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A Week in the Life of BBC Sports Stats

Mike Hilton | 11:04 UK time, Friday, 26 June 2009

I lead a small team of developers charged with keeping the nation's sports fans informed with the latest sports scores, results, tables and fixtures (or, depending on your sport, tournaments, order of play, leaderboards, rankings, race meetings ...).

We have some great partners who supply us with 'raw' stats data across the breadth of sports and competitions that you demand. Our job is to group, collate, filter and format the information, and get it out to you on all the platforms you might want to access it from as swiftly as possible.

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Maybe that doesn't sound too difficult - and in essence maybe it's not. But the devil is in the detail - postponements, abandonments, aggregate score away goals rules, play-offs, Duckworth-Lewis, goals scored, disqualifications, time penalties, point deductions. I could go on. We aim to uphold on behalf of BBC Sport, accuracy, timeliness, and clarity across the breadth of our statistics outputs.

The other challenge we have is to ensure we have resilience in every component of our system - network and delivery systems, file download, feed parsers, database servers, message brokers, output renderers, plus content delivery systems and network. We don't always get it right - like the time we lost our web outputs for a couple of hours on a busy midweek evening programme of football when contractors cut through a fibre cable outside Television Centre.

As well as the custodians of your sports stats, most of the team are just as enthusiastic and fanatical about sport as you are - with most of us routinely checking our outputs as sports fans rather than technical team - complementing the activities of our editorial colleagues in Sport, and of course, the close scrutiny of you, our audience !

So what does a typical week look like for us? Well for some people, the end of the domestic football season signals heralds a period of mourning, loss and discombobulation. But, for many others, life beyond football does go on. And often, the summer is as busy - if not more so, than the regular football season.

The week just gone has seen us covering (Royal) Ascot (and the new Ffos Las) horse racing results, Confederations Cup and European U21 championship football fixtures, live scores, and results, WTA tennis results from Eastbourne.

We also complemented our usual domestic and international automated cricket live scorecard and results service with coverage for the Men's and Women's ICC World Twenty20 competitions, provided US Open golf leaderboard and clubhouse scores for the Sport website, and delivered live score updates for the British & Irish Lions first test in South Africa, as well as for various Rugby League matches in the Engage Super League, Northern Rail Cup etc. to most of our output platforms.

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And of course there was the small matter of preparations for publishing the new domestic season's football fixtures at 10am sharp on Wednesday, final testing, preparations, and live launch (Draws, Order of Play, Live Scores and Results) for our handling a new data feed for this year's Wimbledon tennis championships to simplify the delivery chain and number of dependent systems involved in getting stats for our biggest tennis tournament of the annual calendar. This is one of the few sporting events whose live scores/results find their automated way onto the BBC Homepage.

Plus of course, there was still motor racing - and the final (maybe?) British Grand Prix at Silverstone - where our new for 2009 Formula 1 web, mobile, Ceefax and digital text practice, qualifying and race results, live leaderboard, and standings stats services were in the spotlight as Sebastian Vettel romped home to re-ignite this year's Driver's world championship.

With what was admittedly an unusually busy week, thoughts turn tomorrow to planning ahead of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics where we are investigating new data feeds and ways of enhancing the service we are able to offer around video and stats as we look towards the London 2012 Summer games.

Like most people, in the current economic climate, we have tighter business constraints and have to plan and prioritise everything we do with even greater care. We're already working on some improvements to our cricket stats on mobile phones and for our live cricket web page, and making changes to the way we handle football matches on the BBC Sport web and mobile sites to improve the pre-match, live, and post- match experience.

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With football being a near 7 day a week sport these days, ensuring we support streamlined and where possible, automated editorial and production workflows, is just as important for the team as is managing latency considerations around getting live scores data for every match to all platforms in a consistent and timely fashion.

We'd like to start making more use of (interactive) graphics to help tell the story behind big - or routine sports events and to make some stats a bit more accessible and engaging. We'd also like expose some of our mine of stats data to a wider audience for you to explore yourselves and have done some interesting innovation work that we're hoping we can make live later this year.

What would you like us to do to make your enjoyment of (BBC) Sport and sports stats even better? We'd love to know.

Mike Hilton,  Lead, Feeds Team

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