There are many theories about the origins of competitive sports. According to some records, the Chinese “cuju” is the earliest form of football. It dates from the third and second centuries BC and involved kicking a ball through an opening into a net. But there is evidence of many other ball games played throughout the ancient world – from Rome in Europe to Chichen Itza in the Americas; these sports were viewed as demonstrations of power, part of worshipping ceremonies or pure entertainment.

It’s quite interesting to see how sports have evolved to become what they are today. The changes were not only confined to the rules of the game itself but also included the evolution of team strategies, the way sports were analyzed and presented to the audiences.

However, in the years to follow, data collection and analysis gradually became an integral part of the preparation and presentation of sports. In the beginning data was mostly about timing – live timing on athletics, live timing on downhill skiing, number of laps and best lap times. The datasets would mostly be statistical and would lack positional element to tie the event to an accurate location on the pitch/court. This lack of positional information forced broadcasters to stick to pretty uninteresting ways of showing and interpreting data, for example: “Player John ran 10km during 1st half”. This is a technical achievement but doesn’t bring much insight into the game. It is hard to interpret. Is 10km a long distance for a football player? Were there team orders to play aggressively or defensively? Without positional information and advance visualization the data alone is weak. As a result most sport productions ended up with a ‘stats’ guy tasked to throw anecdotes and impressive figures around during the game.

Data was presented raw: “45 passes between Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud”; “Theo Walcott ran 11km during 1st half”; “Petr Cech stopped 37 shots on goal in the previous season” etc…These stats were mostly voiced and rarely supported by quality graphics. But with the advancement of technologies and analysis systems it became possible to visualize the location of where passes are made, show the trajectories of the 37 shots on goal, dig deeper into the positional heat map of Theo Walcott and reveal which part of the pitch he spends most time in with and without the ball. The possibilities now are much broader and the only limit to the depth of analysis relies on the consultant’s sports knowledge and willingness to do more.

Additionally, with access to live information, it is possible to add augmented reality graphics to the live footage to support commentaries, highlight strategies, educate or assist audiences to follow a specific athlete or player or enhance games with complementary information. This in turn means more elaborate productions. Having a few pundits and former players around a table talking about the good old times and just showing highlights of the games will look outdated and is insufficient to keep an audience’s attention. But playing with the data in real time, showing the insights and possible outcomes as the game develops, will make sports shows much more engaging. Sourcing and analyzing more data and thinking of its use from end to end will bring a more creative approach to developing sports content, building a viewer journey based on interests, for example airing parts of the content during the game, keeping the more exciting clips for the evening show and digging deeper into the data online on blogs and OTT channels. Or how about giving access to all the data for the viewer to play with themselves and share their insights and become the knowledgeable sports commentators?

Changes in sports data visualization won’t stop with real time graphics and augmented reality. New effects will be developed constantly based on new data sources. It will be possible to highlight the mid-fields or a striker-defender pair as the commentator talks about them; to have a real time fatigue’o’meter, acceleration comparator, live rating, gambling support. Live data opens the door to real time 3D replays and immediate replay and creation of scenes for studio use. A view from any angle – from line referee, main referee, goal keeper – is just one of the many effects that will be available with the advancement of visualization technology. It will be possible to animate the difference in strategy between the first and second half or before and after a player substitution.

This will create incredible opportunities for broadcasters; small players will be able to put together successful shows without the need to invest big amounts of money in sports content rights. Big players will be able to engage with their audiences for longer periods of time via different channels across various platforms. There will be almost unlimited possibilities to what you can do and how you can present sports data.

Vincent Noyer, Head of Practice, Piero