If you mention ‘sports data’ people tend to conjure up visions of robots, computer vision and magical new ways of creating data. People often ask us at StatsBomb what technology we use in our data collection, as if that is the most important part of the process.
Of course we have a brilliant team of highly skilled software engineers who have built our own proprietary data collection software and are constantly enhancing our process and data spec with new innovative technology. Our software is packed full of validation and intelligence that comes from combined decades of experience in using data to analyse Football for coaches, managers, and owners of clubs. But, even the latest, most high tech tracking data companies need humans to sort out collisions and things like tackle outcomes, especially when there are a bunch of players bunched together in a small area of the pitch.
The often overlooked gem in data collection is the role of people making these critical decisions in every single match. In some cases, around 90% of a game can be left to technology to capture and validate, but the remaining 10% is not always obvious, even to the trained eye. Take this example, did Giroud mean to pass his assist or shoot?
It’s a bit cliche to say the most important asset in any organisation is the people, but it’s true.
We went from being a data collection team of 5 to a team of 85 in just over eight months - hiring, training, and monitoring new recruits at this pace has been a huge challenge! Every collector has to go through intense training, tests, they watch hours and hours of video, and are measured not only on their speed, accuracy and attention to detail but on their attitude, their ability to work closely with their team and contribute towards common goals - to motivate not only themselves, but their team members as well.
We encourage everyone to have and share ideas, to contribute towards the continuous improvement of our products. I have worked at many companies who create an ‘Innovation Team' - at StatsBomb we purposely do the opposite. Everyone is encouraged to innovate - across our tech teams, data science and analysis teams, right through to our data collectors and helpdesk operators.
The psychology involved in this is fascinating - how do you create a motivating culture that includes leaders, innovators, young team members, experienced team members? How should we create bonus systems that reward performance on quality and quantity at individual, team and company level - given that not all teams have equal amounts of experience and every league has its own nuances in style of play that impact data collection? There are frameworks for reward management, all acknowledge the importance of business and cultural issues, but I still mostly find they ignore the people factor.
The impact of ‘one bad egg’ is legitimately worrying, and the retention programme is equally as important as recruitment and training. It’s not about fruit bowls, unlimited holiday, and standing-desks. Although that stuff is fun and contributes towards engagement, it can feel pretentious and a bit over the top in a new and growing business.
The relationship between the leaders and the team members really matters. Possibly still my favourite moment since the launch of StatsBomb was when our data collection leader gave his birthday speech - he knows every single member of the team personally and had genuine tears in his eyes as he told them all how building this team is his proudest achievement so far in his life.
StatsBomb is a data and tech company. We have clever tech and will continue to develop even more clever tech. But behind this will always be our ever growing team of dedicated people, who care and worry about the happiness, motivation and well-being of the team itself. This is how you build defensible IP in data collection.
Which is why we have built (yes built) our data collectors a new office that doubled the size of our original collection centre. With more space, it houses everyone under the same roof - important for quality control across the whole company - with plenty of scope to double in size again as demand for sports data continues to grow. We are more than ready to build upon the early success of our new data operation. With our awesome workforce, we can now expand the number of leagues we cover, and start to go further back in history, and we are genuinely excited about the future!
If you want to know more about our data coverage and QA procedures do get in touch…
Chief Operating Officer