Technology has become a key battleground in the fight between major European leagues to expand their reach beyond their borders and into new markets. All have portfolios of digital services and applications that aim to offer a ‘matchday-like’ experience to fans who may never set foot in a stadium because of their location might be thousands of miles away.
Increasingly, data-driven insights are viewed as an effective way of driving engagement and enhancing the quality of broadcast presentations.
To this end, the Bundesliga has partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to deliver real-time ‘Match Facts’ during live matches and highlights. The partnership uses AWS’s cloud infrastructure and Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities to crunch the numbers for television viewers and tailor content for fans on online platforms. This is particularly useful when you consider the importance of mobile and social media among younger demographics and in developing markets.
The deal was inked in January and eagle-eyed viewers will have noticed the AWS logo appearing in the top left of the screen during matches and on-screen graphics. The long-term plan is to create an advanced statistical platform based on 3.6 million data points collected in every single game and on an archive of 10,000 matches.
The first ‘Match Facts’ enabled by the AWS deal will debut during
Der Klassiker later this evening when viewers will be treated to two new innovations – Average Formations and Expected Goals (xGoals or ‘xG’).
For Average Formations, AWS tracks player location data in real-time, offering fans insights into changes on the field and help them understand whether a team is playing more defensively or aggressively, identify tactical changes, and see how substitutions are changing the game.
Over time, it will even be possible to see how a team could change its playing style based on the players at its disposal. For example, fans might clamor for a certain player to come off the substitutes’ bench because the team plays more attacking football down the left-hand side when he is on the field. The hope is that if fans are more engaged and understand more about what they are witnessing, the more likely they are to watch a Bundesliga game in the future.
xG, the second innovation, is a statistical model that predicts how likely a team is to score from a certain area of the pitch based on real-time and historical information. Traditionally, possession, shots at goal and shots on target have been viewed as useful metrics to determine which team is on top.
However not all chances are created equal – a long-range effort from outside the penalty area is far less likely to hit the back of the net than a simple tap-in in the six-yard box. The xG model analyses this data and gives each chance at goal an xG rating out of 1. The aggregation of this data gives clubs and broadcasters the ability to see what the most likely result of a match was before, during and after the final whistle.
In the U.K., xG has been embraced by journalists who believe in the value of data, however, there are those of a more traditional persuasion that believe the metric is yet further evidence of the over-analysis of soccer and the abandonment of conventional approaches. Nonetheless,
Match of the Day has offered xG statistics at the end of each match shown on the program for the past few seasons and it is rapidly gaining acceptance.
Bundesliga Match Facts BUNDESLIGA
Expecting a goal?
In the Bundesliga, xG will be used to deliver a ‘shot probability’ percentage. Amazon’s SageMaker platform will host Machine Learning models that can calculate the xG in real-time, taking into account positional data, distance to the goal, angle to goal, player speed, number of defenders and the goalkeeper.
Viewers will be able to see if a certain action, such as pass, contributed significantly to the scoring of a crucial goal. This will increase fans’ understanding of the game and, who knows, might result in some less-heralded players receiving more recognition.
“Ultimately, Bundesliga Match Facts will provide deeper insights and scope of information to everybody involved and interested in football,” Andreas Heyden, head of digital innovations at the German Football League (DFL) tells me. “With xG, we can now assess the probability of a player scoring a goal when shooting from any position, again in real-time. AWS is helping us to process the data we already have, but in a more sophisticated way.”
Amazon’s interest in sport is growing. It already works with F1, the NFL and rugby union’s Six Nations among others. Just as with the Bundesliga, these organizations are looking to make more sense of their data to improve their digital products and broadcasts. In turn, this provides highly visible and relatable uses cases for AWS to promote to customers.
“The Bundesliga powered-by-AWS statistics service will be the only official source [of data], deliver data in real-time and provide a new user experience and visualization on mobile devices,” adds Steve Bryen, senior technical evangelist for AWS in the UK & Ireland.
“In addition, we are working together to create a truly personalized fan experience to enhance fan engagement and retention by leveraging existing data, interaction data and other relevant AWS open data sources.”
With LaLiga and the Premier League
PINC eyeing up a return to action next month, the Bundesliga hopes to make a favourable impression with its marquee match and ensure fans stick around long after lockdown has been lifted.