Analysing the Africa Cup of Nations with Opta
"Sports data fuels all sporting conversation and analysis,” Peter Burroughs tells us. Burroughs is assured in his definition of sports data: facts and statistics that are fast becoming the social and analytical currency of sport.
It’s used by sports teams and athletes to enhance on-field performance, bookmakers to bet, and broadcasting pundits to analyse games. Burroughs is right - intricate sports analysis is on the rise. The 2003 book Moneyball by Michael Lewis documented how Oakland Athletic Manager Billy Beane uses data analysis to succeed in the science of baseball player evaluation. NBA teams use a technology called ‘player tracking’, which evaluates the efficiency of a team by an analysis of player movement. Fans are also thirsty for sports data. “Even for you and me sat having a drink, chewing the fat: ‘Is Wayne Rooney better than Zlatan Ibrahimovic?’ then the data fuels all sporting conversation,” Burroughs says.
Burroughs is the Managing Director of Perform Group, a leading digital sports media group. Its subdivision, Opta, is the world’s leading sports data provider. “Opta is our B2B sports data provider, where we provide data, video and editorial B2B to anyone that will take it: broadcasters, digital publishers, traditional publishers and bookmakers around the world,” Burroughs says. “Opta is the data provider within Perform Content”.
Burroughs lives in South Africa, but his clear-cut English accent gives him away. He is from England, but moved to South Africa three years ago. The move was partly due to personal circumstances, and partly due to the African demand for sports data - Perform Group found there was a huge market in South Africa and Nigeria. It also saw opportunity in the Africa Cup of Nations. Opta covered AFCON 2015, and will cover this year’s tournament too. We asked Burroughs how Opta will interact with AFCON 2017. “We offer a fairly standardised service, whether it be Africa Cup of Nations or the Premier League or the European football league,” he explains. “We will be collecting every shot, pass, tackle, and corner, basically every event during every match of AFCON in real time. Then we will make this information available to our customers via our various delivery mechanisms, which are a raw XML data feed.” Opta’s data feeds come in three types: core (basic match data), classic (more detailed and aggregated stats) and performance (the most detailed level of live data, including x,y coordinates and time-stamps).
Peter Burroughs, MD of Perform Group
Recently, Africa has seen an influx of homegrown media companies. Opta supports these SMEs by allowing them to integrate and manipulate the data themselves. “We also provide hosted widget products to integrate stats, scores, fixtures, results, whatever, without having to have too much technical or development resource to be able to do it”. Clients can choose where the widgets sit on their sites, resize them, apply their own branding and reskin them. Importantly, Opta’s widgets are multilingual.
Opta will use its own proprietary software that has been developed over the decade of collecting sports data. Opta’s team will gather live, high definition data, then analyse it in real time within its database. The company’s editorial team (based in the UK) receive this data as soon as it’s collected and will produce a range of preview and review material. This includes player profiles, team profiles and matchday Opta facts. The editorial team also offers clients a stats hotline and a live chat facility.
Opta football analysis
Who exactly are these clients? Burroughs explains that Opta doesn’t have clients specific to AFCON: The majority of its client base have an annual relationship with Opta, there is no event-by-event client base. “We have over 800 clients across 40 countries in the broadcast, digital and traditional media and bookmakers who will have the opportunity to access the data,” he says. Opta’s current clients include: Fox Sports, who are covering AFCON in Asia, Canal who are covering it in France, and Eurosport, who are broadcasting the tournament across Europe.
Burroughs illustrates why these broadcasters and publishers will benefit from Opta’s AFCON coverage. “The professionalism of sport has grown. 20 years ago, people would only watch sport either in the stadium or on TV, whereas now people can be watching sport on TV and in the stadium, but also consuming little snippets of information and conversing with their friends on second screen environments,” he says.
Burroughs continues to explain that broadcasters and digital publishers need to keep offering fans ways to engage with the sport: “Obviously, data is a very useful tool to be able to do that because you can mine into the game and find talking points etc. So, I think data is becoming more and more relevant as the media landscape evolves into non-traditional forms of broadcasting.”
Opta’s clients are required to build relationships with AFCON’s rights holders in order to cover the tournament; so is Opta. “Perform has a relationship with Confederation African Football (CAF) across the group’s various divisions,” Burroughs adds. “Like all our clients we are working with them to explore all available partnerships that will maximise commercial value from AFCON and distribute market leading products to as many fans of AFCON as possible.”
AFCON develops every year. Total have replaced long-standing supporters Orange as the title sponsors for 2017’s tournament. 2015’s tournament reached a record 6.6 billion television viewers. Our final question for Burroughs: How will Opta adapt its 2015 AFCON strategy to the evolving tournament?
“The challenge with data is being able to contextualise the data in a visual, easy-to-understand way,” he responded. “Fans are constantly looking for more ways to interact with the game and supplement their viewing experience. Opta works hard at providing our clients and, subsequently, the fans with new and innovative ways to showcase data and fuel footballing conversation.”
GfK and VMware: Innovating together on hybrid cloud
GfK has been the global leader in data and analytics for more than 85 years, supplying its clients with optimised decision inputs.
In its capacity as a strategic and technical partner, VMware has been walking GfK along its digital transformation path for over a decade.
“We are a demanding and singularly dynamic customer, which is why a close partnership with VMware is integral to the success of everyone involved,” said Joerg Hesselink, Global Head of Infrastructure, GfK IT Services.
Four years ago, the Nuremberg-based researcher expanded its on-premises infrastructure by introducing VMware vRealize Automation. In doing so, it laid a solid foundation, resulting in a self-service hybrid-cloud environment.
By expanding on the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management, GfK has given itself a secure infrastructure and reliable operations by efficiently operating processes, policies, people and tools in both private and public cloud environments.
One important step for GfK involved migrating from multiple cloud providers to just a single one. The team chose VMware.
“VMware is the market leader for on-premises virtualisation and hybrid-cloud solutions, so it was only logical to tackle the next project for the future together,” says Hesselink.
Migration to the VMware-based environment was integrated into existing hardware simply and smoothly in April 2020. Going forward, GfK’s new hybrid cloud model will establish a harmonised core system complete with VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management and a volume rising from an initial 500 VMs to a total of 4,000 VMs.
“We are modernising, protecting and scaling our applications with the world’s leading hybrid cloud solution: VMware Cloud on AWS, following VMware on Google Cloud Platform,” adds Hesselink.
The hybrid cloud-based infrastructure also empowers GfK to respond to new and future projects with astonishing agility: Resources can now be shifted quickly and easily from the private to the public cloud – without modifying the nature of interaction with the environment.
The gfknewron project is a good example – the company’s latest AI-powered product is based exclusively on public cloud technology. The consistency guaranteed by VMware Cloud on AWS eases the burden on both regular staff and the IT team. Better still, since the teams are already familiar with the VMware environment, the learning curve for upskilling is short.
One very important factor for the GfK was that VMware Cloud on AWS constituted an investment in future-proof technology that will stay relevant.
“The new cloud-based infrastructure comprising VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation forges a successful link between on-premises and cloud-based solutions,” says Hesselink. “That in turn enables GfK to efficiently develop its own modern applications and solutions.
“In market research, everything is data-driven. So, we need the best technological basis to efficiently process large volumes of data and consistently distill them into logical insights that genuinely benefit the client.
“We transform data and information into actionable knowledge that serves as a sustainable driver of business growth. VMware Cloud on AWS is an investment in a platform that helps us be well prepared for whatever the future may hold.”