Using business analytics to generate real-time insight in rugby

I started playing rugby at the age of 11, when I moved to secondary school. I must confess, when I began I felt certain that I wouldn’t enjoy it, and that I’d pursue football as I grew up instead. How wrong I was; since then I’ve represented my school, several clubs, and my University.Jack author profile

I sometimes find myself explaining my passion for the sport to my friends, family, or colleagues. Trying to describe the exhilaration of scraping a narrow victory on a bitter winters morning, or the bond that is shared by those who will literally put their bodies on the line for one another. I have concluded, from the binary nature of these conversations, that playing rugby is not something that appeals to everyone.

Whilst there is much disagreement about whether hurling oneself after an unpredictably bouncing ball is an enjoyable activity or not, there appears to be greater consensus about sitting in a comfortable seat and watching the professionals play. The increase in the popularity of rugby, especially at an international level, has been very noticeable to me while growing up.

A couple of teammates & I after a narrow win
A couple of teammates & me after a narrow win

Aside from social factors such as how fashionable the sport appears, and the slow but steady decline of a certain national football team, there is another important factor in the rise in rugby’s popularity; the ever increasing accessibility of the sport.

With the introduction of the ‘ref cam’ and the inclusion of the conversation between the referee, touch judges, and the third match official at key points during the game, rugby is more accessible to viewers than it has ever been before. The RFU teamed up with IBM to create TryTracker, an analytics platform that further increases accessibility by offering detailed insight to new and experienced fans alike.

IBM TryTracker’s 'Keys to Victory' for the England vs France Game 04/02/17
IBM TryTracker’s ‘Keys to Victory’ for the England vs France Game 04/02/17

The IBM TryTracker combines historical data with live match statistics. The platform uses IBM SPSS technology to analyse and process the data and offer valuable insight in real-time. During the creation of the IBM TryTracker three key areas were identified as being instrumental to a teams eventual success: “momentum”, “keys to the game”, and “player influence”. These three keys are visible on the RFU’s website during every match England plays, where fans can visit and consume the information.

With the assistance of the IBM TryTracker fans are more aware of which key factors they should pay extra attention to as the game progresses, allowing them in turn to make better predictions about the outcome. Being able to easily visualise some of the key metrics that determine the chance of victory allows new fans to get more from watching live rugby, and in turn increases overall fan engagement with the competition.

I find the interface between sport and technology fascinating, and love learning how software and technology that has been designed for businesses can be for used in sport. The IBM TryTracker is a perfect example of this, making use of a cutting edge analytics engine to generate truly insightful predictions about a match in real time. Find out more about the IBM TryTracker and the technology behind the tool.