
On game day, LaLiga Tech’s data scientists must also visualize and analyze that data for broadcast audiences. Every game is an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the game. Then, those insights might be put to use to enhance and rethink how sports are perceived on a larger scale.
Describe the importance of switching to a data lakehouse system. What has LaLiga been able to accomplish especially as a result?
Prior to now, LaLiga’s technology was fragmented, managing separate operations without a centralized database to analyze the data we were producing. We created our business and analytics teams to fight this, but we still had to cope with the requirement to assemble enormous amounts of structured and unstructured data.
Due to this, we were having trouble quickly ingesting the large amounts of live-action data and obtaining insights that business stakeholders could use. We required a solution that enabled machine learning at scale, consolidated all data onto a single platform, and provided real-time insight.
The Databricks Lakehouse platform was a natural choice for us, as it removed much of the complexity and simplified everything into one data lake. We’re now able to perform AI, ML and BI on a single platform that the entire team can access quickly and easily.
This new ecosystem changes the game for fans and club data scientists, as data collected during games can be viewed in real-time and then used for both in-game analysis, to make tactical changes or to predict player injuries before they occur. This use of data presents a new asset that can be used by teams to gain a competitive advantage, 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 analyse and interpret data for the benefit of players, fans and clients alike. We’re now able to gain insights that were unheard of before, using match statistics and in-play analysis to improve performance.
What wider effects may we expect as data-driven football becomes more prevalent? What elements of the game are most likely to change?
This is just the beginning for us. What we’ve achieved so far is just the tip of the iceberg for what could be achieved through data and AI in the sport and entertainment industry. In the future, data will be used more widely to enrich the experience of sports fans, as well as clubs and players.
This will also bring benefits to other sports organisations who are currently working out how to execute their own digital transformation. From LaLiga Tech, we can offer these organisations a way to accelerate this transformation through the solutions that we have been perfecting over many years, and the expertise that we offer both as a sports competition and a technology provider. There are many sports technologies on the market, but none with the complete and industry-focused approach that we have been able to create.
Additionally, a major benefit of becoming data-driven will be understanding changing fan behaviour. Some fans, particularly in younger generations, have become less engaged with traditional ways of viewing sport, choosing digital platforms instead.
Armed with data, clubs can learn more about what where fans are interacting with sport and what content they are consuming, building a more complete profile of the fan which allows us to build much stronger, direct relationships with them. In this way, tech can play a crucial role in allowing sports entities to keep up with an evolving industry and convert themselves into data-driven businesses that are able to make more informed decisions.