​Collingwood Football Club kicking goals with data analytics

The AFL club has partnered with Pure Storage to put the club's data to work and move away from decisions based on gut feel.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Collingwood Football Club has turned to analytics to help coaching staff make better decisions on and off the field, using data to gain a competitive advantage.

Formed in 1892, technology and innovation hasn't always been part of the Australian Football League (AFL) club's agenda. However, as sensors, GPS trackers, and other data collection points have been adopted by the club known as the Magpies, the necessity to store and essentially leverage the multitude of information has become a priority.

Speaking with ZDNet about the partnership, Mike Sakalas, regional vice president for Pure Storage in Australia and New Zealand, said making use of the data available gives Collingwood the ability to achieve good outcomes for its fans, players, and various other stakeholders.

"What they're looking to achieve is to take all of those data points from individual players, whether that's their own or people they're looking to recruit in, and be able to crunch numbers and be able to make decisions, whether it be during the recruiting process, the game, after a game, or questioning moves that they have made," Sakalas explained.

With sensors attached to the players by way of fitness trackers and other peripherals already, Sakalas said the combination of data will allow the coaching staff, for example, to make decisions based on data, rather than gut.

"It takes some of that second-guessing out," he added.

"I think they're really trying to understand more about their players, the health of their players.

"It's another big piece of information to be able to help players and the staff make decisions."

Collingwood is using Pure Storage's FlashArray//M system, in a VMware vSphere environment. With the tech churning through the data in the background, the club is able to analyse player information in real-time to aid the coach's decision-making.

Using on-field sensors, the team monitors everything from kicks, marks, and handballs, to scoring locations for each team, and analysing and mapping passages of play.

Before deploying FlashArray//M, Collingwood had to prune the data it wished to keep online, due to the low capacity of its legacy system. The club's databases and web applications are now also working faster and more efficiently on the M-array, added Marcus Wagner, Football Operations Manager at Collingwood FC.

While Collingwood might gain an advantage over its competition by analysing its data at speed, Sakalas said the sporting world is already very competitive.

"Every team, whether it be AFL, NRL, NFL, MLB -- you name it -- they're all going after that technology advantage," he said.

"Yes, Collingwood has chosen to go down the Pure Storage path with an all-flash M-array, but what I would tell you is every sporting team at one point or another are analysing whether they spend their money on technology and how much value do they put into their data.

"It is 100 percent getting away from gut feel and saying show me the statistical analysis of why one decision is better than another."

As arguably one of the more "elite" teams in the competition, Sakalas said Collingwood is always looking to push the boundaries of how it can get a competitive advantage to put the best product on the field.

"What this platform will allow them to do is do a much better job of actually grading themselves over the course of the game from the information they have at hand and how they actually view that data," he said.

Last year, Collingwood FC partnered with La Trobe University and education organisation LifeJourney International for the STEM Cup, a data analytics-based competition aimed at getting children engaged in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The online STEM challenge saw kids play the role of the "capologist" for the Magpies, making salary decisions while also interacting with the club's roster to build the best team within the salary cap, based on data.

The challenge aimed to provide young football fans with a real-world STEM experience to create Collingwood's team for the following year.

Collingwood are set to miss the finals for the 2017 AFL season.

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