Towards Datatainment – Working with Data Gods

1 April, 2012 3 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

The following is an article I’ve just written for Leaders in Digital Sport‘s “Leaders” bulletin. The data gods in question are Gavin Fleig and Ed Sulley of the MCFC Performance Analysis team.

Do you know a bit about football? Or a lot? Can you remember the score of a game 5 years ago when you were standing in a stadium on a wet wednesday night and your team lost 3-2 after going down to 10 men in the 63rd minute?

That made-up match might not be the right details, but if you’re a real football fan then you probably remember something similar – as well as a selection of other random details from times past and fixtures forgotten.

Does that make you a statto?

Most people will react badly if you call them a statto. It has become a pejorative term – as portrayed by Skinner and Baddiel‘s Fantasy Football League comedy sidekick or maybe long before that – and although there’s a grudging respect for the feats of memory that sporting stattos display, there’s also a lot of laughter behind the communal hand.

The stereotype is that stattos remember facts. Data. They don’t necessarily remember meaning or turn that data into knowledge or, better still, understanding, let alone the peak of the information pyramid: wisdom.

So data’s got a bad rep – it’s the domain of stattos and geeks.

But I have seen football data that delights.

Over the last 6 months I’ve been working closely with the Performance Analysis team at Manchester City FC. Gavin Fleig and Ed Sulley have been informing and enthusing me (a footballing muggle) with their explanations and demonstrations. They are sporting data gods. 

Every movement of our players in a match, in the gym and on the training pitch is recorded, converted to data, analysed and presented back with expert understanding. It forms part of the whole picture that informs training and performance improvements. No-one here is called a statto and yet they all accept their statto status.

The reason why I’ve been working so closely with them is because I think they hold the solution to a challenging problem for football. It is this: How do you bring together people with a lot of knowledge of the game and those who only have a little? The fan from Manchester and the fan from Minnesota. The established and the uninitiated, or, as I like to call them, the veteran and the newcomer. Of course a Minnesotan might actually be a lifelong soccer fan, it goes without saying, and there are definitely people in the UK with low levels of knowledge (myself included) but generally speaking the average Mancunian knows more than the man in Mumbai.

Frank Skinner, Ed Sulley (Statto) and David Baddiel. (ok, so it’s Angus Loughran who played Statto)

You could argue for hours about what makes a ‘fan’ vs a ‘supporter’ or ‘follower’ but leaving those definitions aside, I believe there are a couple of major challenges for any club that wants to increase the number of people who care (to whatever degree) about the activity of the club, but have a range of experience of the game: 1) veterans do not necessarily welcome newcomers and 2) it is tricky to talk to fans with varying levels of football understanding.

I don’t think that Gavin and Ed have the solution to problem no.1. But I think that data, digital media and performance analysis might hold the solution to no. 2.

In my view, broadcast media is bad at addressing multiple audiences. It picks a target audience and aims at it. In the case of football coverage in this country, the BBC’s MOTD and Sky’s MNF address fans who are closer to the veteran end of the scale. There is little explanation for the layman.

Digital media, on the other hand, is perfectly suited to explain the game to the uninitiated. We have restrictions about what we can do with match footage, but we can use performance data, put it in an application that allows the user to choose a comfortable level of knowledge and let them play with the information. What’s more, they can do it at their own convenience and at their own speed.

This is what takes data into a new sphere – we can move from data journalism through data visualisation and, hopefully, to the holy grail of engaging an audience: data entertainment, or (forgive me) datatainment.

Gavin and Ed have been able to show me how the data can tell a story which gives me greater understanding of the strategic context of a game. I now appreciate some of the chess-playing tactics of managers and the expertise it takes to carry out those plans.

Over the next few months at City, we’ll be starting on a journey towards datatainment. We’ll begin by launching prototypes that start to make the performance data transparent and, with the help of the audience, we’ll progress towards making truly entertaining data-led products.

I can’t wait for the audience’s reaction and I’ve no doubt it will be voluble whether in praise or pillory, but if even just one stato and one newbie both get information and perhaps enjoyment out of our prototypes, then we will have started off in the right direction.

LiveRugby app – second screen or settling an argument?

5 February, 2012 3 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

An iPhone app that has live rugby union data for the 6 Nations and that promises to fulfil my second-screen needs. I had high hopes of you, LiveRugby app, and lovely though the data detail is, you don’t overcome the challenge of entertaining me with data. Or even engaging me. Datatainment delight is still a way off.

Let me go back a step.

I’ve always been more of a rugby follower than a football follower, so I was excited to see that there was a new app, using Opta’s incredible wealth of live data, which would be delivering an experience on the iPhone for the 6 Nations competition.

It’s nice enough. The interface feels all ‘chalk-boardy’ and it’s pretty straightforward to use. I think the interesting stats, the Opta stuff, is too far down the IA. I didn’t download this as a ‘general information about the 6N app’… I downloaded it specifically for in-game data updates so a) make it easier for me to get to them b) set a default auto-refresh that i can change the frequency on, or can turn off – having to hit the refresh button is another user-friction feature.

Oh, and “Don’t have a tv? Never mind watching the game. Use our LIVE commentary!” says the promo copy. Really? You mean I  should read less-than-twitter-length updates? In the Ireland v Wales game that has just finished I counted 71 updates across the course of the match. Bearing in mind it was a fantastic game and so much was happening every 60 seconds, there’s no way you’d want to stick with the app updates. Even if you couldn’t get near to a tv or radio, if you’ve got a smartphone you can still get to the BBC mobile site (there they go, impacting the market again!) for an experience that’s more like the excellent TMS coverage.

I think there’s a fundamental problem with the concept.

Is it trying to be a second-screen app? or a data-resource app?

Use case 1: I’m in the pub and I want to reference back to a match from last weekend and prove an argument about the distribution of rucks, the success of kicks, etc etc. In this case, the app will be great. It still makes the information more difficult to find than I want, but it’s all there.

Use case 2: I’m watching the game / listening to the game and I want to use the app as a second screen to add to my experience of the match. This is where the app stumbles.

There is a problem with the presentation of data. It’s passive. I don’t like passive data. Passive data is difficult to work with. If you can turn it into information, that’s better – but to do that you will need to make some kind of comparison. This app does that – some of the key information, like the fact that Scotland made 68 tackles (all successful) against England’s 153 (of which 14 unsuccessful) is, indeed, presented. But again, it’s done in a rather passive way.

Data – Information – Engagement – Editorial – Entertainment

So you’ve got the data, you’re informing me… but I still have to work hard. You’re a long long way from entertaining me. It’s the editorial layer that’s missing. England were forced to defend by Scotland’s attacking efforts – but a combination of what Gavin Hasings called ‘schoolboy errors’ combined with some resolute English defence meant that Scotland couldn’t convert their opportunities into points. That’s the story here – that’s what the app should be pulling out – that’s what editorial intervention would add.

But if this app is trying to offer passive data, or to inform the pub argument after the event – then it succeeds.

If it’s trying to enhance my in-game experience, then it fails.

There is, of course, the fundamental point that bringing the appreciation of data into live games is difficult. Jonathan Davies on the BBC Sport coverage has a man beside him trying to put together interesting insight into the performance but there’s very little time to do so. Little production time and then little air-time – so his insights have to be very simple and ‘top level’. Of course Davies and the BBC experts could go into great detail, but there just isn’t the time.

Second Screen vs Speed

The same is true for users of second-screen apps. Football and rugby are both fast-moving games and there isn’t time to be digging 4 clicks down into an app and then hitting refresh to get passive information. Sunset and Vine may have done it in cricket, and many US sports have much more time within the flow of the game.

But if the second screen is going to work in football and rugby, then data and editorial will have to work much more actively together to be able to enhance the in-game experience and engage, and even, dare I say it, entertain the audience.

Stop Making Football Data So Much Hard Work!

20 December, 2011 1 comment

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

This is a quick, and ranting, post.

This morning on of our excellent Performance Analysis team here at City pointed me in the direction of the ESPN Gamecast centre for the match on Sunday where City beat Arsenal. It’s nice, don’t get me wrong. But only up to a point. Then I put my “I’m not that much of a football fan” hat on … and I can’t help but spill out reasons why it doesn’t work for me.

So, here’s the 13 things that jump to mind. [Warning, but the end, it’s really winding me up]

  1. I want it full screen
  2. I expected a ‘play’ button to show me stuff. Maybe it could just put one tab after another – morphing along to show me the different things. that would be fun and it would show off the stuff for me like a little preview.
  3. Speaking of play buttons – where’s the video that should be linked into the gamecast – do i have to go somewhere else? this is espn, right?
  4. I clicked players and then silva and it looked like his heat map was all over the pitch – but then i wanted to compare it with the arsenal opposite number – only i don’t know who the opposite number is so i had to ask someone. i also had to ask what RM meant beside the name. Once I’d been told it was Right Midfield, i then compared silva’s heatmap with Alex Song’s… but I was aware that this might not be a good comparison. Is it? Isn’t it? and how the hell would i use this thing to find out? Why are you making this difficult for me to understand things.
  5. I want to compare with previous competitions between arsenal and city.
  6. I see no point in having a tab for ‘goals’ when there was only 1 and this screen shows me nothing.
  7. I want to be able to zoom in on a section of the pitch to see in more detail – then average position seems interesting, but they’re all clustered together and i have to be a surgeon with the mouse to identify different players.
  8. Where’s the colour key for the bottom? why are some names in grey?… oh yeah, because they were subbed. there’s probably a colour key somewhere… but why are you still making this difficult?
  9. I want to see a timeline of the game… to see it developing as it goes – and i want to be able to see it speeded up (or slowed down as i desire)
  10. I’m never going to read the text on the right. Why not compress it into a timeline so that key moments can be highlighted … i need it to show me key sections of commentary, not give me every blow (unless i want to dig that deep)
  11. The Report, Quotes, Commentary, Match Stats tabs are useless.. i barely even saw them.
  12. The whole thing is presented down the page after reams of nav… just give it to me in a nice pop-out… or at least in a clean page.
  13. Can I embed this on a blog? can i share it with friends?
  14. STOP MAKING ME WORK SO BLOODY HARD TO USE THIS THING – I WANT TO ENJOY IT… HELP ME ENJOY IT! I am a lazy sod, so just analyse and interpret on my behalf and then entertain me. ok, thanks, bye.

Ok. So, now that I’ve calmed down…

I suspect ESPN are well aware of all the options and all the complexities of user experience. This is, actually, one of the nicer implementations of this kind of data… But as I’ve previously banged on about, I still think it has a long way to go.

As time goes on and our work at City looks into the possibilities of datatainment it is becoming clear to me that the audience perspective is the essential factor. I may not be the target for ESPN’s gamecast, but despite football’s estimated 3.5bn fans, I still think some of them and the other 2.5bn people on the planet would appreciate a bit of an easier ride.

Either that or I’m just lazy.

Award Aphrodisiac

12 November, 2011 1 comment

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

Odd things happened last night.

I was given an award for being ‘Individual of the Year’ against some very distinguished and successful other nominees. Thank you those of you who tweet-voted and thank you to the judges.

Making an impromptu, rambling, speech

“Deeeecent” award.

Still, it was odd. Good, but odd. Being given an award for yourself is a strange feeling. Clearly I wouldn’t have achieved anything if it hadn’t been for the excellent backing of my boss Ian Cafferky and the support of my team this year, so I owe them big-time. Oh, and especially Victoria Stansfield, our Digital Delivery Manager, I owe her too, for nominating me.

We’d all been having a good, entertaining night at the DADIs in Leeds’ Savile Hall… and thankfully the 15ish category award winners didn’t have the opportunity to make a speech. So when I went up, slightly stunned, shook hand, accepted glass gong, had photo taken… and then, as I was heading off stage I was stopped… and asked to make a speech. I burbled some surprise, some thanks, made a comment about it being beard-related (or maybe ginger quota?) and remarked it’s ‘Deeeecent’. But mainly I was a bit lost for words. Now that’s odd too.

But oddest thing at the very end of a long, good, night was in the bar at the top of the Mint hotel.

Conversation had shifted away from my son’s baptism (the next day) and had us drunkenly doing a Who’s Line Is It Anyway with the aforementioned, rather phallic, gong. Doorstop… Mobile phone… Weapon… and then the young lady beside me goes further.
[imagine a broad Leeds accent]
“I can imagine a few things you could do with that. If you know what I mean.”. Yes, I think we know what you mean. The gestures weren’t needed. And then, as it passes to the next person, she leans closer and, lowering her voice, mutters aggressively “I fookin’ loooove beards.”.

Now *that* was odd.

Best bit of this video is my interview, just over 1min in, where I manage to use the words ‘year’ and ‘gear’ quite a lot.

Strictly Come Datataining – More sequins in sport & the Entertainment Layer

27 September, 2011 3 comments

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

He looked at me quizzically.
“There are times when you come up with ideas and you’re just not sure whether they’re great – or just shit,” I said.  “And sometimes the more you say them, the more they sound like they could be a good idea – but you always wonder if they’re shit and no-one’s telling you. But with this idea, either people I don’t know are being terribly polite, or they’re quietly laughing, but some of them have definitely made encouraging noises.”

Strictly Come Data?

More data in Strictly? More sequins in Sport?

I was, of course, talking about datatainment. Hugo Sharman seems like a very nice chap. I don’t think Deltatre North‘s head would laugh in my face or behind my back – but he was looking quizzical. “Why don’t you tell me, when we get to the end of this, whether you think we should be contributing some ideas for datatainment,” he said, because I don’t think he could work out whether it was a wanky term for something that’s already being done (and that Deltatre do very nicely for lots of clients including the Uefa match day centres) or whether I meant something else.

The truth is, I don’t know. Yet. But I’m feeling confident that we are going to find something new. It’s all about the entertainment filter.
When you look at football match-day centres, or many other sports for that matter, you are confronted with a lot of data visualisation. If you’re a fan and you love your stats, then it’s entertaining. But for me, it makes me have to work too hard. That’s because I’m not a football fan. When it comes to cricket or rugby, I love the challenge of understanding the information – but it sometimes is a challenge. And there’s definitely a kudos in being the one who knows Dan Carter’s kick conversion rate – but a little like I do wish those annoying IBM ad buffers would shut up, I also get a little bored of stats knowledge being something that divides the audience – splitting it into the know-it-alls and the novices. I have to work too hard to get enjoyment out of data for football … I want it made simple, easy, enjoyable. Perhaps this is the effect of sub-optimal data vis. Maybe better design would make it naturally more engaging. But I think it’s more than that – visualisation can tell stories – but I’m not sure it can entertain in the way I mean.

Nice match centre, shame about the result

Talking to Hugo, I suggested it was the difference between watching the Young Musician of the Year and X Factor. But that’s not right – too much genre change and skill variance alongside the entertainment increase. Maybe it’s the difference between Come Dancing and Strictly Come Dancing.  No, we do not need more sequins in football. But when they re-invented the ballroom dancing programme  a few years back, the BBC did a remarkable thing – they managed to popularise the artform in a way that no-one had done since Strictly Ballroom had pastiched and parodied in the great 1992 Aussie film. You didn’t have to know a passo doble from a samba (I can’t even spell them right), and by pairing celeb novices with experts, they gave it the common touch. No wonder John Sargeant and Ann Widdecombe did so well. The judges are a mixture of amateur and expert – but even Craig whassisface, the most pernickety of the lot, explains the detail of the moves.

They opened up ballroom dancing and welcomed in newcomers who knew nothing – surely something that football (and maybe all sports) could do better – and especially something that data visualisation could do better in sport.

By the time I got to the end of my ramble/rant at Hugo, the quizzical look was gone and had been replaced by a smile. “I have to admit, I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I think you might be right – maybe there’s an editorial entertainment layer there that we are missing.”. So maybe we are onto something.

In a way, the editorial layer I’m talking about is something that tv punditry alongside performance graphics has been doing for a while. Sky are doing more and more of it, the BBC does plenty (and Deltatre provide that) and even the woeful ITV Rugby World Cup commentary tries to give it a whirl with their touchscreen. What I don’t want is a situation, as ITV have, where subject experts, former and current players, give poorly-enunciated opinions while pressing the odd player image on a touchscreen. I want the data, but I want the opinion, expressed entertainingly, and maybe even with some interactive element. And I want it now.

Jumponaginger.com

16 September, 2011 6 comments

Tremendous work by the chaps behind jumponaginger.com

Reminds me of the flickr group I set up for monitoring the use of redheads in advertising and the media. It’s hardly exhaustive, but you’ll get the general gist. if it’s haircuts or hair products that’s being advertised, red’s great. otherwise it’s generally used to denote ‘oddball’ at best, and ‘freak’ at worst.

Over the years, I’ve blogged a number of times about ginger-related experiences… mostly here.

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Cristiano Ronaldo: the Datatainment star for Sky Sports

12 September, 2011 1 comment

This post and all other business-focused posts are now being held on the Seven League blog.

 

OK, so the use of “thrilling” music might be over-egging the pudding somewhat, but there’s some lovely super-slow-mo and data capture from bio-mechanics and a variety of scanning-gizmos in this programme on Sky Sports.

The Castrol Edge site has more, or there’s the twitter hashtag too.

Four parts:

Part 1 – Body Strength: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7vYfKfI87U
Part 2 – Mental Ability: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21AFrsXa7E4
Part 3 – Technique: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vyqz9OtTJw
Part 4 – Skill: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbNQ_kCE6V0

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