An internet meme was created earlier this season after a “mystery man” was pictured holding an Xbox controller in the press box at a Premier League match. The image was shared hundreds of thousands of times across social media and picked up by the national newspapers. For three days the footballing world was flummoxed. Who was he? What was he doing? Had he lost the plot?
The man in the picture was Ed Syers, an analyst recording possession statistics for analytics firm ChyronHego. The firm creates real-time digital sports data, which is used by sports clubs, broadcasters and sports fans to create analysis and statistics. As well as the Premier League, the company provides tracking services for the German Bundesliga, the top two divisions in Spain and Major League Baseball (MLB) in the US.
“Ed was collecting performance data on all the players using our Tracab technology,” says ChyronHego’s David Eccles, project manager in charge of the Tracab service. “He was recording ball possession, for which the Xbox controller is perfect. Each of the pad’s buttons can be programmed to correspond with what happens on the field – things like whether the ball is in or out of play and whether the home or away team has possession of the ball.”
TracAb collects player and ball information 25 times every second, meaning a huge amount of statistical data is available on every player and the ball. ChyronHego currently uses the data to visualise TracAb data for Sky Sports, but the use of data in real-time is something Eccles thinks the clubs themselves will be at the forefront of in the future: “Having data available in real-time may only serve to validate a professional opinion at first, but in the future – who knows?”, Eccles says.
“The utilisation of the raw tracking data presents an almost unlimited amount of possibilities to derive statistical and analytical information never before explored within football. We’re currently working on new solutions, including data and video products, which could completely revolutionise the way the modern game is understood and played.”