Searching for Sporting Innovations through Hackathons

Published Sep-05-16

A machine learning algorithm to help boost the performance of soccer players.

Manchester City Football Club, United Kingdom

The Story:

Searching for Sporting Innovations through Hackathons Manchester City Football Club (MCFC) in the UK is one of the biggest soccer sides in the world and like many top flight sporting clubs, a commercial powerhouse. In an effort to innovate faster and better (including systems to improve player performance), the club invited startups, developers, students, sports scientists, programmers, entrepreneurs and other creative minds to a two-day hackathon, called HackMCFC. It lays claim to being the first such hackathon in the Premier League, the professional league for the country's top clubs.

Big Data Sharing

MCFC shared its highly detailed match data with participants to see what they could do with it. The information included performance analysis systems, in-match events, biometric tracking and other types of player and match data. There was a lot of it. For every game played, there is a total of 4.5 million points of data, such as shots and defensive data, substitutions, referee actions and speed data for players, officials and the ball.

Among the prizes on offer to participants were cash awards, VIP tickets for games, signed shirts, behind-the-scenes tours and invitations to innovation labs with the club's data insights teams.

There were approximately 400 applications to take part in the open innovation event from people in more than 40 countries. Organizers whittled this down to just over 60 hackers. They formed 12 teams that pored over the data to try and come up with innovations that could help players to improve running, passing, movement and handling of pressure on pitch.

The hackathon consisted of two streams. The first was the professional hack and the second was a guided academy hack where less experienced developers were mentored using ideation methodology.

Winners Announced

The hackathon was won by a team of five that developed a machine learning algorithm that tracks players' decision making during matches. The soccer club immediately saw the potential of the innovation and how it could be implemented in the future. The team shared a prize of £7,000 (approx. $USD 9,100) for their creative endeavors.

Commenting on their success, a team spokesperson said: "...the quality of the data sets we had access to were unparalleled.....There was an incredible buzz across the whole weekend and having the opportunity to meet and work with new people who had completely different backgrounds allowed us to really push our boundaries."

Awards were also given to a small handful of individuals, which were voted on by participants.

Through its hackathon, the soccer club engaged with a young pool of innovators that it might not otherwise have come into contact with. Such was its success that MCFC is exploring more open innovation opportunities, not only in Manchester, but also with its sister clubs in Japan, Australia and the United States. It recognizes that good ideas can come from anywhere, and is keen to continue its experimentation with open innovation.

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