Tomorrow sees the launch of the 2018 OptaPro Analytics Forum. Ahead of this, we’ve shared some initial thinking behind the 2018 Forum, and how the event is looking to reflect today’s football analytics industry and help shape its future.
A football analytics event that has significantly evolved since it first began in 2014, the 2018 OptaPro Analytics Forum’s core goals remain true four years on; aiming to connect different networks of the global football analytics industry, with a focus on sharing innovative analytical presentations that answer football questions.
While maintaining these core values, it is also important to acknowledge that this industry has progressed over the past four years and that the Forum reflects these developments.
How the industry has changed
The major difference in discussing football analytics now compared to its place in 2014 lies in how it is perceived by professional teams, leagues and federations.
The professional game’s understanding and appreciation of both data and analytics’ value has significantly improved. That’s not to suggest that this is a finished process (it’ll likely remain a continuous process that evolves as new work is produced and new practitioners enter the field), but the acknowledgement that this style of analysis can inform decision-making was passed some time ago.
This discussion has moved on. We know that the application is more than a simple ‘plug in and play’ approach, and now clubs are beginning to understand how they can integrate this style of analysis, along with establishing that they have the right tools, resources and people to maximise its impact.
It’s not only within the professional game where we’ve seen change. Public work has progressed significantly since 2014, and there is now a wider pool of analysts contributing in a space that often leads and informs thought processes inside the game and we’ve even seen public analysts secure work either at clubs or within the industry.
How does the OptaPro Forum reflect these changes?
Despite the overall positive change, there is still progress to be made. There is a general expectation that the work presented at the Forum should be directly applicable to clubs. This is of course understandable – teams give up valuable time during the season to attend the event – and remains a key goal of the Forum, but we need to consider what we mean here when discussing application.
With representatives from teams competing in the Champions League, League Two and in international tournaments, one presentation might not be directly applicable for everybody in the room.
Certain presentations can require a broader perspective to be taken and for delegates to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. During these presentations, delegates should consider the presenter – are the skills that they’ve shown here valuable, and can they be applied to other work that might be more relevant to your club? Is the presentation topic something that is relevant to you, but you might have preferred a different approach to answering it? Has the topic changed your own thinking and now may inform the way you approach tasks in your own role?
If a presentation’s findings cannot necessarily be applied the following Saturday, that’s not to say it is not applicable altogether. It’s important to remember this, and consider the bigger picture in thinking about how this work might be of value to your club.
Club involvement: analyst mentors
For the 2018 event, selected presenters are again able to work directly with a club analyst – someone who has first-hand experience of experience of working side a football club, and understands the unique challenges the audience at the Forum face.
This unique opportunity allows the presenter to share their progress, the overall direction of the work and discuss how to best present it and what to focus on.
Analysts involved this year have experience in European competition, the Premier League, Championship and Major League Soccer.
It was a landmark moment when first introduced at the 2015 Forum; the first time this data had been extensively used for analysis outside of the club environment. The integration of this data alongside event data has provided some of the most innovative, interesting research. However, these presentations have sometimes been those that are furthest away from real-world application – albeit generally for reasons beyond the presenter’s control.
For the 2018 event, there’ll be an OptaPro Forum first. Martin Eastwood, who produced this poster at the previous Forum, will present in 2018 on this same topic. Martin will have the benefit of feedback from the day, and importantly, additional time to further develop the work for a club audience.
Tracking data will still be available for other presentations at the 2018 Forum.
OptaPro has worked closely with the Premier League and selected clubs to secure permission to use this data for the event and has to respect the wishes of those involved and the sensitivity surrounding this data: presentations using tracking data will remain anonymised.
More advanced metrics are becoming commonplace in football, to an extent that Match of the Day has now started to use expected goals. Within the game, expected goals been known about – and applied by some clubs – for years.
However, applying analytics is more than the inclusion of xG data, the context in which it’s used is of greater importance. These metrics must be applied in a tactically relevant way which can help influence the game, rather than just describe it.
Previous Forums have seen presenters spend significant time developing models to conduct their research. For the 2018 Forum, selected presenters will have access to expected goal, expected assist and sequence data outputs. This addition will not only save time for presenters, but more importantly will add further depth to work and allow for more in-depth analysis.
Further information on how to submit a proposal can be found here