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How is data changing decision-making in sports?

The importance of data in sport cannot be understated in the modern day. There was a time when analysts that based their opinions around data were laughed at in the world of sport. See the film Moneyball as evidence as to how they were perceived in the early days of using statistics to build a team baseball. However, if you’re not using data in your approach in 2021, you are behind the times.

Professional teams across the sports industry use data to build their teams, using certain criteria to focus on the performances of individuals, both on the field and off the field, regarding their health and fitness. It has become essential for decision-makers at the highest level to judge the standard of their players. The NFL is one of a number of leagues that are working statistics into their everyday approach. It was initially slow to adopt data into its framework.

Coaches and general managers preferred to base their opinion off more grounded analytics and personal judgments. The success that baseball and basketball teams have enjoyed using a metric-based approach has altered the perspective on data gathering and its usage, so much so that broadcast companies are not integrating evaluations into their in-game coverage. There will no doubt be a similar effort in the XFL to match their counterparts in the NFL, although not quite to the level of the latter’s huge contract deal with its new data partner.

If professional teams and television companies have benefited from the age of information, betting companies have also capitalised on the data at hand to supply markets to their customers. Nowadays you can wager on almost any aspect of a sport down to the final details. It has made researching information all the more important for punters wagering on all the action, although there is only so much time you can commit to the process.

For horse racing bettors in the United Kingdom and Ireland, there is a solution at hand using artificial intelligence to streamline their research. The Beth betting tool takes the key information regarding horse racing such as form, pedigree, weather, and the conditions of the track and inserts it into a formula. It then calculates the horse with the best chance of winning based on the criteria. The system uses facts rather than basing their feeling on the eyes of a punter or a gut feeling. It could prove to be a successful way for bettors to get the edge on the bookies.

Given the way the data and technology have filtered their way down to sports bettors, the success of artificial intelligence could make its way back up the pyramid to be deployed by sports teams. It might not be too long before teams are using the data collected and inserting it into their own systems to determine which players are the best fit for their programs. A major issue with player recruitment and selection is bias. It would be a fascinating move to see which team would take the plunge and base their selection policy using artificial intelligence rather than the experience of coaches in the room. It may come sooner than we think.

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Mark is the founder and editor of XFL News Hub. The site was started in January of 2018, within days of the announced return of the XFL. Contact him directly by emailing

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