Data Charge: on the Bath-based sports data business, StatsBomb

“It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data”, said Sherlock Holmes. Fortunately sports data business StatsBomb has a multitude of data and can provide it in the raw, or model it into colourful charts and visual analysis. Emma Clegg talks to Corinne Durnford about two of her favourite things – data and football.

Data has been analysed since the dawn of civilisation. In Sumeria in ancient Iraq from c. 3500–3000 BC, scribes produced lists of ploughmen employed by the state and preserved this data on clay tablets, making the first database. Replace ploughmen with footballers, zoom forward five and a half thousand years and add a whole lot of super tech, you’ll find that data is still king.

Bath-based StatsBomb – who have recently joined the Bath Unlimited group of Bath-based world-class businesses – is a sports data business, collecting and analysing the world’s most comprehensive sports data. It started in 2013 as a soccer analytics blog set up by founder Ted Knutson, who wanted to create a place to centralise good analysis from around the internet, and was established in 2017 in Bath with co-founder Charlotte Randall.

Corinne Durnford, Senior Project Manager at StatsBomb, chats to me at The Guild, a co-working hub where groups of employees hotdesk for two days of the working week, otherwise based at home.

“We deal in both raw data and attractive visualisations,” Corinne explains. “Raw data is literally everything that happens in a match, and it could be 3,500-4,000 things – a pass, tackle, or a shot, who did it, where it happened, whether the shot was right foot or left foot, and so on. Technical analysts at football clubs can take the raw data and write code to provide their own analysis. In addition we provide our StatsBomb IQ website which is our advanced analytics platform, to aid analysis via visualisations, charts and tables of football data.”

Corinne cites AS Roma, Wolves, Villarreal CF, Borussia Dortmund, Rangers FC and Middlesbrough FC as some of the high-profile football teams that StatsBomb works with. One of the reasons that the company has developed the profile of their business so effectively is because the quality of the data is meticulous, thorough and unequalled by other data providers. Its adoption, however, varies between football teams. “The way individual teams engage with data provision and analyics depends on the way they use the data and the personnel in the club, but we work with a high proportion of teams from the Premier League,” says Corinne.

“We work with over 100 teams in over 25 countries; they use our data and IQ platform as their primary source data for player recruitment, performance analysis and to analyse their upcoming opposition.”

“After a match, the team’s analysts will use the data and visualisations to produce a match report which they would present to the manager and coaches to aide their post match evaluation. They would similarly use the data and visualisations to prepare reports on upcoming opponents to prepare for the next match.”

Above: IQ Soccer customises metrics and includes them in data visualisations – this means that users can instantly share the templates with colleagues

As the lists of ancient ploughmen prove, data is not just about tech. Even football data used to be manually collected by people making notes in a notepad, logging where players were crossing the ball from, or where a team was losing the ball. “These collected observations have always been used by managers to influence how they changed play,” says Corinne. “Now people watch videos, but they combine this with harnessing data to prepare for the next match. Data is also used by football scouts researching potential team recruits. So if a scout is looking for a left-sided midfielder who can both defend and attack and gets 10 goals a season, our data can tell them all that. It’s possible to filter the data in so many ways using our IQ package.”

The vast majority of Statsbomb’s customers are football teams, but the company is branching out into both the media and gambling markets, the latter to provide data for football pricing.”

StatsBomb has 20 staff based in Bath and the surrounding areas and around 90 in the UK, as well as in Europe including France, Italy and Spain, and further afield including Colombia and the USA. StatsBomb also has employees based in Cairo, in Egypt, including highly skilled data collectors, who watch the video footage of football matches and record every event that happens, recording data such as which player, where on the pitch and additional detailed data attributes.

In August 2021, StatsBomb launched their Live data product, relishing the challenge of providing fast, accurate, high-quality data in real-time. Corinne explains “For Live Match collection, we have five data collectors simultaneously collecting data and ensuring it’s accuracy – this then gets aggregated into our Live Data feed and powers our IQ Live analytics platform. So if we do 20 matches on a Saturday, that involves 100 data collectors.”

StatsBomb’s teams include a wide range of roles and technical expertise, including software developers, engineers and a data science department responsible for data modelling, including StatsBomb’s market leading Expected Goals model, predicting the number of goals in a match. In addition, product, design and user experience roles ensure the company’s IQ platforms are intuitive and easy to use. A customer success team ensures customer feedback is utilised and excellent support is provided to help them get the best out of their products.

Over the last two and a half years at StatsBomb, Corinne has primarily worked on the Live Data project and as the Project Manager for the IQ Live product. “IQ Live provides a flexible tool with high-quality, real-time data and visualisations and is a fully customisable platform, so users can choose what they see on their match dashboard,” she explains.

A natural progression for American-born founder Ted Knutson, StatsBomb have recently launched their American Football product, collecting highly accurate and detailed data and developing an IQ platform specifically for American Football.

Heartwarmingly the company also invests in its home city by regularly lending its video analyst Carl Carpenter to Bath City Football Club. “Carl spends time before, during and after the match providing analysis to Bath City, working with manager Jerry Gill. All clubs film their matches and most will have analysts, but Bath City hasn’t got a huge amount of resources so that’s why we give them Carl’s time. He’ll provide insights to the managers and coaches during the match and afterwards and he’ll help them work on what they need to do in training.”

Corinne studied Geography for her University degree (which is where her love of data originates and also where she regularly played in the university women’s football club) and spent over 20 years at B&NES Council producing data and managing the social care IT systems to support vulnerable people and families, as well as playing for Bath City Ladies F.C. Co-founder Charlotte persuaded Corinne into the StatsBomb fold by saying, “You love football, you love data, you love analytics, and you’re an organised project manager, so come and work for us.” Apparently not all StatsBomb staff have an interest in football. I suspect, however, that they may be dramatically outnumbered.