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Is Data The Cure for the Covid Blues?

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Sport's data landscape is unparalleled. Will we use it to combat the issues surfacing from COVID?

A scan of last week’s sports news tells us two things: first, the industry has developed a data landscape from top to bottom with breadth and depth unlike anything before. Second, that elite sports now confronted with a COVID-induced inflection point, with careers and championships very much on the line. The only question is whether we’ll use the first to surmount the second.  

That industry’s incredible data landscape has permeated down even to the youth level is beyond dispute. From a New Jersey high school football team’s in-game analytics to the Golden State Warriors’s Shoot 360 technology at their reopened academy, data is being leveraged for real-time decisions in youth sports in ways impossible a decade ago. While not yet mainstream, we are seeing an ever growing cohort of our clients in the youth sports and academy space turning to analytics to answer their most pressing questions about long term development.

 It’s hard to believe that this type of approach won’t be commonplace a decade from now, possibly even sooner given the urgency for better talent economics.

Now to that inflection point: let’s travel to America’s west coast and look at the San Francisco 49ers. They have one of the longest injury lists in the NFL, with more than $85 million worth of talent now sitting on the bench. That statistic might be staggering but it shouldn’t be surprising: lack of preseason games and limited practice opportunities from COVID meant players were suddenly thrown into games once the season began. 

Jump across the pond to the English Premier League and we find a similar challenge. As the Guardian put it last week, “the strain of an unusually hectic fixture list caused by the coronavirus pandemic may have a knock-on effect on a rearranged Euro 2020.” Raising the alarm on schedules, Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp put it even more simply: “This year, the October is like a December, the November is like a November, and the December is still like a December.” 

Klopp delivered a clarion call to action to fix the fixtures and bring back the five-substitute rule, arguing travel, sleep, and recovery challenges make matters complex enough for his organization. My question is, what does the data say and what can we learn from the data landscape to validate or invalidate his thoughts?

For both the 49ers and Liverpool, the root of these problems may be force majeure from COVID-19, but the solution doesn’t require an act of God. In fact the solution is quite in any one organisation’s control. Are these problems not the exact reasons teams and leagues have invested in data and technology? To learn and advance? What was the point of building all that infrastructure anyway if not to use it? 

While teams can — and must — deploy these tools to come back stronger later, careers and championships are on the line today. The need for serious relief is urgent, and it’s not just on teams to provide it. And while many executives are highly cautious about making new investments, the cost of not investing is proving to be higher.

Now is also the time for the leagues to harness analytics to inform decisions in real time at the macro-level. Whether its understanding the importance of pre-season practice to build resilience or the impact of schedule congestion or substitutions on injuries, this is a leadership opportunity, a time to take genuine concern for player welfare to the next level, to go beyond administering COVID-19 tests and get after serious problems that just aren’t going away on their own. 

We’re looking forward to seeing how industry will engage this. And if we can help, we will.

I’ll be sharing thoughts on sport’s most impactful developments and news on an ongoing basis. I welcome your feedback at stephen@kitmanlabs.com. 

About Stephen Smith

Stephen is the Founder and CEO of Kitman Labs. He’s a news junkie and would love to hear your thoughts on the latest happening in the industry.

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