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Simon Farrant: Opta data can help not just for Chinese fans, but also for the governing bodies

Monday, 27 Jun 2016 17:30   |   By Chen Yaping

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We held an interview with Mr. Simon Farrant, Marketing Manager at Perform Group at World Soccer Congress 2016. He is responsible for with responsibility for 3 global sports brands: Opta, the world’s leading sports data provider, OptaPro, the market-leading analytics and performance analysis brand for professional teams, and Omnisport, a global multi-platform digital sports news and content agency.

Mr. Farrant has introduced Opta's major businesses, the recent partnership with Baidu and his expectation about Chinese market.

Yutang:  Can you give us a brief introduction of Opta?

Simon Farrant: Sure. We are the world’s leading sports data provider. We collect live, detailed sports data and soccer is our main sport. But along the way, we also do, well, in Europe, rugby, cricket, which I think is not so popular in China. But we are also doing detailed data on US sports as well, NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and college football and basketball as well. So that has been very interesting, very new, very impressive. But in soccer, we guess we collect data on every single thing happening on the pitch.

So every time a player touches the ball, we’re collecting who the player is, what he does with the ball and things like that. That’s quite probably around between 1600 and 2000 player actions in every single match. So we’ve been doing that for nearly ten years now, we’re doing that in over 35 different countries. So everything from the English Premier League to Chinese Super League, to French Second Division, MLS in the US, Bundesliga in Germany, so yes, we collect the data, then what we do is, we provide different clients in different ways.

We provide that kind of editorial service. We have a team of editors who take the data or load the data based on interesting facts and provide our clients so that they can use them. You know, for pundits collecting common data on matches, or for newspaper writers, for people writing articles online, using in that way.

Or we provide the data in what we called widgets hosted platforms, so you plug a big code into websites, a code that can display all the data platforms in different ways. Or we just provide databases, so XML data, very, very detailed code, then people could take and use, to create new and interesting things using the data. We work with clients of all countries from the world, from the US to Australia, to here in China, to India, to anywhere you can possibly think. As we know, soccer is a global sport, so we’re a global provider.  

Simon Farrant

Yutang: How do you manage to collect the data, given that the volume is massive?

Simon Farrant: We have dedicated data collectors and senders in different countries around the world, in the UK, in Portugal, in Uruguay, in Germany, in the US, etc.

We have a bespoke programme that we created, so one person collects hunting information, and use a mouse that you click when there’s something happening on the pitch.

There’s a second person doing the same thing for the duty. There’s a third person who is doing live, quality control and checking if the ball sets a free kick and the ball hits into the wall and bounces back.

That would be the way we do that. It’s the same system all around the world, so we collect the same information on every league and every competition, which is very important for consistency and accuracy purposes. So we do that live and then after the game, we then go back and re-watch the footage and check the data that has been collected, to make sure we’re 100% accurate.

Yutang: In addition to your employees, what kind of role do you think technology is playing in data management?

Simon Farrant: We’re a technology company. It’s really important. We have a huge database of sports data. We have a dedicated network of computer system across the world, to collect information to put in that database, and we have a system to distribute that data. So technology is really, really important to us. Obviously, if the technology fails, we cannot provide information to our clients. So it’s battle,you know, we have a dedicated, highly-skilled tact to do that.

Yutang: You mentioned the clients in China earlier, so what is the presence of Opta here in China?

Simon Farrant: Relatively, it’s small at the moment. It only seems Opta became part of Perform Group in 2013. It only seems that we really have much presence in China. Because China is a very, very big country. It’s very small at the moment, but I know we work with some Chinese digital media companies. Our presence in China is growing. I think it’s a really exciting market for us.

Yutang: What kind of role do you think Opta can help grow the sports market?

Simon Farrant: We were across lots of different areas of sports. So we provide data information to governing bodies, we have provided official data to the English Premier League, to Bundesliga in Germany, to Eredivisie in Netherlands, and to lots of different leagues around the world. So that maybe what we can do in the future, to assist the CSL to grow, to provide more information about players across the world.

We also work with sponsors. We work with Nike, Adidas, sports companies or team sponsors, or players themselves, providing them websites to promote sports and sports companies. Also we work with the team itself. We provide information to the team, to help them sign players, to analyze upcoming opposition, also to analyze the team as well. So using consisting objective data, to compare your team to somebody else in the same league, or even somebody used to play for the league. It’s really helpful for coaches to work as leaders, so that you can tell how well your team is playing. Maybe in the future, we can work with Chinese soccer clubs.

Yutang: Opta’s parent company Perform has just struck a partnership with Chinese technology company Baidu. What kind of role are you playing in this partnership?

Simon Farrant: I think it’s really exciting for us. Baidu is such a huge company in China. It’s fantastic for us to work so closely with such a company. The partnership is mainly to do with Baidu and Goal.com, the world’s leading football website.

I hope that part of that will mean great access by using Baidu to Opta data. When people are reading about soccer matches going on around the world, they will look for a lot of data to enhance the reporting. That’s the way I hope to work. It’s still in the very early stage, it’s early partnerships, but I’m very hopeful. I think it will be excellent if that works.

Yutang: What kind of challenges do you think Opta will be facing in this market?

Simon Farrant: In this market, it’s such a huge market, so big. It also seems to me, to be quite a different market from Europe, certainly, maybe US, as well. I think the great thing about China is that there are relatively small soccer fans considering its population. But they are very passionate soccer fans and I think that would grow rapidly in the future.

I think based on how we’ve worked in the market, we know that fans love data, statistics and information we provide. I’m hopeful that we have opportunities to show Chinese football fans what we can do. Clearly, the population, the level of passion for the sport means that, it’s a really exciting market for us.

Yutang: What is your strategy to grow Opta here? Have you set up an office in China?

Simon Farrant: We have an office in Shanghai. Hopefully, we start talking to the right people and providing the information we can provide. That’s kind of what we’re doing now.

I think fans are intersted in Opta’s data, so its accuracy, its consistence, and that’s something we’ve always played a huge premium. That’s something we’re very, very good at. And I think that can really help not just for the fans, but also for the governing bodies themselves.

I know that as much as to make sure there is no match fixing, you know, data is good at turning it out. It’s hopeful we can help. I think it’s going to be really interesting.

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