Doing IT on Grand Final Day

Come Grand Final day, stadium seats will be jampacked with fans, each willing their team to victory. But it’s not just the players who have their part to play in the pursuit of football legend. Beyond the stadium, another team is working tirelessly to achieve club immortality.

They are traditional Aussie sports with long histories, but even AFL and NRL can’t escape the pervasiveness of IT. From IT managers to humble technicians, people behind the scenes are hard at work all season to ensure smooth operations on Grand Final day.

It’s a mammoth task and IT decision makers in the sports field must ensure the coaching staff and players have the right equipment running to help them to make better and more tactical gameplaying decisions than the opposition. It’s how games can be won or lost explains Adelaide Crows IT manager, Steve Honkoop.

“Nothing is ever going to replace people, but people make decisions given the information they have and that’s what IT is good at,” he said.

The AFL’s standard statistics gathering software, Sports Code, allows coaching staff to capture footage and record a play or special movement for one of the players. The coaches can immediately access the particular footage marked, either during a break or after the match, providing instant feedback in the best way possible — visually.

Another way IT contributes to decision making in sports is through GPS technology. Nominated players, usually the big runners, wear a small GPS-transmitter on their upper back, which analyses data from eleven sensors around the ground. The data is fed into a software system, which coaching staff see in real time on their computers during a match.

A member of staff tracks and contextualises the data from the GPS into a form that the coaching team can use. GPS data collected from match days and during training can tell a coach about the player’s position on the field, his speed, distance and acceleration. It also helps in tracking the team’s structure throughout a match.

It is this sports science aspect and competitive advantage which AFL IT manager, Andrew Young, believes spurred on the concept of ‘football IT’.

“More and more we’re finding football IT is taking a predominantly stronger role at the clubs, as opposed to the traditional corporate IT role, he said”

Two hours before the first siren, Young says football IT staff from the clubs begin wiring up the coaches box, for statistics, video analytics and GPS tracking. With all these systems in place, it is then up to the coaches to interpret the data in the way they see fit.

“That’s why coaches have a big responsibility. If every coach looked at the data and made the same decision we’d have a pretty boring competition,” Honkoop said.

Just as critical on the day are the communications systems in place, for which Young sets the wheels in motion. A centralised mail routing platform for all the AFL Grand Final Day media releases kicks in, whereby the club media managers send email releases to a central email address, which Young and the AFL team route out to sporting journalists around the country.

The minute the final siren blares, the spin doctors from each club begin emailing press releases and hosting media conferences.

“We must make sure that the email system is up and running,” he said.

Communications also extends to statistics provider, Champion Data, for essential video and statistics analysis. Clubs keep their own data, but they need Champion Data statistics to keep an eye on the kicks, handballs and movements of opposition players throughout the match.

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