Transforming basketball’s partnership with data: Charting the rise of FIBA LiveStats

In association with Genius

A lot has changed over the 26 years since I first worked on a major event with FIBA, the 1994 FIBA World Championship for Women (now known as the Women’s Basketball World Cup) in Australia. From introducing computer-based stats collection at that event to being asked to compile FIBA’s first official statistics manual in 2000, I’ve since been heavily involved in the key systems that have transformed the way basketball leagues operate and engage their fans.

But while technologies and fan expectations have evolved, one thing has remained consistent throughout. FIBA has always held a vision to empower its members with world-class solutions – no matter the size or location.

Working at Genius Sports, I have been lucky to see this vision become a reality. After successfully rolling out their first digital competition management solution in 2004, FIBA asked us in 2007 to develop their first worldwide data collection tool that could be provided to any member league or federation. FIBA LiveStats was born.

Twelve years on from its initial launch, few systems have had a larger effect on a sport. Built as part of a more-than-15-year partnership between Genius Sports and FIBA, this live data collection system has put basketball at the forefront of digital transformation across seven versions, 150 countries and over 120,000 games a year.

Matthew Cowling, head of product innovation,
Genius Sports

With basketball planning to return around the world and several new features and extensions set to launch, this feels like an opportune time to reflect on the evolution of FIBA LiveStats and its pivotal role going forward.

Creating a global system

Statistics and the box-score are central to how every fan, player, coach, official, sponsor, and brand engage with any form of basketball. Prior to FIBA LiveStats, the basketball community was using a wide variety of data collection solutions with different capabilities, creating a lack of consistency and data quality.

Many of these systems had to be operated manually with statisticians writing down score changes and other statistics on pen and paper before uploading their summaries after a game, which meant the availability of data to all those stakeholders was inevitably delayed.

As a long-time basketball statistician and administrator, I had frustrations that these inefficient solutions were preventing FIBA’s members from increasing their exposure and visibility. And so we at Genius Sports set out to develop one of the first digital data collection systems in world sport that would automatically publish live updates across websites, apps and multiple fan-facing platforms.

FIBA LiveStats was first launched in 2008 in Australia alongside the National Basketball League (NBL) and Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL). The system’s immediate success and popularity with fans who could access live GameCentres to follow the action, led to the system being available to members worldwide, including its introduction at the FIBA U19 World Championship in 2009.

Evolving with the sports data revolution

The last decade has seen an explosion in the use of sports data. For FIBA and Genius Sports, this has raised basketball fans’ expectations on the speed, depth, and accuracy of the statistics they receive.

FIBA LiveStats has constantly evolved to meet the needs of leagues, federations, and their fans. Today’s system, used by more than 250 FIBA members and related organisations in over 150 countries, actually has little in common with the 2008 launch.

By following the mantra of “great play-by-play entry equals a great box score”, FIBA and Genius Sports has transformed:

  • The depth of live statistics available with shot and foul locations alongside +/- summaries
  • The speed of collection with carefully defined workflows to simplify the role of a statistician
  • The accuracy and quality of data which prevents the random inserting of events and uses predictive, rule-based workflows.

Few solutions in any sport can rival FIBA LiveStats’ reach, scale or impact. Its GameCentres have been viewed by over 25 million basketball fans globally, while the lessons we at Genius Sports have learnt throughout its build have been central to our subsequent partnerships with the NCAA and across world football.

Enabling basketball to thrive in the ‘new normal’

Outside of the NBA, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a widespread shutdown of live basketball since March. Now leagues are beginning to return and, as they do, FIBA LiveStats will be a crucial tool to drive revenues and re-engage with their fans.

This period has helped accelerate several new features that will benefit basketball fans, statisticians, and administrators globally. For the first time, accredited statisticians operating FIBA LiveStats whilst courtside will be able to communicate in real-time with our Support team, helping to flag and resolve issues within the application and enabling the highest standards of data integrity to be delivered to the global basketball community.

Basketball leagues and federations below the top tier often do not have the resources to hire an external marketing agency. At the same time, trends in sports’ fan engagement never stand still and FIBA LiveStats has an important role to play, delivering more content across more platforms and doing so automatically.

With new extensions of FIBA LiveStats, members will also be able to benefit from widgets, push messaging updates, and detailed post-game summaries via email, adding new levels of personalisation as they re-engage their fans following a prolonged gap of live basketball.

In my more than 30 years of working in sport, leagues and federations have had to overcome numerous challenges. The dot-com bubble, data revolution, and advent of live streaming all presented pressing questions for sports, but they could always revert to their core purpose of hosting live games and providing live entertainment to their fans.

Almost every basketball league globally has been unable to do this since March, with the Covid-19 pandemic presenting unimaginable challenges. Sports face an unpredictable period going forward, but I am proud that 12 years on from its initial launch, FIBA LiveStats will provide stability and new opportunities for all levels of world basketball.

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