Opta Sports: the leading sports data provider

Launched in 1996, Opta Sports has been the major player in data collection and distribution in sports for over two decades, offering statistical information and player performance data from major sport leagues all over the world to media clients and clubs themselves. After transferring ownership several times over the years, in 2003 Opta was acquired by Perform Group, a sports media company based in the UK who also own other brands such as Goal.com and Sporting News Media in the US. Perform Group itself is owned by Ukrainian businessman Len Blavatnik through his privately held multinational industrial group called Access Industries.

With over 400 employees around the world, Opta collects data on 60,000 fixtures a year across 30 different sports in 70 countries. While football is their main business, the company also collects data for rugby union, rugby league, cricket, american football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey. Their data varies in the level of complexity and depth, from simple live scores to augmented data through statistical modeling. They classify their data offerings in four different tiers:

  • Core: live scores, updates and post-match content
  • Classic: team and player-level aggregated data and statistics
  • Performance: the most detailed and accurate level of data
  • Advanced: analytical assessment and modelling on augmented data

But how do they collect all this data? Opta hires teams of full-time and part-time analyst to watch every single game that takes place and, with the use of their data collection video software, notate all the various events that occur on the field, often capturing up to 2,000 pieces of data per match. Opta's data collection software operates similarly to a video game, where each combination of buttons will represent an action by a certain player allowing the analyst to press the appropriate combination of buttons as they watch the live game. Three analyst will be involved in each game: one for the home team, one for the away team and a third one to double check the data. The data is then checked by a post-match team to ensure 100% accuracy.

Once the data has been collected, Opta offers different methods to distribute the data to its clients, such as feeds, widgets and apis. Feeds are one of the most popular method due to the level of flexibility and detail Opta can offer depending on its client's requirements, whether is live or historical data in a number of different formats. While Opta don't expose their feeds pricing structure, presumably to be able to adapt it based on client needs, it is suspected that it can range between £500 to £2,000 in a number of cases. However, pricing is stablished case by case and is highly negotiable. Opta takes into consideration whether it can form a strategic partnership with the client (ie. size of the business requesting the data), revenue model, type of data requested and other various factors before determining a final price for their feed service.

Aside from their raw data collection and distribution, Opta is also pioneering the development of new ways to look at sport through the creation of new metrics to augment the data captured. Their most popular metrics so far has been xG (expected goals), where they provide a value to a specific shot, or group of shots, to determine the likelihood of the shot being scored based on historical data of similar shots. In a similar fashion, they expended xG to create xA (expected assists), to identify the likelihood of a pass becoming an assist in an goalscoring opportunity. However, their most recent developments are sequences and defensive coverage. Sequences refer to the passage of play that takes place from the moment possession is gained to when it is lost, including by a shot on goal. Within sequences, they also look at possession, which is the number of consecutive sequences the team has without losing control of the ball (ie. a shot that ends up in a corner for the attacking team will mean 2 sequences in 1 possession). In terms of defensive coverage, Opta has developed a metric to measure the area of defensive actions by a player during a match.

Opta has established themselves as the leaders in football, rugby and cricket data around the world. Their client portfolio continues to expand and they are now working with major sporting organisations from media to clubs. Some of their most memorable partnerships include Sky Sports, Arsenal FC, Real Madrid, Manchester City, the MLS, BBC Sport and the All Blacks, amongst many others.