While Australia may not have finished well at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, one Australian company came out a winner. Sydney-based Sportstec's video analysis tools were used by coaches for 10 of the competing teams, including Australia and New Zealand, to better understand their team's performance as well as that of opponents.
Sportstec has developed software that enables analysts to add information about a team's performance to live video footage and have it available for recall by the coaching staff in real time.
According to Sportstec's managing director Philip Jackson, it is the only tool of its kind to achieve real-time recall.
"You can't win today's game tomorrow, so you have to effect change immediately," Jackson says. "So the more data that coaches have got at their fingertips, the better informed they are."
Sportstec's SportsCode software is used by teams across a range of sports internationally, including numerous club and national teams in soccer, basketball, Australian Rules football, baseball, lacrosse and others. World Cup teams using the software include England, Portugal, Argentina and the Netherlands.
Jackson says the value of SportsCode is in enabling coaches to immediately recall and compare moments so that they are better able to assess the performance of both individual athletes and overall teams, and then implement new modes of play to potentially find an edge over their opponent.
"It reinforces the coaches' gut instinct," Jackson says. "A coach can't watch everything in a game. They are looking for that 1 per cent — the little things that will make a difference."
The company began life 10 years ago when Jackson acquired the software from its original developer. Since then he has taken the Macintosh-based system through eight revisions, adding numerous features at the request of clients including Tottenham Hotspur, the Miami Heat NFL team and the Welsh Rugby Union.
"The one thing that we treasure more than anything else is that in the sports industry they are all winners," Jackson says. "No one is there just to turn up and do their job. Everyone wants to win. And it is incredibly infectious, and impacts your company hugely."
The technology works by using a team of data-entry operators to effectively mark-up what is occurring in play, as well as where it is occurring and which players are involved. Jackson says the company has worked to ensure that its products are very easy to use by both the data-entry operators and coaches.
"It is all focused around video and collecting data to add into the video so that when coaches want to see an event it is immediately available for them," Jackson says. "We also manipulate the information within the video so that in real time you can see and analyse trends."
Sportstec's first sale was to the Essendon Football Club AFL team in 2000, with subsequent sales made to Australian sports teams around the Olympics. The company began exporting out of the region almost immediately, with its breakthrough sale being to Manchester City Football Club.
"People talk about being born domestically and going global, but we were born global," Jackson says. "The concept was never just for Australia and New Zealand."
He describes Sportstec's subsequent export success as a matter of putting in the hard yards.
"There was a lot of bullshit and bravado going on in those early days," he says. "We had to make ourselves look better and bigger than anything else on the market, because we had to open doors. We knew once we were in that we had a really good product to show and a good story to tell."
The company recently opened an office in Malaysia to service South East Asia, complementing existing offices in Australia, New Zealand, the USA, France, the UK and China. It also has numerous distributors in other markets, and receives support as a member of the Australian Technology Showcase.
"The net big opportunity is Russia," Jackson says. "It is a growing economy and sport is incredibly strong."
While SportsCode is well accepted within team sports, Jackson says the goal now is to further its use within individual sports such as tennis, where it has already been used by Andre Agassi and Roger Federer. The software is also used by the coaches of the world's male and female squash champions.
Sportstec has also expanded into other markets. It has provided the Utah-based Mormon Church with a system to analyse sermons, and has worked with the National Institute of the Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney.