Data Journalism in Sports


Throughout all the number crunching and analysis of facts and figures, the idea of data driven journalism to me was very off putting. I’m not a fan of figures and numbers; if I was, I would have done a Maths or Computing degree, and instead, I chose to do an English Literature one just to avoid ever using Pythagoras’ theorem or any other method used to get results from number crunching. But over the last 6 months of my MA, I’ve never been able to watch television in the same way. I’m always analysing and assessing the output based on the things taught on my course. As the group blog I am involved in is about data driven journalism, I always look to see how raw data has been used to compile reports.

So one day, I thought I’d have a day off from all this analysis and sit down and watch the second leg of the Arsenal Vs Barcelona champions league game – and then my mind went into overdrive!(not because of the shocking refereeing) but because data driven journalism played a vital part in the reporting of the game. How? – there are many cameras around the pitch, and they work in a multi-tracking system. The follow individual players and teams and assess the minute details such as how far they have run, how many passes they have completed, how many shots they’ve had etc. This data is then collected by a computer and fed back to the programmers who then pass on the broken down data to the researchers / journalists to implement into graphics for the public to visualise and for the reporters to commentate on.

The picture above, taken after the game, shows the overall performance of both of the teams after the 90 minutes. Although it may not like seem like it by just a glance, but the amount of raw data that has been collected is huge. I think this is possibly one of the best examples of data driven journalism purely because the statistics that have been collected and analysed over a 90 minute match can be summed up and reported to the viewers in less than 15 seconds. It is impressive and just what data journalism is all about.

The market for sports analysis and data is massive! Prozone are a company set up in the UK in 1998, and through their work on sports analysis have expanded globally to the US, Spain, UAE, India and Japan are arguably offer the worlds best sports performance analysis survey. They have set targets to break down the best in raw data of sports performance and analyse and visualise it to understand the methodology of the ways in which teams and players operate. This data can be incredibly valuable to high profile teams looking to gain an advantage over another, especially if it’s in a tournament. Prozone have almost manipulated the use of raw data and as well as their results providing factual information to gain a competitive edge for its clients, they too must pick up a handsome profit for their troubles in a multi-billion pound market.

This is what they do;

The idea of tracking athletes and their movements is big across all sports. In particular, combat sports. “Compubox” is the name of a computerised scoring system that calculates the amount of punches thrown by a fighter in sports such as boxing and MMA. The idea behind Compubox is to help give an idea of a fighters performance to settle disputes as to who performed better throughout the fight. But like every computer, without human assistance, it cannot be used, and like with all human input, it is open to errors. The Compubox system works by having two operators. Each operator watches a fighter and has 4 keys to press in relation to effectiveness and type of punch thrown by a fighter i.e. jab connect, jab miss, power punch connect and power punch miss. It is up to the operator to make sure that they register each punch correctly. Due to the nature of the sport, it’s almost impossible to gain 100% accurate results, but the Compubox system should generally be a clear indicator of who the better fighter was and who should win according to the percentage of punches thrown and connected.

The picture above shows the data of the fighters attributes before the fight.

The above shows a human interpretation of the fight.

The above shows the amount of jabs and percentage landed throughout the fight.

The above shows the amount of power shots and percentage landed throughout the fight.

From the screenshots above, it would be safe to say that from the human interpretation of how they viewed the fight, and from the Compubox figures, the results would go in favour of Castillo for winning the fight. In fact, it was Mayweather who won the fight. Which goes to show, even with raw data as evidence, the facts might not end up being the final results in something as unpredictable as sports, but it will give reporters/journalists a lot to talk about and discuss.

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