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The Business of Football Kits: Sponsorships, Technology, Branding and Beyond

As we enter the final few months leading up to this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, the national teams taking part in the tournament have been unveiling their new kits to ride on the wave of growing interest in international football.

Brazil, England, Germany, Spain, Argentina and France have all released new kit designs for the summer, with various big-name sportswear companies and top international stars at the helm of high-profile launch events and flashy marketing campaigns. (The Mirror has a collection of some newly released kits here.)

As with most commercial activity in football, however, not all the recent kit launches have been met with universal acclaim: Ben Curtis’ article on the Mirror is a cynical rant at the hype machines that these events have become, while Lizzie Parry’s on the Daily Mail highlights just how expensive replica kits, launched over increasingly short time periods, have become.

In February, we explored the importance of stadiums in the overall commercial strategies of football clubs. As top-level football increasingly becomes big business and a huge revenue generator, let’s take a look at another money-spinning side to the sport: football kits.

 

Vincent Yu

 

Sponsorships

One of the first things that comes to mind when football kits are mentioned these days is the staggering amount of money they can generate for football clubs, both from the merchandising side and from the corporate sponsorship side.

While club merchandise is generally dependent on the popularity and on-pitch success of the clubs themselves—and the annual Deloitte Money League results generally attest to that—the larger context is the money that sportswear companies actually pay to be the official kit providers of football clubs.

In recent years, just in the Premier League, we’ve seen many instances of eye-watering commercial deals involving kit suppliers. Liverpool’s 2012 deal with Warrior Sports, the latter’s first foray into football, would, according to Andy Hunter of the Guardian, net the club at least £25 million a year.

Just this January, Arsenal announced they would be changing their kit maker from Nike to Puma, in a five-year deal reportedly worth more than £30 million a year, per the BBC. And, as ever when it comes to business deals, Manchester United shocked the world this March with their world-record 10-year deal with Nike, which, according to Simon Mullock of the Mirror, will see the Old Trafford club earn more than £60 million a year.

Besides contracts with sportswear makers, the other big player in the football kit boom is the corporate sponsorship deals that have taken center stage in recent years. This 2013 J.J. Colao article in Forbes listed Manchester United, Barcelona, FC Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Real Madrid as the biggest shirt sponsorship deals in the world.

Another interesting marketing tactic has been employed by Tottenham Hotspur this season, as they featured different sponsors on their shirts in different competitions, with Hewlett Packard their Premier League front and AIA their cup shirt partner. According to Kevin Palmer of ESPNFC, however, even Tottenham will revert to the traditional “principal partner” model at other big clubs, having agreed a lucrative £20 million-a-year deal with AIA for the next five years.

 

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

 

Technology

But with all the money that goes into the kits, and their burgeoning price tags, do those who get to wear them actually benefit?

Specifically, do the footballers themselves get anything out of the constant kit changes, or are they just excuses to step in front of a camera for yet another photo shoot?

Just ask the Italian national team stars. According to the BBC, the high-tech football shirts they will be wearing at the World Cup this summer will be able to deliver massages during the game. The shirts contain a special tape that provides “micro-massages” for their wearers and “maximise muscle power” by allowing the body to recover from exertion more quickly.

Away from the luxury options provided to footballers these days, far more important is the shirts’ ability to keep their wearers warm in extreme cold temperatures. This article from PRNewswire.com lists a few examples of temperature-regulating technologies that are present in football shirts on the market.

Different sportswear manufacturers—the same who enter into the lucrative long-term contracts with football clubs and will rely on such technology to win such bids—integrate different functions into their shirts, but the underlying principles are the same: adding layers onto shirts that keep players comfortable, dry, warm or cool depending on the surrounding weather conditions.

With the digital space increasingly at the center of the football fan experience, besides featuring on shirts themselves, technology has also crept into the marketing side of football shirts and kit launches, so much so that organizing such events can be considered an industry in itself.

See, for example, this analysis on Liverpool’s new kit launch in 2012 on Dan McLaren’s TheUKSportsNetwork.com. Liverpool’s multichannel marketing and promotion strategy, across different social media platforms, was all about putting out a united front for the kit launch, which also had to match the club’s corporate branding.

But, as they’ve tended to do so in social media in general, Manchester City will take home the technology and marketing hybrid approach for football kits as well.

They’ve since switched to Nike as their main shirt sponsor, but City’s launch of their Umbro kits for the 2012/13 season, as covered here by SoccerBible.com, took fan engagement to a new level when they invited fans to decide how the new kit would be officially launched.

 

Ray Stubblebine

 

Branding

Using a new innovative campaign to bridge the marketing and technology worlds with branding in football was yet another Manchester City-affiliated project, New York City FC.

Since their official announcement in 2013, New York City FC have caught the attention with their cutting-edge digital-marketing campaigns despite the MLS outfit not yet officially competing in the U.S.’s highest-tier domestic football league.

NYCFC put their fans truly at the center of their business and branding strategy by inviting them to submit ideas for an official club crest, which was met with widespread acclaim and culminated in a win-win scenario where the club also got their hands on an excellent winner, shown here on the MLS official website.

An example of how the football kit itself has become more than just one of the components of a football club’s identity; it’s evolved into an integral part of the football club’s business strategy on the whole.

So eager have clubs and affiliated sponsors wanted to tap into their fanbase for merchandising dollars that they have begun creating hype cycles out of kit launches to boost profits and increase circulation among their followers—at the risk of straying into grey areas and stirring controversies.

In tandem with the ongoing, controversial narrative that football is becoming more and more middle- and upper-class and moving away from the traditional working-class fanbase that gave the sport its following and popularity, clubs and corporations have rushed into a branding frenzy and become eager to associate themselves as “premium” titles.

A major recent example was that of Adidas, who, according to Anna White of the Telegraph, may refuse to supply Sports Direct, one of the biggest sports retailers in the UK, with a variety of World Cup football kits due to concerns over its stores and customer service.

Said Adidas, “Like all manufacturers, we regularly review, season by season, where our products are distributed. We determine distribution channels for all products based on criteria such as in-store environment and customer service levels.”

In other words, sportswear manufacturers are eager for their football kits to be treated as premium consumer goods—indeed, the mooted £140 price tag for the new England kits by Nike almost automatically price themselves into that category—and they’re not afraid to incur the wrath of fans and middlemen retailers to achieve their commercial goals.

Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

 

Prior to the World Cup row, Adidas also landed themselves in hot water with Sports Direct over their treatment of Chelsea’s official club kit. In light of the public spat, Matt Scott of InsideWorldFootball.com put together an excellent and in-depth analysis of the changing role of the football kit itself.

Linking the state and rationale of Chelsea’s commercial and branding activities with the area’s wealthy and exclusive reputation, Scott consolidates a list of the London club’s highest-profile official sponsors, who all pride themselves on their elite stature within their respective industries.

The ever-changing face of the football kit, then, is not just an evolution of modern shirt design and an extension of clothing technology into sport, but is a reflection of a shift in the status of merchandise and football itself in the eyes of football clubs, manufacturers and sponsors.

And with seemingly unstoppable momentum behind money-spinning sponsorship deals, it seems that football kits will continue to be at the center of football’s paradigm shift. One only hopes that it doesn’t one day become only limited-edition items due to their exclusivity.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Manchester City: Building a Global Football Empire from the Etihad Stadium

The rise of Manchester City Football Club in recent years has been nothing short of astonishing, and since Sheikh Mansour and the current ownership team took over, they have gone from strength to strength, establishing themselves as a Premier League powerhouse.

Manuel Pellegrini’s impressive setup at the Etihad Stadium had—for a good few months—his City team the runaway top scorers in England, which are currently looking to secure a domestic double with the League Cup already in their hands.

From the outside, City seems like the archetypal sugar-daddy story: After all, didn’t Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and now AS Monaco go down the same path of sudden fame, fortune and success because of mega-rich owners?

That City’s newfound prestige—and that their starting XI boasts the likes of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero—is down to the money injected into the club by their Abu Dhabi owners is undeniable, and in some quarters perhaps spoken of negatively and cynically.

But a quick look at their off-field projects, initiatives and business developments suggests City aren’t just in this for the short term, and they’re not just around to pick up a few trophies.

Manchester City mean business, and they’re well on their way to building a global footballing empire.

Michael Regan/Getty Images

Building a City around their fans

From their well-known support of the club even during their lowly third-tier days to their fanatical celebration of a first-ever Premier League title after a 44-year drought, Manchester City fans have long been famous for their undying support.

So it was only right for any City management to focus on their fans—and to their credit, this is exactly what they’ve done.

As fan engagement started to go digital and social media started to take off, City were one of the first clubs to fully embrace these new channels, and as such became one of the pioneers in this arena among the football industry. (Michael da Silva of Alpha Magazine has more in this excellent write-up.)

Along the way, they’ve picked up their fair share of accolades, and for good reason.

Besides their long-admired Twitter channel, they have also become known for offering one of the most comprehensive YouTube librariesin all of football: Their “Inside City” and “Tunnel Cam” series are a rare breath of fresh air in an industry where much of the behind-the-scenes content remain proprietary and available only on paid subscriptions.

By putting their fans in the center of an all-inclusive, fun and interactive social media strategy, Manchester City have hit the jackpot—and their success has encouraged them to strike up innovative and interesting partnerships to take such marketing and fan engagement methods to the next level.

Take their collaboration with GoPro—known for their work with Red Bull Stratos and Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking free fall from the edge of space—last year, for example.

Announced in August 2013, the GoPro tie-up was a groundbreaking look into “what it’s like to train and play like a professional footballer.” A slight exaggeration, perhaps, given that players wouldn’t have worn the cameras during competitive games—but their viewer numbers of more than two million to date have more than paid off.

Prior to that, their May 2013 partnership with Cisco and O2 turned the Etihad Stadium into the “Premier League’s most technologically fan-friendly stadium,” allowing fans to fully immerse themselves into the digital world while watching a live match unfold before them.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Transforming the City of Manchester

The City of Manchester means a lot to the football club in two different ways.

The first is obvious: Their landmark deal in 2011 with Etihad Airways, which, according to Daniel Taylor of the Guardian, was worth awhopping £400 million, renamed the City of Manchester Stadium to the Etihad Stadium it is known as now.

It was also the largest sponsorship deal in sports at the time and showed the financial powerhouse that Manchester City Football Club were becoming—and the raw commercial potential they had in abundance.

But while the sponsorship arrangement was momentous, arguably more important was what the owners and related stakeholders had in mind for the city of Manchester itself.

The £400 million partnership had significant funds earmarked for the continued development of the Etihad Campus, an area of land around the stadium including a fans’ village and other training facilities. When they put pen to paper on the landmark deal, the landscape and the immediate vicinity was instantly changed.

Two-and-a-half years since he announced the deal, Taylor revisited the topic and wrote more extensively on the “changing football landscape” in Manchester this February (via the Guardian).

With the Etihad Campus due to start its operations within six months and the redeveloped area to include “16 other pitches, accommodation for players, apartments for relatives, a medical center, a boardman, a media theater,” this is truly the beginning of an exciting new era at Manchester City. (The Telegraph have more on the training facility plans here.)

In conjunction with this is the vision at the boardroom level, where Mansour set out a model to incorporate a sustainable future in his plans for the club, which led him to the long-awaited appointment of Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, both instrumental to Barcelona’s dynasty under Pep Guardiola.

The Barcelona blueprint was instrumental and central to Manchester City’s own footballing approach, according to Sid Lowe of the Guardian, and has begun to work its magic. As reported by the Independent, Patrick Vieira, the ex-Arsenal legend, was chosen last summer to move from his position as football development executive to head up City’s new elite development squad, who have been flying high in the under-21 Premier League this season.

Ray Stubblebine/Associated Press

Cities abroad: A global empire

As Manchester City’s youth players go through a one-club development philosophy and prepare to graduate to first-team level, City’s groundwork has been laid at the local level. Prepare to arm Manuel Pellegrini with a squad that can compete at the top of the European game in the coming years.

Whenever it comes to empire building, the next logical step after sorting out the local setup is to look global.

And City first hit the headlines for their worldwide ambitions with their foray into the United States’ Major League Soccer, joining up with Major League Baseball team, the New York Yankees, to establish New York City FC as MLS’s 20th franchise, as confirmed via SI.com.

Besides forming a fresh new local rivalry with the New York Red Bulls, New York City FC will also be commissioning a brand new football-specific stadium in the Bronx area, according to the Guardian, while also boasting the highly rated American coach Jason Kreis as their first manager.

They weren’t content with moving to just one continent, either, and in January this year, City confirmed, via the Guardian, they would be dipping their feet into the Australian market with their acquisition of A-League side Melbourne Heart.

These two acquisitions and expansions have been branded as “strategic” investments in two of the fastest-growing football nations: City will have had one eye on their revenue streams and profit margins when they decided to move ahead with these bold ventures.

But just as they’ve done at home, City also have a one-of-a-kind opportunity waiting in front of them, the kind of opportunity that will only present itself to those with the resources and long-term vision to make it happen.

If Mansour and his management team continue their good work in the city of Manchester and decide to invest in boosting the footballing infrastructures in both New York and Melbourne, not only will they develop their new football clubs, but they might also have a defining say in the footballing growth of the US and Australia.

The potential and the possibilities of a Manchester City football empire are as tantalizing as they are awe-inspiring.

They’ve already gone back to their roots: In a classic fan-centric move, New York City FC have released two winning designs for their club badge and put them up for a public vote among their fans.

We can’t wait to see what’s next.

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League, and occasionally on football business.

The Proliferation of Data-Driven Analysis in Football (Part Four: The Fans)

So here we are at Part Four, the final episode to this four-part series covering big data in football.

So far, we’ve looked at three key players in the burgeoning industry of football analytics and statistics: the scouts, the coaches and the scientists. We’ve seen the ways that data-driven analyses have revolutionized and modernized the beautiful game, and we’ve discussed the ways that clubs, managers and players all stand to benefit.

But undoubtedly, the most important player in all of this—and the player that will get the most enjoyment out of this new big data revolution in football—is the fan.

Because after all, it’s because of the fans that football as a profession (extending to all associated occupations) exists. It’s because of the fans (and the money and consumption power that come with them) that leagues strive to design the best and most marketable product possible, and clubs in turn do all they can to boost performance, win silverware and attract even more fans.

It’s all a beautiful cycle that—overlooking the cynicism surrounding money in modern football—will only spin faster, and the components will only get more closely knit together.

Not only will fans benefit from the better competition on the field of play, but they have also been at the forefront of the analytics movement: They’ve driven some of the newest innovations themselves with their own interests in statistics, and as such there have been whole industries created and extended to include football in their reach.

To best gauge where the big data movement in football currently is and predict how it’s going to further develop, we turn to the fans to best see what we’ll experience next.


A sample of Opta’s offerings, courtesy of optasports.com

Data Providers

It’s hard to really trace football analytics back to one founder, but Charles Reep, a former wing commander, is probably a good person to start with, in the early 1950s.

Reep went about collecting football statistics by himself to suggest that “the key to scoring goals and winning games was to transfer the ball as quickly as possible from back to front,” thereby indirectly starting the long-ball movement in English football. This must-read Forbes article details his monumental role in both football analytics and as such the stereotypical English footballing style.

Over the years, football statistics have evolved into a profession in itself. As we have covered in previous installments of this series, there are now professional statistical analysis firms like ProZone and Opta, who provide data to football clubs, coaches and leagues, who pay for such services to ensure they can remain in control of their performances and results as much as possible, by monitoring their players and opponents.

And through fan interest, more and more statistics and related analyses are being made available to fans for casual enjoyment, either to back up a viewpoint in a friendly bar conversation, or to challenge a friend’s opinion.

At the center of this, again, is Opta. With the expertise and reach that they provide—not to mention their reputation—Opta now supply the data at the heart of many a football statistics website and app (we’ll cover more of those later). As we can see in their official About page, Opta pride themselves on a “consistent and reliable approach across [their] global data collection operation.”

Behind many high-profile platforms, such as Sky’s innovative touchscreen app used by their football analysts on live TV, lie Opta and their statistical work. (Of course, they’re not limited to football either; their rugby coverage has also been met with critical acclaim.) A large number of websites also make use of Opta’s statistics to produce critical analyses and come up with insights and scoring patterns of their own.

This blog entry from AnalysisMarketing has a good selection and review of popular football sites that use Opta as their statistical backbone. Two of them, EPLIndex.com and WhoScored.com, are frequently quoted for their statistics-heavy commentaries and opinion pieces; indeed, their tweets are popular during football matches, though not as iconic as Opta’s own tweets, which have been the subject of case studies and awards.


The Sky Sports touchscreen technology, courtesy of thedrum.com

Fantasy Football and the Future

At the intersection of the Internet, the sports world and a growing fascination with numbers is the phenomenon that is fantasy sports.

For years, American sports in particular have been a huge hit with their fantasy leagues and games that are contested among fans—the March Madness bracket of college basketball has found its way to national prominence, with President Barack Obama a keen fan and follower, and it’s often more difficult to find a young college student without a bracket than another with a set of constantly changing predictions.

While fantasy American football is exploding and becoming a hugely lucrative and exciting industry, so fantasy football has been expanding in its own right, largely and not surprisingly coinciding with the increase in interest in the numbers and statistics behind football.

Fans of fantasy football will know well the three big versions of the game offered by the FA Premier League, ESPN and Yahoo!, and the differences in how they tabulate and score points for each position and each contribution towards the game show emphases on different aspects of the game, and has naturally prompted discussion on the merits of each fantasy league.

When we look at the burgeoning interest in fantasy football as it is, it’s hard not to ponder the potential that the game has for fans, for number-crunchers and for statistics lovers. (Before we do that, let’s also take a moment and pay tribute to Football Manager, the original statistics-loving football fan’s wonderland, still more powerful in 2013.)

Current protocol has it that defenders and goalkeepers score points for clean sheets while forwards do not, that they score more points per goals scored than midfielders and forwards—generally that each position is awarded points based on the player doing what essentially is in his job description on the pitch.

But how tantalizing is the thought—and we wouldn’t be surprised if this movement were already starting—that, with so much data being made available to fans, they would be able to design leagues by themselves among like-minded friends who wanted to focus more on niche attributes?

Would midfielders who tried more defence-splitting passes and completed more key passes per game score more than those who are simply their clubs’ designated penalty-takers? Would defensive midfielders who allowed fewer dribbles past them and achieved a higher tackling success rate be as valuable in the fantasy football world as forwards who scored goals? Would defenders who ventured forward more and played a larger proportion of their passes on the ground be more highly prized than those who simply got points by staying back, defending and keeping a clean sheet?

How these combinations and permutations would be constructed and conceptualized is entirely down to the imaginations of fans—and in the future we could see fans not just asking whether you’re playing the official EPL fantasy league, but whether you’re in the tiki-taka school or the long-ball-merchant hall.

How’s that for a communalization of football statistics?

 

Apps, Casual Analyses and More?

But we’re not done yet.

The natural extension of award-winning statistics-based websites is the mobile app, and we can start our discussion here with the Telegraph’s compilation of “essential” football apps.

One of the most high-profile football data apps is probably FourFourTwo’s award-winning Stats Zone app, which is driven by data from Opta and covers a wide range of leagues across the globe. Its unique selling point, for those who don’t already have it on their phones, is that it allows fans to pinpoint their own areas of interest and can share their analyses over social media and email.

Unsurprisingly, this innovative approach and user-centric design has led to a quick expansion of the Stats Zone app, which has been met with considerable joy from fans all over the world. (That last part was based on pure conjecture, but we suspect that it’s mostly true, even without data to back us up.)

Another product that has seen a remarkable rise within a year is Squawka, which styles itself as a second-screen app, riding on the unmistakable wave of second-screen technology currently taking over mobile devices.

It’s this provision of data visualization and easy-to-manage statistics and graphs that have propelled Squawka to their unique position as a favorite tool both for fans and for advertisers, who see unparalleled screen time due to its continued, undistracted presence on a tablet screen for a viewer. No surprise, then, that Squawka has quickly added commentary pieces and news articles to its burgeoning collection of football information throughout the past year—it launched in June 2012—and no surprise that it’s received significant interest from outside the football industry and from investors excited at a new business frontier.

And it doesn’t stop there. Squawka also looks at trends beyond what’s happening on the pitch. A groundbreaking project with DataSift allowed Squawka to track social media activity on Twitter during Chelsea’s home defeat to Manchester United on October 28, 2012 (less than five months after its official launch). The relative spikes in activity in correlation with key moments in the match provided insight into fan behaviors, and there’s more to come.

The quotes from Squawka cofounder and CEO Sanjit Atwal towards the end of the Guardian piece hint at future potential of data visualization and tracking beyond football: “Does a bit of ultimately unnecessary skill boost online reaction more than a simple yet effective pass? Do foreign players get more abuse for diving than their English counterparts?”

More than just helping stimulate reactions towards 22 players kicking a ball around a stadium, these analytics companies are trekking into unchartered territory: human behavior, social psychology and anthropology.

Ladies and gentlemen: Football, the beautiful game.

This piece first appeared on BusinessofSoccer.com, where I cover business and marketing strategy, globalization and technology in football.

The Football Business Column: The Business and Politics Behind the 2022 Qatar World Cup Controversies

“It may well be that we made a mistake at the time.”

Given the fresh controversy surrounding the death of migrant workers on the building sites for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, Sepp Blatter’s public admission in early September to Inside World Football (h/t ESPN) seems all the more pertinent. If only he’d thought of such implications and possibilities before actually approving the final decision.

No matter. What’s happened has already happened, but FIFA are now left to pick up the considerable refuse that has been generated in the wake of the significant recent fallout over the decision to award the tiny Middle Eastern emirate the hosting rights of the world’s most prestigious single-sport tournament. The problems are rooted in politics, as they were always going to be given the universality of the world’s most popular sport, and the international involvement in and exposure to the game.

Surely more background digging should’ve been conducted prior to the bid, and surely more scrutiny should’ve been paid to the implementation process by FIFA and the Qatari authorities, to avoid any potential banana skin in their grand ambitious plan to bring the tournament to new and exotic places on the planet.

Simply put, the migrant worker situation should’ve been researched and taken into consideration in the bid process. It might have been a bit too political to go into the human rights records and agendas of host countries, but it’s FIFA, it’s the World Cup and it’s all about politics anyway.

David Cannon/Getty Images

The Politics

“The World Cup and foreign labor abuse in host countries” sounds exactly like the kind of problem that should never have been inflicted on FIFA in the first place, such is the emphasis given to the separation of football from politics and anything of the sort. Sadly, this was always going to be tough.

Especially with, in Blatter’s words, football being “a global unifying force for the good, a force that offers to be inclusive in every which way and a force that has written anti-discrimination on its banner under my presidency.” Especially with FIFA’s goal to bring the World Cup to places that haven’t hosted it before—South Africa, Brazil, Russia and now Qatar (representing the Middle East); the likes of Australia and China are surely not far behind.

It’s in this context that Blatter’s admission to German newspaper Die Zeit (h/t The Guardian)—“European leaders recommended to its voting members to opt for Qatar, because of major economic interests in this country”—appears particularly worrying. Not only this: UEFA president Michel Platini has one-upped Blatter and suggested to the Associated Press (h/t The Washington Post) that this sort of political influence was commonplace in international tournaments: “With the extraordinary influence Mr. Blatter has, he has only all of a sudden realized there are political and economic influences when we decide who will host an Olympic Games and so forth?”

A public spat that not only casts a pessimistic, cynical light over proceedings, but one that should be avoided in the first place. Not even Platini’s insistence that former French president Nicolas Sarkozy didn’t personally ask him to vote for Qatar despite Sarkozy’s political support will clear anything up.

And it’s led to Qatar’s FIFA 2022 World Cup Organizing Committee secretary-general Hassan Al Thawadi defending his country’s bid and its legality. There will be lots of questions thrown his way; he’d better get used to fighting the fire.

Handout/Getty Images

The Scheduling

Possibly the biggest question of all when the subject of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is brought up is this: Will it be held in the summer or will it be moved to the winter?

The first thing that comes to mind when we consider a winter World Cup is: What happens to all the leagues that run throughout the year except during the summer? It just so happens that those are the European leagues that have the most worldwide interest, the highest-profile players and the best quality and competition. Just a simple statement from the EPFL, the umbrella body of the major European leagues, will have FIFA scrambling.

The potential problems brought about by disrupting the league calendar are quite significant. It’s not just about asking those leagues to move their domestic calendars for just a season. It’s not just about the feasibility of working out a schedule that also fits in with the Winter Olympics. And it’s not just about moving a four-week tournament, as they’re finally starting to find out, and FIFA will have all kinds of oppositions, protestations and storms to weather in the coming weeks and months (hopefully not years).

Speaking of the weather, never mind the considerations that FIFA should have made regarding the scheduling due to the summer temperatures in Qatar even during the bidding process; now that the question of whether Qatar should host the World Cup at all is being asked again, even the chairman of FIFA’s medical committee has come out in public opposition.

Michel D’Hooghe has gone on record questioning the prospect of holding the tournament in the summer from a medical perspective and has included aspects other than players training and competing in scorching temperatures while he was at it: He mentioned the delegates, the “FIFA family,” the media and would you know it, the fans as well. A FIFA executive keeping the fans in mind?

Another perspective also had the fans’ interests in mind, or so it claimed. This time it was the Australian Football Federation, who lost its original bid for the 2022 World Cup, who has asked for compensation in the event that FIFA do move the tournament to the winter, just because it feels like it’s entitled to “just and fair” compensation to “those nations that invested many millions, and national prestige, in bidding for a summer event.”

The FFA did give some context, acknowledging the place football has in Australia by citing the fact that the A-League runs through the Australian summer (winter in the northern hemisphere) because high-quality stadiums Down Under aren’t as accessible during the rest of the year. FFA chairman Frank Lowy claimed that “clubs, investors, broadcasters, players and fans would all be affected,” which is a valid argument and observation.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The TV Money

Just in case we were getting carried away with the seemingly alien notion that football authorities actually care about the common fan, there are other high-profile cases that shoot us right back down.

Fox Sports, a division of the US television network Fox, have made public theiropposition to any potential switch of the tournament to the winter (h/t Nick Harris of the Daily Mail), simply because “Fox Sports bought the World Cup rights with the understanding they would be in the summer as they have been since the 1930s.”

In this case, it’s about the finance and economics of broadcasting such an event, which, when the numbers involved come to light, are hardly a small matter. FIFA earned a whopping $1.1 billion for the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups; Fox paid around $450 million, while NBC Universal’s Telemundo division bought the Spanish-language rights for $600 million.

And these are US networks that have acknowledged the rise in interest in the “beautiful” game (in quotes for obvious reasons considering the topic of this article) by shelling out for the English Premier League this season, but that are also cautious about having football competing for high-profile prime-time spots alongside the traditional big American sports during the regular American season.

Such is the importance and influence of broadcasters that Ben Rumsby of The Daily Telegraph reports FIFA have allegedly held secret meetings with them in an attempt to “quell opposition to any move,” which all but shows that FIFA are the mercy of their own money-making engines.

Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

The Disillusion

The debate and fevered discussion will no doubt continue for a while yet over the staging of the World Cup—and indeed if it will still be held in Qatar at all—but one thing’s for sure: Given the amount of money and politics involved in the game now, surely these were things that FIFA should’ve considered before awarding the hosting rights to Qatar?

If there had been a clear plan and clear communication during the process—even accounting for the widespread unwillingness to change across footballing authorities and TV networks (understandable, considering the financial implications)—perhaps right now, instead of clashing over it all, everyone would be celebrating that the World Cup Finals are finally arriving in the Middle East.

A disappointing chapter in the history of arguably the world’s most inclusive and socially impactful sport, and an undoubted tarnishing of FIFA’s slogan: “For the game, for the world.” Plenty of work to do still.

This piece originally appeared on Bleacher Report and is also part of my Football Business Column for SWOL.co, in which I discuss some of the latest news, trends and developments on the business side of football—everything including marketing, strategy, technology and finance.

The Proliferation of Data-Driven Analysis in Football (Part Two: The Coaches)

Big data.

It’s the flavor of the moment, whether it’s used in conjunction with politics, business or sports, and given the growing ease with which organizations and people can collect data, it looks as if big data is here to stay.

And when the BBC Technology section runs an article on how data analytics is influencing football, you know it’s a hot, hot topic.

In part one of this series looking at data-driven analysis in football, we discussed the growing popularity and importance of statistics to football scouts, which extends to how football clubs run themselves as organizations and businesses.

A key player in the stats arena that we looked at was Manchester City, so it’s no surprise that the BBC article just cited starts with City as a club to look at: They, after all, employ 10 full-time data analysts just for the first team (and this was the picture, at the time of writing, almost six months ago), and club captain Vincent Kompany has realized the value of in-depth analysis, such that he’s reportedly started meeting with his fellow defenders and the data analysts to discuss their findings.

We started off our last piece looking at the role that pre-match preparation played in Simon Mignolet’s exciting penalty save from Stoke City’s Jonathan Walters on the goalkeeper’s debut for Liverpool—the importance of data analysis and the simple of collection of statistics did the job there, and will continue to do this job.

We will now discuss the coach’s role and use of statistics in part two of our four-part series on Business of Soccer, in which we’ll look at how big data and related technologies and trends have influenced and augmented the beautiful game. Parts three and four will look at the sports scientists and, finally, the fans.

 

Photo courtesy of The Telegraph.

Photo courtesy of The Telegraph.

Club Information

Let’s start with a fascinating Sports Illustrated article from Jen Chang, who talks about the use of performance analytics by Premier League club Everton and how it influenced ex-manager David Moyes’ preparation work.

And there are major repercussions on the tactics side of the game. Steve Brown, Everton’s First Team Performance Analyst, performs this exact role, where he analyzes information provided by Prozone (more on the data providers later) to develop game plans. Where are opposing full-backs usually positioned? What positional traits do opposing wingers exhibit? How can Everton prepare their team shape to take advantage of any habitual practices of next week’s opponent? As Brown says in the article, American forward Landon Donovan was often eager to solicit more information from Everton’s analysts during his time on loan at Goodison Park.

We can thus see the importance of opposition scouting in terms of tactical approach and how teams can prepare their own players to negate formations and systems, as well as take advantage of any possible habitual holes that are magnified. Add this tactical and positional information provided by data analytics onto detailed observations and reports prepared by specialist opposition scouts (such as this quite brilliant analysis done by former Chelsea scout Andre Villas-Boas via the Telegraph), and it could make for a comprehensive picture and extensive preparation.

The implications of this method quite naturally also extend and have applications beyond opposition scouting. By studying a club’s own players, managers can get a feel for how they can better train and mold them into all-rounded stars with fewer glaring holes in their games—and this not only means they can do tactical and positional work, but also fitness work.

We’ll look more in depth at the science of sports fitness in part three of this series (particularly a high-profile example at Liverpool), but we’ll also refer to one of many interesting applications of GPS technology: to track player movement, position and fitness.

Arsenal, with their aesthetically pleasing attacking movement, self-sufficient financial structure and new world-class stadium, are known for their modern approach to the game, and their use of GPS to monitor their own players won’t come as a surprise, and in the case of midfield starlet Jack Wilshere, according to a Guardian report, it was this technology that persuaded him to miss the 2011 Euro U21 tournament.

 

Independent Information

So all is well and good with regards to data analytics and statistical analysis employed by football clubs, but where does all of this information come from?

Well, there are a number of big players in the sports analytics scene, and Prozone and Opta are the two biggest names around, mostly because their scope and coverage extend far beyond just a single team.

To that end, Prozone has struck up a number of high-profile partnerships with the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Stoke City, Fulham and Wigan Athletic, and this self-styled performance analysis firm provides the information that helps the team preparation process of many other clubs around the world.

In the US, where as we covered last time Major League Soccer have been pioneers in the technological and analytical front, both DC United and Chicago Fire have struck up agreements with Prozone to provide technical and tactical analysis, while the US Soccer Federation itself also employs such data to aid its national team and referees association. Their work also helps the German Football Association, who does a similar thing for the German national football team.

Opta, whose succinct Tweets from a variety of accounts looking at different leagues complement a viewer watching football on TV, are probably as famous among fans for their one-word conclusions as they are among clubs with their information, but it is interesting that they seem to be more of a statistical analysis firm as opposed to “performance” per se.

What do we mean by this? This OptaPro blog will shine more light onto what exactly Opta does with its data. Opta is much more of an independent data provider, in that its information is gathered and supplied in a more third-party role, looking at league-wide trends and analysis, as the blog entry does for Premier League goal-scorers.

Opta is, as well, the official media partner of the Premier League, the Football League and the Scottish Premier and Football Leagues, and its focus is much more on the fan engagement level—official Premier League partners such as Barclays and EA Sports will be able to access use live Opta data, while other popular sites like EPLIndex.com and Squawka are built entirely on data provided by Opta.

But it is another kind of analytics project that Opta has done recently that really captures the imagination and the potential of such analysis.

Opta’s project with adidas on “The Engine,” in which a mathematical equation-based algorithm has searched out specific types of box-to-box, stamina-heavy players and will continue to do so over the course of the season. This collaboration looks on the surface to be an ambitious feature aimed at fans interested in player analysis and comparison, but in reality there could be big implications on the world of football scouting and coaching.

Will there be a day that third-party data analysts—not in-house analysts at clubs—take over all the information analysis functions of football clubs, much like generic call-centers and hardware manufacturers support different companies in the same facility?

Could Prozone come up with a standard set of coaching manuals and training regimes, based on their vast databases of performance-related data, that they could then sell onto clubs, academies and leagues as best practices as a “performance consultancy”?

Could Opta unearth players using specially designed algorithms to recommend to clubs as players they should be looking at?

How would clubs be able to turn down such offerings if both fans and they themselves knew that they are the organizations that have access to the widest range of data and as such should be the most reliable in their recommendations?

 

League-Wide Information

As we ponder the future roles of data providers like Prozone and Opta, we should also keep an eye on the present, where sports firms like adidas are expanding quickly and aggressively into the coaching analytics field.

We discussed above adidas’ “The Engine” project; in 2013, its miCoach Elite system will be implemented across MLS to provide real-time data available to both coaches and fans, who will be able to track performance levels to the minutest detail (if they wish) while the match is going on.

In part two of this four-part series on the proliferation of data-driven analysis in football, we’ve looked at the role data is now playing in the coaching arena. Most of the analysis is done pre- and post-match to prepare and debrief players and managers on what to do next, but when real-time data becomes widely available, everyone comes under heavier attention, and the pressure to perform becomes higher than ever.

As we look ahead to part three on sports scientists, there is already plenty of food for thought related to how all this information—and all the players in this field—can have ramifications for the beautiful game in the future.

Stay tuned.

This piece first appeared on BusinessofSoccer.com, where I cover business and marketing strategy, globalization and technology in football.

The Football Business Column: The Money that Goes to Agents, Technology and Stadiums

football agents

The Money that goes to Agents

We can’t go anywhere in football without hearing about the money side of the game, such is the prevalence of commerce, sponsorships and brand partnerships, and the importance of financial might and ambition. So when it was announced this summer that the Premier League spent a record £630 million in the transfer window, no one really batted an eye.

It couldn’t have come as a big surprise though, given the enormous TV deals that were secured by the Premier League with broadcasters Sky and BT Sport. After all, the number of big signings and the amount of big money being flown around this summer—not least that mind-boggling world record deal for Gareth Bale—showed that money has become less and less of an object to Premier League clubs. (Crystal Palace paid £8.5 million for a League One player, Dwight Gayle from Peterborough.) It turns out, though, that it’s not just the Premier League, and it’s not just the signing fees.

As we saw from the Neymar megadeal to Barcelona, there are (too) many parties involved in a transfer deal. There are “investors”, “stakeholders”, agreements to play friendlies, first-option commitments and, of course, agents. And when your dad happens to be your agent and you happen to be Neymar, your family can suddenly become €40 million richer.

But it’s not just in conjunction with the biggest names in football that agent fees are considerable. The Football League released a report last week on agent fees at the Championship, League One and League Two levels, and the results were quite staggering. In the 2012/13 Championship season, 23 clubs (Blackpool excepted) paid a total of over £18.5 million in agent fees for 431 agent-involved deals, meaning that, on average, each club spent over £800,000 in payments to agents and each deal cost £43,000.

And that’s just at the Championship level. We await (dread) the official numbers affiliated with the Premier League for more discussion (depression). We haven’t even asked the all-important question yet: Are agents even worth it? (Blackburn Rovers spent over £3.5 million in agent fees—which is more than enough for a quality Championship-level player—and ended the season closer to relegation.)

The Money that goes to Technology

When we talk about money in the Premier League, the topic inevitably focuses on the lack of it spent on youth development and as such the promotion of homegrown talent, which adversely affects the performance of the English national team. And we all know the history of underachievement of said English national team in international tournaments, specifically in penalty shootouts, quite unlike their Premier League counterparts.

Fear not: Money can also be a solution there! Need to provide players with a simulated match environment? With a realistic atmosphere like a World Cup Finals penalty shootout? No problem. Engineering company BAE Systems are currently working with UK Sport, “the UK’s high performance sports agency,” to produce virtual reality simulators for Olympians and Paralympians to better prepare them for real-life tournament scenarios, and according to this Guardian report, this technology could be on its way to football as well.

And why not? Given the amount of money devoted to the mental and physical side of football these days—there’s also the sports science side, which has led to the spawning of many a sports science department at major football clubs, as well as the data analysis side—it’s only natural to see money being thrown at technology that can give teams and players that slight extra chance of success.

But is it really that smooth-sailing? Will virtual reality be able to compare to a real-world penalty shootout environment where everything is at stake? Unless BAE add a feature that projects a virtual reality of burning effigies in the penalty takers’ minds, it might not be enough…

The Money that goes to Stadiums

As ever, England isn’t the only country with huge financial burdens in football. Let’s cross the Atlantic for a moment and look at Major League Soccer, where DC United’s proposed new stadium has attracted criticism for its fee.

$300 million is the sum in question for the Buzzard Point, Washington DC location, and while there are obvious benefits to fans of the club and league, the mooted amount has been met with significant criticism from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, who will have had the current economic climate in mind.

It’s not only in the US where public spending on stadiums have attracted scorn. The 2013 Confederations Cup this summer was marred by public rioting and protesting in Brazil throughout the tournament, against the Brazilian government’s extravagant expenditure on stadiums for next summer’s World Cup and 2016’s Olympics. A total of almost $17 billion is estimated to be spent in conjunction with these two events, and well, there could be a variety of things that this money could be used on otherwise.

But even that is a drop in the ocean compared to Qatar (or should that be a grain of sand in the desert?), who will be spending a whopping £134 billion on their controversial 2022 World Cup tournament, the Middle East’s first ever. How’s that for stadium spending?

 

This piece was part of my new biweekly column for SWOL.co, in which I discuss some of the latest news, trends and developments on the business side of football—everything including marketing, strategy, technology and finance.

The Proliferation of Data-Driven Analysis in Football (Part One: The Scouts)

It’s Saturday, August 17, 2013. The first English Premier League game of the 2013/14 season, Liverpool vs. Stoke City, is televised and about to come on TV at 12:45pm British time, the standard lunchtime kickoff.

As you sit there on your couch looking at the meticulous passing game implemented by Brendan Rodgers, you may well call up the Squawka second screen app on your iPad to look at the individual passing stats of Philippe Coutinho, or check out Daniel Sturridge’s shot accuracy on the FourFourTwo Stats Zone app on your iPhone.

In the second half, after Daniel Agger’s handball in Liverpool’s penalty area leads to a Stoke penalty in the dying minutes of the game, and as Jonathan Walters steps up to take the spot kick, an infographic is shown briefly on screen, reflecting Walters’ last five penalty kick attempts, hits and misses—a first such offering on televised Premier League games, courtesy of BT Sport.

At first glance, what can be considered as elementary, basic, interesting statistics for us fans seems to augment the experience and inject a little more color into discussions during and after the match, but there’s much more to that than meets the eye.

Take, for example, the admission from both Simon Mignolet—he saved Walters’ penalty, by the way, and won the three points for Liverpool—and Brendan Rodgers in their post-match interviews: Yes, there was an element of luck in the penalty save, but it was the pre-match preparation work that Mignolet did with his goalkeeping coaches that helped prepare him for the big moment. Or, in other words, they did their homework.

Take also the analysis that has been written about Mignolet, comparing him with the departed Pepe Reina in terms of goalkeeping stats—saves, punches et al, and we see the reasoning behind letting go of a want-away goalkeeper who hadn’t been in his best form. Reina’s wages will no doubt have been a factor in Rodgers’ decision in letting him go, but make no mistake: There will have been statistical backing to the outcome, and the choice of successor in Mignolet.

Beyond this particular game and instance, there’s an undoubted proliferation in data-driven analysis in football, so much so that even the Economist has run a feature story on it. In this four-part series on Business of Soccer, we’ll take a look at just how the boom in big data and related technologies and trends have influenced and augmented the beautiful game, and how they will continue to do so. Let’s look first at the scouts. Parts two to four will look at the coaches, the scientists and finally, the fans.

Scouting Performance

Every big sports fan will have heard of Moneyball—the concept that stats can show a side to players that perhaps the conventional wisdom of looking at performances on the field might not. It was this idea, of course, that led the Oakland Athletics to assemble an impressive team using under priced players with good performance statistics. At the heart of this was their general manager, Billy Beane, who advocated statistics-based analysis as part of his transfer strategy.

The most high-profile application of Moneyball in English football is Liverpool, whose current owners, John W. Henry and his Fenway Sports Group organization, just happen to be the owners of the Major League Baseball team, the Boston Red Sox, whose adoption of sabermetrics in sports was featured in the 2011 Moneyball film.

Of course, Liverpool fans will in all likelihood recoil in horror when they hear of Moneyball. It brings back unpleasant memories of the Damien Comolli and Kenny Dalglish era, where the term was associated with big-money flops like Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam. But underlying it is a statistical approach that more and more football clubs have taken on board.

Let’s start with Manchester City, whose use of data and statistics and whose Performance Analysis group have increased and expanded as quickly as their global reach and rise as a footballing superpower. The Performance Analysis team is headed by Gavin Fleig, who has extensive experience in coaching, sports analytics and performance analysis, and has enjoyed stints with Bolton Wanderers and Newcastle United in similar roles.

As it turns out, that old-fashioned manager who plays old-fashioned, route-one football (or so he is constantly labeled), Sam Allardyce, was actually a pioneer in the use of data and analysis in English football, and it was during his reign at both Bolton and Newcastle that saw Fleig get heavily involved in his expert areas at both clubs.

In a quite brilliant and comprehensive interview conducted by Zach Slaton for Forbes, Fleig discusses his background in a Premier League environment that still hadn’t fully embraced statistics, working with a like-minded team under Allardyce with an aligned vision with statistics at its core, and the transition that he encountered upon moving to an ambitious and forward-thinking organization at Manchester City.

The nuts and bolts of the interview are contained in the link above, but what catches the eye is the extent to which the data and analytics are used at almost every level at the club. Even more impressively—and we will mention football statistics resources like Opta and Prozone in the coming parts of this series—City develops their own data for analysis.

In other words, they capture their own information to share across the club and to use across all levels of players, starting from the academy, and it is with that information that the coaches at City determine which players are best used in which positions, and what key areas of their games have to be improved. Player development thus lies at the core of statistical analysis in football.

In Slaton’s article, Fleig also mentions his take on Moneyball in a City context. Particularly interesting is the fact that not only is data used to find better players, but “how much value they will bring into our business as well.” He goes on: “Our focus in the last three years therefore has not necessarily been finding undervalued talent…but in order for us to get the club from where they were to where they are now in four years it required a certain level of investment in the top players around Europe.”

Sabermetrics in football, then, serves more than just the football side: It’s about the football club as a business as well.

Scouting Business

But we can’t really be shocked about that emphasis on business, can we? After all, with the growing amount of investment in the Premier League (the 20 clubs in the league spent a record £630 million in this summer’s transfer window), the (apparent) advent of Financial Fair Play and the increasing focus on Germany’s Bundesliga as a model for a financially sound yet fan-friendly league, money is an integral part of the game. Just take a look at the outrage that Gareth Bale’s world-record transfer generated taken in the context of the current economic climate.

So when relatively-unknown Michu signed for Swansea City last summer and went on to exceed all expectations in an exciting Michael Laudrup team, all the talk was around how exactly he managed to pull off such a coup for such a low price (Michu cost £2 million from Rayo Vallecano).

Correction: Michu was a pleasant surprise, but only for those who didn’t bother to do the background check. The pundits and scouts who did look at Michu, an unfashionable name playing at an unfashionable club in Spain, came to the conclusion that he would be worth a punt given his performances and statistics, and lo and behold: He became one of the best Premier League finds in many a season.

When it comes to finding value for money—taken a leaf right out of the Billy Beane book—there are many data provision services that work with professional football clubs to supply analytics and numbers that influence their transfer strategies and purchasing decisions.

Prozone is a well-known name in the professional circles—we’ll have much more on them in part two on coaches—but football fans who get their statistical fill from OptaJoe’s cleverly worded Tweets during matches may not know that Opta actually have an OptaPro division that partners with football clubs and provides exclusive data. As John Coulson, the head of professional football services at OptaPro, puts it, “The biggest area we’re involved with now is player recruitment. No team will sign a player based on data alone, but it’s increasingly a shortcut to a shortlist.”

A simple but effective analogy was offered by Blake Wooster, Prozone’s business development director in the previous quoted article: “It’s like when Amazon tells you other books you might like after a purchase. A coach might not have heard of a player in the Polish second division—but he might have similar attributes to the guy he’s looking at in League One. We are just increasing the due diligence process.”

Essentially? It’s about finding those players who have the potential to become stars, not buying stars outright. It’s about finding quality in proportion to price. That’s the chief mandate for scouts these days, and they are accomplishing it with the aid of extensive statistical analysis.

But it’s not just Premier League clubs that are part of this next big analytical wave in football. Far from it. In fact, it’s been most used in the country that Moneyball as a concept first proliferated.

In Major League Soccer in the US, which is known for its innovative use of technology—more on that, again, in part two—sports analytics have migrated from the traditional American sports to the beautiful game, and the New England Revolution (also based in Boston) have been one of the pioneers of analytics in the American scene.

This NESN article, while not quite as comprehensive as Slaton’s interview with City’s Fleig, nonetheless describes in detail what the Revs are trying to do with their own data analytics program, and their objective is not unlike City’s. There is a focus on scouting and bringing in players that suit their system, but also an eye on the academy in terms of player development and training.

There is certainly life after Steve Nicol, who was famous for his eye for talent during his time as the head coach of the Revolution.

Scouting the Future

So that’s what football analytics are up to when it comes to the scouting side of the game. Statistics have come a long way, and the rising popularity that it enjoys (along with easy access for scouts, coaches and fans alike) reflects a growing trend in its actual employment.

But where next for analytics? Will companies like Prozone and Opta still dominate all the scene, or will more clubs follow the Manchester City practice and collect their own data by themselves?

We don’t know yet, but a tantalizing new app has been developed none other than that tactical master, Rafa Benitez. His Globall Coach app, which started as a tool to store his own notes and formations on his iPad, has been enhanced to include a Scout Tool that allows scouts to create animations, line-ups and notes on players, teams and matches.

The target audience is still professional clubs—even though they do offer different versions for different levels—but the key is that scouts can add data themselves.

Looks like the trend for scouting-related analytics is the creation and sharing of customized data by the scouts themselves, for information that best suits their purpose.

In part two in this series on big data trends and uses in football, we will take a look at how data and analytics are used by coaches. Stay tuned.

This piece was my first for BusinessofSoccer.com, where I’ll be covering business and marketing strategy, globalization and technology in football.

The Football Business Column: Enhanced TV Tech, Total Immersion and Video Games

New season, new technology

It’s a new season in the English Premier League. For American fans, this season’s experience should be vastly different from previous years: NBC has taken on the exclusive broadcasting rights to the English top flight in a way that has revolutionized coverage of football in the US; the marketing efforts that have gone behind promoting this whole new offering, as well as the degree of professionalism and thought put into assembling a top-notch broadcasting team, deserve mention and full credit.

But there have been more subtle improvements in Premier League broadcasting that new EPL fans in America would perhaps have taken for credit. The first is the introduction of goal-line technology. In what’s been a considerable (and frankly surprising) turnaround, the higher powers in the game have approved its use, and HawkEye technology—which is known for its use in tennis—has been installed across EPL grounds this season, and it was immediately put to use on Saturday when Hull City goalkeeper Allan McGregor parried a shot off the line against Chelsea. No goal was given, but a long overdue addition of some simple technology in the game: The lack of emotional and irrational debate on online forums in its immediate aftermath was welcome.

liverpool v stoke city

Courtesy of SI.com

And just like TV viewers will have been able to see the HawkEye analysis and replay of McGregor’s decision, so they too were treated to another simple data set on Saturday. When Liverpool’s Daniel Agger handled inside the box and Stoke City midfielder Jonathan Walters prepared to take the penalty, a brief infographic of Walters’ previous penalty attempts flashed onto the bottom of the screen. Walters had a tendency to shoot towards the keeper’s right, and it turns out that Simon Mignolet had the same information as we all did—just that he’d had it prior to the match—and dived onto his right. A little additional feature for viewers: Nothing too major, but some helpful graphics are always welcome.

GoPro goes pro

In the new era of Manchester City, they’ve been one of the quickest in European football to adopt and embrace the latest in technology. Their social media presence and YouTube features have won rave reviews for their interactivity with fans and depth of coverage, and their latest partnership proves that City are once again on the frontier when it comes to technology in football.

On August 21, City announced that they will be partnering up with California-based video camera-maker GoPro to go even more in-depth into the lives of professional footballers. GoPro has been popular amongst extreme sports enthusiasts, and will now be used to film exclusive behind-the-scenes happenings in and around the football club. Players will be wearing it in training (and have done—see the promotional video) and pre-match routines, similar to Nike’s highly-rated “Take It to the Next Level” commercial series.

With Google Glass the newest hype in American sports—the discussion now is on whether referees in the NBA should wear it on the court—how long will it be before the latest technology is widely adopted in the English game? Exciting times.

The business of football games

Football fans can be divided into two camps: The ProEvo camp (Pro Evolution Soccer, or Winning Eleven) or the FIFA camp. It’s not surprising that EA Sports, the developers behind FIFA, have seized on the world’s most popular game as a huge business opportunity, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, there were once major doubts at Electronic Arts whether to develop the game at all. For a fine, fine piece of journalism marrying video games and football, check out this piece on the story of FIFA.

So how best to capture the worldwide football fanbase? EA Sports have recently entered into partnership deals with Manchester City (yup, them again), Liverpool and Everton to act as the clubs’ official video games partner, which means that their coverage on the FIFA games will be even more extensive. Everton’s Goodison Park will be eligible for selection as a stadium in-game, and the EA Sports team have traveled onsite to capture the likenesses of their players to deliver a more authentic representation of the teams in the game. (Here’s a video of Liverpool players getting their images captured.) And of course, there will be EA Sports-sponsored corners in the stadiums for fans to play with each other—and for EA to promote their FIFA games.

Oh, and there’s a final category of football fans. That all-encompassing category—Football Manager. Take it from me: It is a magnificent game, but be warned, for you might end up spending hours on it. That is, if you’re not already an FM fan. Here’s another fine piece of writing covering the FM mania.

 

This piece was my first instalment of my new biweekly column for SWOL.co, in which I discuss some of the latest news, trends and developments on the business side of football—everything including marketing, strategy, technology and finance.