Over the next few years, the Dutch football association KNVB will be focusing even more on the large amounts of data that it receives every day. By employing the latest technology, the association hopes to tackle problems in football before they even arise. "With the aid of data analysis we will be able to take decisions based on reason rather than emotion."
"About 35,000 matches are played each weekend in amateur football alone", says the Association's senior category manager Jurrie Groenendijk. "We record all the information we receive about these matches in our database: we digitise the tournament forms, we update everything on the players and they will eventually be able to review their own match and referee."
These experiences and figures are particularly valuable to the association. According to Groenendijk, the collected data, combined with predictive analytics, will generate enormous opportunities for football in the years to come. "Using current technology, we may be able to tackle specific problems in the sport before they arise in the first place. If we see a team winning 11-0 three times in a row, we can promote it to a higher level during the season. This way, the pleasure in the game is retained, and that's what it's all about."
"The activities we develop, the ideas we consider and the decisions on where to spend time and money will increasingly be driven by the data we have. This means that decisions will be based more on reason than emotion, which will benefit everyone involved and we will have to take on our role as initiator. The Association regards it as its task to let football clubs learn from each other. This could include subjects such as the atmosphere in a stadium, the number of volunteers in a club or the distances to be travelled by amateur clubs. What we learn from the collected data, we share with our stakeholders."
The KNVB found out how valuable data can be when PwC conducted a study into "the power of football". The sport unites millions of people and has them in its grasp, but what value does football really represent? To answer this question, PwC's data analysts developed a unique measuring instrument. It divided the impact of football into contributions to the economy, making connections, health and education.
"For the first time, both financial and non-financial data were brought together in a report and a control tool", explains Charlotte Bech, who was involved in the study from PwC's side. "We eventually found that most of the economic power is fuelled by professional football, whereas the elements of making connections, health and education are mostly generated by amateur football."
"For professional football organisations it is important to show stakeholders the impact they have on the people around them", adds Groenendijk. "We at the Association mainly wanted to know what we had to do to further increase the impact of the organisation. To us, the study is an important foundation from which to express the value of football and enter the discussion at C level. It is a tool for rationalising policy decisions.
According to Groenendijk, the economic value for the KNVB is therefore not the most important result of the study. "The newspaper headlines referring to the study mostly focused on the 2.18 billion euro that Dutch football contributes to the country's gross domestic product. To us, its real value is more in the process. The measurement and control model developed is now affecting the way we and the clubs regard our role in society.
The role that the 35 professional football organisations can play in their region was visualised in personalised data cards following the study. "We also sat round the table with half of the clubs to explain the methodology used and the results obtained. There was a relatively brief discussion of the figures during these meetings. It is mainly relevant for directors of a professional club to decide how to enter discussions with stakeholders on the basis of these facts. This is not always easy for them because some of the parties they have to deal with are critical or find it difficult to understand the world of football.
The KNVB is using the study to connect these different worlds more closely together. According to Groenendijk, the Association could play an even more active part in this. "The report confirms that the social value of the game is in amateur football and the economic value is in professional football. The power of football can be increased even further if the two worlds come together more." What he has in mind is close collaborations between a professional club, amateur associations and local government or a civil-society organisation or a commercial enterprise. "This triangle would generate enormous power regionally to mobilise people in a positive way. I don't think there is any other social factor that can equal this power."
The European championship for women's football (Women’s EURO 2017) is being held in the Netherlands from 16 July to 6 August. The KNVB has commissioned PwC to assess the "power" of this event as well.
"With this tournament, we are not looking at continuous power", explains Charlotte Bech, who is also involved in this study for PwC, "but at the effect of this kind of event. We will be studying its economic impact and will also be quantifying its social effects, where possible."
The final report will be presented to the Dutch Ministry of Public Health, Welfare and Sport. According to Bech, the study could also be particularly valuable for municipalities as well. "Many demands have been made on the seven organising cities for this event in the areas of organisation, infrastructure and safety. A report after the event that shows what the tournament has delivered in economic and social terms would be particularly valuable to them when accounting to stakeholders.