Sports: Fans game to examine data

Sports: Fans game to examine data

Miami Heat superstar LeBron James has never made a shot from a particular corner of the famed basketball court at Madison Square Garden.

And, for all their talk of a stacked squad, the Los Angeles Clippers are essentially a one-man team, averaging eight less points per 100 possessions without talismanic point guard Chris Paul.

A few years ago, opponents would have paid good money for such tactical insight to gain the slightest advantage over their National Basketball Association (NBA) rivals.

Today, anyone with an Internet connection can access - free of charge - the league's treasure trove of performance analysis, stretching all the way back to the inaugural 1946 season.

The 4.5 quadrillion statistical combinations include colour-coded court diagrams of a player's shooting accuracy from different spots on the floor. It also lends weight to hotly-debated topics such as which players contribute effectively in late-game situations.

It seems basketball is leading the way as sports officials across the world find new and innovative ways to engage fans and increase awareness of their respective games.

"Data is a substitute for fans who missed a game but want to know what happened, or a complement for a richer viewing experience," NBA's vice-president of information technology Ken DeGennaro said during the SAP Sapphire Now conference at Orange County Convention Centre yesterday.

Expect even more in-depth analysis in the coming seasons as all NBA arenas will install slow-motion cameras capturing player movement at 20 frames per second.

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) has similarly embraced the burgeoning fascination with numbers.

WTA chief executive Stacey Allaster told The Straits Times that it is close to allowing players to use real-time data during matches through on-court coaching from the 2015 season.

If the proposed rule change is ratified later this year, players will have a 90-second break per set to speak with their coach, who will be allowed to carry a tablet. The conversations will be relayed live to viewers.

This will be the biggest technological change in tennis since the debut of Hawk-Eye in 2008 for replays and determining whether the ball is in.

"WTA is not a tennis business - we are a reality television show where people want to know why Serena Williams played down the T on her second serve, or what is Maria Sharapova feeling as she tries to close out a 30-0 situation," said Allaster.

"This gives the public a better understanding of our sport - we need to make our athletes even more accessible than they are."

Also on the way are mobile apps showcasing advanced metrics such as return contact points and shot placements. Currently, such details are only reported as a post-game analytical tool for coaches and for commentators to be more informed when discussing live matches.

Curiously, football finds itself lagging in the race to offer meaningful statistics to the masses.

This can be explained partly by clubs' hesitancy to divulge tactical information, and world football governing body Fifa's opposition to technology running the sport. But experts say change is inevitable if the world's most popular sport wants to stay ahead of its rivals.

Chris Burton, head of global sponsorship at enterprise software giant SAP, said: "Football lacks the element of engaging fans with real-time statistics at their fingertips, such as which player is having the biggest influence on a match or who makes the most decisive passes.

"People are realising what they're missing out when they see other sports - it is to everyone's benefit that football embraces and shares analytical data sooner rather than later."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 6, 2014.
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