The Numbers Game: Big Data and the Business of Sport | Big data strategy – 2.3 Data supporting goals

One issue at the heart of the cultural challenges facing big data adoption in sport is the perceived threat it poses to established command structures, and the value of experience on which the authority of senior management is primarily based.

In the same way that robots are coming to take our jobs from us, so too is big data coming to take our decisions for us. The antidote to that contagion is the promotion of data analytics as a new means of strengthening established powers rather than of undermining them, and of a recognition that it cannot succeed in isolation to the same degree it can in concert with the existing pillars of sales, marketing and strategic planning.

“We have a tremendous amount of experience across our senior leadership and I don’t think data can ever replace traditional decision-making. But I do think it can supplement it.” Brandon Doll, Director of Strategic Projects, Oakland Raiders

“When I say an organisation has to be data-driven, that does have to be tempered with a little intuition and understanding of the context and nuances that underpin this industry.

“There are a lot of external factors that impact on the data – everything from results to the weather. Being aware of context is half the battle.” Matt Rogan, Two Circles

CRM agency Winners FDD presents clients with what it calls the ‘perfect circle’, where five elements of a datadriven strategy are given equal status and seen as mutually dependent on the other four.

If one element is missing, the circle – and the strategy – is incomplete.

“Without any one of the five elements you don’t have a CRM approach: without strategy, what are you going to do with the data? Without technology, you will have to interrogate the data manually and you are not going to get the same impact. Without process and culture, the things you want to achieve will fall down. Conversely, if your data is dirty or you don’t have enough of it – or you aren’t analysing it properly to enable you to inform your decisions – then the other four are useless as well.

“For us, data is at the core, but it is no more important than any other element of CRM strategy.” Fiona Green, Winners FDD

There is also a highly practical reason for stepping back from the idea of big data as the answer to every question of strategy: simple manageability.

For most sports organisations, exhaustive coverage can quickly become exhausting coverage. Returning again to the idea of ‘right-sized’ data, leading practitioners argue that businesses should target their resources on areas they can have the strongest impact, rather than attempt to see every strand of strategy through the prism of analytics.

“Your data requirements, costs and stress levels are massively reduced when you move from ‘collect everything just in case’ to ‘measure x and y to answer question z’. Big data goes from ‘impossible for us’ to ‘absolutely possible for us’.” Bernard Marr, Chief Executive, Advanced Performance Institute


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