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Data is the new oil

Data powers elite sport like oil fuels the world economy.


Stephen Smith


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Reviewing recent sports news, it’s hard to identify a significant development that doesn’t depend on data in some way – so much so, I’m confident the availability of data itself will decide the industry’s future trajectory, speed, and evolution. For a crude analogy, data is the new oil: our industry needs it to operate. Once extracted, it’s refined to power performance industrywide, and anyone wanting an edge simply has to have it.

A few recent examples help prove the point:

  • With its average TV viewer now 55 years old – ten years older than for football or basketball – MLB is looking to data to speed gameplay and target younger demographics, something we think will have an existential impact.
  • Football clubs are asking “How much smarter can we be?” – and finding out with highly advanced tools like StatsBomb 360, which blends “human-logged events with off-ball positions captured by computer vision” for comprehensively contextualized awareness.
  • With AI and machine learning, teams are tracking players’ individual steps on the pitch and getting deeper insight into the demands of gameplay, as Norwich is doing with Playermaker.

Examples like these help explain why the global sports analytics market is expected to reach $4.6 billion by 2025. They also illustrate a challenge identified by SciSports Chief Analytics Officer Jan Van Haaren:

The key challenge for a club is to put the increasing amount of data that they have at their disposal in the right context and to draw the right conclusions from the data.

I’ve written previously on this right role of analytics, but it’s more critical than ever because data now underwrites everything, from tactical performance, to the player-coach dynamics recently described by Brian Ashton, to data-driven recruitment decisions like those announced by West Ham last week. Success in any of these areas now depends on data.

Data in the NFL

We find an especially powerful example of the impact of next gen data in the NFL. One of the most data-forward leagues in the world, they first made stats available in 2013 before going league-wide in 2015. Today, the league’s new domestic broadcast rights agreements are worth more than $100 billion. A sum like this certainly builds the sense that data is the new oil, but there’s another advantage to building good

data infrastructure, namely, greater capability to exploit unexpected developments – like a new saliva test for concussions, for example. Only a few years ago we heard fears the NFL was finished over the concussion issue. Now, the league’s first-class, pre-existing data infrastructure can scale this new capability and quickly unlock greater safety.

Looking Ahead

Data is the new oil because once it’s refined into intelligence, competitors aim to leverage it to change the shape of the future. But just how much will they be able to do that?

SciSports’ Van Haaren forecasts teams will be able to anticipate how upcoming opponents will play and know how potential transfers targets will perform before they spend the money to acquire them. We think this is on point. Predictive, analytical intelligence derived from the right, readily available data is, after all, what Performance Intelligence is all about.

But while data is definitely the new oil, we can’t push the parallel too far. Because while there’s plenty of attractive alternative energy options to fossil fuels, there is simply no alternative to data for anyone who wants to succeed in elite sport. Data is it. Data is everything.

I’ll be sharing thoughts on sport’s most impactful developments and news on an ongoing basis. I welcome your feedback on Twitter or at



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  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen is Kitman Labs’ CEO and founder. He was previously Senior Injury Rehabilitation & Conditioning Coach at Leinster Rugby Club. Stephen holds a BSc in Sport & Exercise Rehab and MSc in Football Rehab from Edgehill University.

    CEO & Founder of Kitman Labs


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