Data-based storytelling: we need more context

Moscow, July 15th 2018: 37 minutes into the FIFA World Cup Final France vs. Croatia. Penalty for France after the use of VAR at a score of 1:1. Before the captain of the French team, Antoine Griezmann, does the penalty shot, the TV feed shows a graphic displaying the placements of penalty shots done by Griezmann so far. The viewers could see that he doesn’t have a favourite corner, but distributes his shots left and right.

This example is a very successful integration of game data into TV feeds. It allows viewers and commentators to speculate and discuss about the execution of the penalty. Unfortunately, this example is still an exception: at FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia, there has been no storytelling worth mentioning in TV, apart from the usual game statistics (number and accuracy of shots, number and accuracy of passes).

What are the reasons for that?

In the past, performance data has been used without game specific context for TV broadcasting. The most famous and most useless example: running distance. Without providing context, this information fails to deliver any additional value. What is the benefit of showing a graphic of the running distance? Is a running distance of 12 km for a central midfielder like Paul Pogba a lot or not very much? Did Bastian Schweinsteiger run more during the World Cup Final 2014 against Argentina? Does Paul Pogba always run 12 km or does he run more in the system of the French national team as in his club Manchester United? The missing context while using performance data and the resulting disappointed expectations are for sure a reason why the usage of performance data as TV graphics has decreased and is regarded with a certain scepticism.

Another reason is that up until now, there has not been a real coordination between federations and leagues and the corresponding TV rights holders to create a data-based, editorial and integrated concept. It is often overlooked that data analysis as an additional information only works with an intelligent storytelling. The gathered performance data makes the game more accessible for fans, performance gets more tangible and fascination raised. A pressing index helps the viewer to get a better assessment of the intensity and quality a team applies at a counterpressing. Compared to historical data or the opposing team, the fan can set this performance into context. Is the pressing of the Croatian team in the final against France more intense than the pressing of the Belgian team in the semi-final against France? Can different courses of the game be explained by that? How many goal chances have been created after an intense pressing phase and which players contributed most? To embed these data in a useful way into the gameplay, it is not sufficient to simply use graphics as overlays. All involved parties need to cooperate and develop an integrated concept for the elements and placement of the data during the course of a match, in order to tell a story with relevance and context.

Data without context is useless. An all-encompassing approach to a data-based storytelling can lead to a much better experience for fans and viewers.

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