Business

Manchester City's data-driven vision for players and fans

Manchester City coach Simon Davies using SAP technology
Image caption Technology is a major part of the coaching set-up at Manchester City

"You gotta roll with it," blares out Liam Gallagher as the Oasis hit combines with the rain thundering onto the roof of Manchester City's indoor academy pitch.

The racket threatens to drown out coach Simon Davies.

The City Under-21 assistant coach is using digital technology to explain to a bunch of slightly unfit reporters how he wants a coaching drill involving the use of overlapping players to develop.

And just as Mr Davies successfully cuts through the surrounding noise, so the club is attempting to cut through the increasing business "noise" - all the playing and supporter data it is endlessly accumulating and managing.

The club, which has been at the forefront of data analytics, has signed a new deal to help it make sense of all this data.

The City Football Group (CFG), which comprises Manchester City, New York City, Melbourne City and Yokohama Marinos, has entered into a global, multi-year marketing and technology partnership with German software giant, SAP.

Big goals

"The intersection between sport and technology might change the landscape about what we do in the future," says Ferran Soriano, chief executive of both Man City and CFG.

At the more prosaic - but financially important - level, CFG says the SAP deal means it will be able to operate more interactively as a global football business.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Premier League clubs track practically every step by players on the pitch

All four clubs will be "speaking the same business language" by using the same systems, and swapping best practice when it comes to marketing, for example, as well as enabling the quartet to stay efficiently inter-connected.

However, on the more visionary, and, as Mr Soriano says, "emotional" fronts, CFG believes the SAP tie-up will be of huge value in revolutionising both their playing and fan operations.

All Premier League clubs have data analysts, as do many in the lower divisions, with stats crunched on everything from the distance covered by a player in a game to the number of crosses played with either foot.

In fact, every step on the pitch is monitored now.

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Image caption Thousands of hours of club training sessions are logged

Similarly, away from match day, thousands of hours of training data is accumulated, while injury, dietary, sleep and medical data is also harvested and studied.

Assisted by SAP, which worked with the successful German 2014 World Cup-winning squad, the teams will use the insights derived from this data to produce everything from individual player coaching and training programmes, to tactics tailored to counter each opposition team.

But CFG, which is owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group, believes that all this sports data could eventually be condensed and a whole whole new way of playing emerge.

'A better game'

"Technology will allow us to play better football," says Mr Soriano, who formerly worked at Spanish giant Barcelona.

Image caption City Football Group hopes that SAP will help it to use its data to achieve playing breakthroughs

"We are going to work together in finding new ways of understanding the game, and designing a better game to help us win."

That vision of creating a new way of playing - a new Total Football or tiki-taka for the future - is shared by colleague and former player, Brian Marwood.

He won a league title with Arsenal in 1988/89, and is managing director of the football group's City Football Services. He oversees the recruitment, development, training and management of hundreds of players in Manchester and at other global training centres.

"We have a great opportunity to lead in football, and are searching for the next trend. which will keep us ahead of everyone else," says Mr Marwood.

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Image caption A research and innovation programme for all four clubs is being created

"We have got a team of people trying to find out what the next 10 to 20 years of football will look like. We want to be ahead of the game."

To that end, a research and innovation group for all four clubs is being created.

'Talking points'

Another major goal is to use data to enhance the fan experience.

CFG believes that with SAP's assistance they can change the way supporters of the group's four teams access and consume football data.

Tom Glick, president of New York City FC says that CFG will be looking to enhance the viewing experience of fans, whether "glued to the action" at the stadium, or sitting at home watching on TV.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Manchester City fans are to be given closer insights into player performance

"The task of finding new ways to get this information to the fans starts now," he says. "We will be asking them what additional information and data about the game and players they would look to see - what is important to them."

The first innovation in this area will be a large digital statistics wall installed at Man City's Etihad Stadium from next season, which will show player and match statistics from the previous game.

"I can see the attraction in providing supporters with access to match data, particularly among the younger tech-aware generation in their teens and twenties," says Kevin Parker, secretary of the Man City supporters club.

"We have all got an opinion on how our players are playing during a game and whether a particular player - for example Fernandinho - has worked as hard or not as it appears to fans at the game," he says.

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Image caption A fan leader says enhanced data can lead to increased enjoyment of the game for supporters

"Or you can confirm whether David Silva or Yaya Toure have played those key passes that you thought they had. That can all add to the whole spectacle and enjoyment of the game, and provide talking points."

But he warns that "some of the more vociferous elements at a match might get on a player's back" if their match data was not impressive.

He also says data overload might be a danger, particularly if chewing over match statistics at home overshadows the experience of attending a game in the flesh.

"Any data has to be handled and presented in the right way," he says.

Meanwhile, the next step in enhancing that data collection for the group of clubs will be this October, when Melbourne City FC take to wearing player monitors during Australian league games.

"We believe we are doing something that has never been done before, around the world," says group chief executive Soriano of the tech route ahead.

"We have to take risks, innovate, make mistakes."

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