From artificial intelligence-based insights to performance tracking solutions, match data can fuel innovative approaches across the sporting landscape.
However, restrictions to access are often cited as a sticking point in relation to progress.
LaLiga, the Spanish football league operator, has recognised this challenge – as well as the limitless opportunities that are presented by match data for clubs, media companies and fans – and taken the proactive step of democratising access to real-time match data.
Mediacoach, the data analysis and visualisation tool established by LaLiga, is widely considered to be among the industry’s most sophisticated platforms.
The tool, part of the LaLiga Tech ecosystem, has been created in order to capture more than 25 frames per second and track thousands of data points per player, per match.
Despite the substantial potential value of the solution, the decision was taken to make the tool available to all participating LaLiga clubs in the top-tier LaLiga Santander and the second-tier LaLiga SmartBank, allowing them all to benefit from the same technology.
According to Mediacoach product manager Silvestre Jos, opening up access to data-driven insights for all clubs can bring major positives from a competition perspective.
“All clubs have access to the same information, allowing them to analyse the opposite team based on their previous LaLiga matches,” he says. “That is very special from a league perspective, because every single club has the same tools. With this solution, we are levelling the playing field for everyone.”
The tool is being utilised by forward-thinking clubs that have already made huge technological strides in an effort to gain a competitive edge.
Granada CF offers a compelling example. In just two seasons, the Andalusian club rose from Spain’s second tier to achieve consecutive top-half finishes in LaLiga Santander and a European quarter-final in the 2020-21 UEFA Europa League.
Álvaro García, an analyst on the club’s coaching staff who worked closely with Mediacoach during that time, underscores the vital role that data played in the team’s on-field resurgence.
“Granada’s success is in part possible because we are based in LaLiga and have access to Mediacoach,” he says. “In other leagues, this data is not available. It gives you the possibility to increase your chances of winning every game, despite the quality of the opposition. We won a game against Barcelona [in April 2021] in part because of having equal opportunities to access this data.”
The opportunity to tap into a vital, cutting-edge data-based tool that is also recognised by some of the biggest football giants in Spain provides an outstanding chance for smaller teams to upset the odds on the pitch.
Reflecting on how Mediacoach enabled the club to build for the future during its time in the second tier, García adds: “LaLiga’s democratic approach to data means that in LaLiga SmartBank you have the same access to all the same data as the best teams of LaLiga Santander. This powers you to have equal opportunities to progress on and off the pitch.”
Aitor Karanka, the ex-Real Madrid coach who also has extensive experience of working in English football, has seen at first-hand how access to such solutions and resources is rarely offered in such a universal way in other leagues.
“When I was working [in England], the resources were not the same between the first and second divisions,” he says. “While the quality was still good, there was a big difference between the two and even today you can find a difference. One of the things that LaLiga is doing really well is to provide the same quality of information to every single club.”
According to García, Mediacoach allows each club to focus on the information – and the statistics – that are most relevant to them. “Data needs to filtered into key performance indicators,” García says. “There are hundreds of pages of data available, but you need to consider the information that is most relevant to your model of play.”
For Karanka, showing key performance data through videos makes the job of coaching players easier. “The best way to convince your players that they can beat [big teams] is to try to show them where the weaknesses of the opponent are,” he says. “With videos, you can teach them and make more clinical insights.”
Jos echoes Karanka’s thoughts about the importance of being able to show players what they can do, by adding: “Video is the key. Having the ability to share this data in a visual way is the quickest way to make an impression on the player. It is an easier to understand the information we are gathering.”
Analysing match data can also help to prevent injuries, by allowing coaches to boost their understanding of the players’ physical loads at any given moment, allowing them to spot any anomalies and act proactively to maximise protection of their playing staff.
To underline the cooperative approach by LaLiga in relation to Mediacoach, fitness staff at clubs have even suggested adjustments that have been incorporated into the system, providing more data that can fit within their quantification and control methods.
Fabio Nevado, a technical analyst in the Mediacoach team, says: “If you have a player who has just returned from a long injury, maybe you put them on in the 60th minute, but you do not want them to put in too much effort. So, you can monitor them in real time and if you detect some issue or some data that is not right, you can take a decision then. This information helps clubs to reduce the injury risk and helps their players to compete very near to their top performance.”
The impact of match data analysis extends beyond professional clubs, of course.
Over the past quarter of a century, fans have steadily shown a greater desire for accessing performance data during sports coverage. This has been illustrated by the increasing use of data-driven graphics during broadcasts on television, the rise of second-screen usage during live matches and, more recently, the adoption of over-the-top (OTT) platforms, which can integrate such data-based analytics during sports programming.
The continuing rise of fantasy sports and sports betting worldwide have also accelerated the growing appetite for match data amongst fans who are looking to make more informed decisions, as well as supporting their opinion during debates on team tactics with friends.
More broadly, though, research has shown that data-driven visualisations have a bigger impact on sports viewers than pure statistics in numerical form. Where sports media companies can use such data to establish a narrative and context, the storytelling attributes of their coverage are likely to lead to greater viewer engagement.
To support its media-rights partners, LaLiga has therefore enabled the incorporation of Mediacoach data into coverage of live matches.
The league’s production team accesses the same match data as clubs. However, instead of using it for tactical reasons, the data is superimposed onto the pitch during a game, providing a stunning visual offering for fans. Examples of the visualisations include individual player heatmaps on the pitch or the placing of tactical circles and lines to highlight a team’s changing formation.
“We want to get all the information not only to clubs, but also to fans,” Jos says. “The very best way to deliver information to fans is through broadcasts of our games. We oriented the tracking and event information to include these graphics in live transmissions to help our fans understand how the game is going in every single LaLiga match.”
LaLiga has spearheaded numerous initiatives in media and technology initiatives and there are opportunities for other competitions across sport to use Mediacoach to implement similar solutions.
However, the possibilities do not end there. In May, LaLiga announced an expansion of its partnership with Microsoft to collaborate on developing technological solutions for media and entertainment and to support the commercialisation of LaLiga Tech.
As part of the collaboration, LaLiga will utilise cloud computing service Microsoft Azure, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, for Mediacoach and its LaLigaSportsTV OTT platform, to explore new interactive audiovisual experiences and formats.
As LaLiga’s global Tech and Innovation Partner, Microsoft will leverage and develop tools that can enhance opportunities for sports fans, venue managers and rights-holders. For sports fans, the focus will be on providing data-enhanced match coverage and personalised OTT streaming options, while new experiences such as augmented reality, virtual reality and 3D replays will be created.
Meanwhile for rights-holders, such as broadcasters and commercial partners, there will be new offerings such as personalised recommendations via the OTT platform using relevant content, games and services.
“We value Microsoft as our technology and innovation partner and appreciate how they collaborate deeply to build innovative solutions aimed at solving business challenges specific to our industry,” LaLiga president Javier Tebas says. “We are moving into a new era in which technology will become the centre of the fan experience and data insights will power the next stage of global growth.”
The collaboration is central to the development of LaLiga Tech, through which LaLiga is packaging its full range of existing technologies into a commercial offering for the sports industry. LaLiga Tech offers a single ecosystem of modular services including match-day statistics and analytics, the next generation of OTT streaming services, and the most advanced content protection services and smart venue access management systems.
LaLiga believes that the growth of LaLiga Tech will help build a new era in sports and entertainment using data-driven technology solutions.
LaLiga also utilises Microsoft Power BI dashboards to provide data visualisations for TV audiences, as well as other channels, such as social media, websites and mobile applications, helping to create more tailored experiences.
As a result, the league operator’s impressive digital footprint is continuing to expand, establishing powerful relationships with fans across the world, as well as in Spain. LaLiga’s family of official apps have had more than 113 million downloads globally, while LaLigaSportsTV, which streams multiple sports beyond football, has more than 1.8 million registered users.
Whilst creating cutting-edge technology, including the use of match data through solutions as versatile as Mediacoach, have already helped to transform experiences on and off the pitch, LaLiga is keen to keep pushing the boundaries.
“Data and analysis are an inevitable part of football,” Jos adds. “For live transmissions, we will certainly see new developments in the coming seasons, as well as within clubs. The technology is evolving at such as pace that the opportunities are endless.”