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Northcote City FC implements digital coaching as part of its long-term strategy

Although the deferral of state-wide football has created an enormous void for Victorians throughout 2020, an unlikely silver lining as emerged. Clubs have used the crisis as an opportunity to implement digital training platforms and build stronger community engagement through virtual channels.

Northcote City FC is the latest Victorian club to take this approach, adopting the digital platform My Personal Football Coach (MPFC) to add its current catalogue of mobile initiatives.

The club is optimistic that its digital strategy will do far more than provide a short-term solution to the COVID-19 induced lockdown and instead become a valuable asset for its football department.

Michael Skliros, President of Northcote City FC, said he was “thrilled” to modernise the club’s processes and that the platform will help to take player and coach development to a new level.

“From our perspective, we are renown for our junior program, and we invest heavily into it. As part of this we believe it is important to equally invest in both players and coaches,” Skliros said.

“It’s not a stop-gap, it’s a value add that is going to form part of the club’s overall philosophy. MPFC will contribute to our coaching program and help the club maintain its position as a leader by continually evolving its methods.”

MPFC contains hundreds of ball mastery skill videos and position-specific coaching drills that cover all ages and abilities. Crucially, the platform is designed to include many drills which allow players to train with minimal equipment and in small spaces, making it highly adaptable and accessible.

“We chose the MPFC because it’s one of the leading global platforms and is used by some of the biggest clubs and academies in the world. It’s run by academy coaches who have experience at leading EPL clubs and deployed at the some of the best academies in the world, like Chelsea FC and Wolverhampton,” Skliros said.

“Despite the lack of football this year we haven’t seen the interest drop off at all – the craving to play is at an all-time high. The people want something there to fill the void and the digital training satisfies that.”

Since adopting MPFC recently, Northcote City FC’s community has responded strongly, with participation rates for training being extremely healthy.

Up to 85 per cent of players in some Northcote City squads are actively using the platform.

“It has been a smooth transition. We are seeing teams with 80 to 85 per cent uptake, which is an extremely high rate for a new platform in any industry. You would think 30 to 40 per cent would be the benchmark to start with but we have had an extremely high uptake,” Skliros said.

For Northcote City’s coaching staff, MPFC is assisting them to communicate effectively with their players remotely. They are able to set tailored, individual training plans which the players can execute and then upload footage, allowing their coaches to provide constructive feedback.

Coaches can further set challenges for their players, track player attendance, and keep training fresh and exciting by tapping into the vast catalogue of specialised drills that are available on the platform.

The value of MPFC is very much a two-way street with players also benefiting from all of these features. Furthermore, the platform allows players to maintain competitive training standards by tracking their training loads and performance on team leader boards.

Along with the practical tools MPFC provides, there is a substantial opportunity for knowledge sharing. Northcote City FC has equipped its players and staff with a ‘Coach’s Pass’ to the platform, opening a world of podcasts, blogs, and analysis that anyone in the club can access to build their knowledge of the game.

“This is another example of the value of incorporating digital training and shows why it will become a part of the overall coaching philosophy. The services we are gaining will provide us resources to benefit every part of the club,” Skliros said.

While MPFC is assisting Northcote City FC to maintain momentum in 2020, the club has invested, and continues to invest in a range of other off-field tools to help its players and staff achieve on-field success.

“Our NPL streams are starting to move towards becoming elite-style programs with education on nutrition and the use of partner medical clinics where our players gain free treatment, physio, performance-based testing, and improved strength and conditioning,” Skliros said.

“We’re broadening out our program to include initiatives that target health and wellbeing and are committed to extend this experience to everyone, not just registered players, but family as well.”

“As part of this we have players in our program from ages four to 55 and have focused on inclusivity, social style competitions, and also begun a campaign for soccer mums.”

Northcote City’s approach to create a well-rounded, holistic program will form part of the club’s strategy to develop elite talent, build the strength of its community, and return to Victoria’s National Premier League (NPL).

Following a turbulent decade where the club won the NPL in 2013 before being relegated five years later in 2018, Skliros is optimistic that the board’s progressive approach will help it to realise its goals both on and off the pitch.

“There are a lot of things in the pipeline that we couldn’t deliver due to COVID-19, but we are still working on. There is a bigger focus now more than ever to get people active again and we are putting a lot of emphasis into the overall health and wellbeing of our community,” he said.

Digging Deeper: Inside Melbourne Victory’s StatsBomb partnership

Melbourne Victory dropped a bomb on the A-League competition when it announced its new partnership with StatsBomb,

Melbourne Victory dropped a bomb on the A-Leagues when it announced its new partnership with StatsBomb – a name that will be unfamiliar to most Australian football fans.

However, whilst the name might be new, the pursuit is not.

As the role of data analytics continues to rise in football, many clubs and organisations are still coming to grips with how to best process and present that data and how to use it to make tangible differences on gameday.

In StatsBomb, Melbourne Victory will certainly hope they have gained an advantage on the competition.

StatsBomb firmly believes it is up for the challenge – and why wouldn’t they?

Already trusted by the likes of Liverpool FC – a club now renowned for its use of data and analytics in improving on-field performance – StatsBomb is enjoying an increasingly growing reputation within the game.

Also counting AS Roma and the Belgian Football Association amongst their clients, StatsBomb international marketing coordinator Nick Dorrington sees an exciting opportunity for the company to enter a new market in Australia with Victory.

“We have customers in over 25 countries around the world but are still expanding our reach in terms of geography and language. It is exciting to get a foothold in a new territory, particularly in a region like Australasia and Asia where we see good opportunities for growth,” Dorrington told Soccerscene.

“As an organisation, Melbourne Victory are determined to turn things around after finishing bottom of the league last season. They are keen to implement change and want to integrate data into all of their processes.

“They are looking for an objective way to track and measure things like performance and style of play, but they also see an opportunity to leverage the additional detail of StatsBomb data to gain an edge on other teams in player recruitment.

“StatsBomb data includes significant additional contextual information that allows for more effective analysis and scouting. Things like goalkeeper and defender positioning on shots, the height of the ball at the moment at which a shot is taken, pressure data at a team and player level and other variables like pass footedness, pass height and various others.

“That allows teams to get a much clearer idea of player behaviour in certain situations. For instance, if you were scouting an upcoming opponent you could look at what kind of passes their central defenders make when put under pressure and find a way of leveraging that information to your advantage.

“The integration of data will be a long-term process for Melbourne Victory, but one that the club should hopefully begin to see the fruit of relatively soon.”

StatsBomb’s emergence in this market come from rather humble beginnings.

CEO Ted Knutson started the business as a blog about football analytics, before being hired to work within football himself.

Once he returned to the open market, he built a team that delivered consultancy services for clubs, where he discovered a constant issue with the limitations of the available event data from football games.

Whilst the use and analysis of data is nothing new in football, Dorrington explained the StatsBomb model differentiated itself because of its proprietary data set, which provides greater context for the numbers and more actionable insights.

“One of the things that our founders consistently came across when they were using the data of other providers was that it lacked important contextual information that experienced football people were easily able to pick holes in,” Dorrington said.

“They would go to a coach with the results of an expected goals (xG) model and the coach would say: “But you don’t know where the goalkeeper is. This is worthless.” Obvious problems like that make it hard to get buy-in on the football side.

“StatsBomb data was created with that in mind. We collect over 3,400 events per match, more than double the amount of some of our competitors, and as I mentioned before our data set includes key additional contextual information that just isn’t found in the data of other companies in this space.

“Our goal has always been and continues to be to create the most football-applicable data set and associated statistical models. Just this year we have already launched StatsBomb 360, a revolutionary new product that provides a snapshot of player locations on each event we capture, and On-Ball Value (OBV), a model that seeks to measure the impact of each on-ball action in terms of its effect on the probability of a team scoring or conceding.”

One particularly interesting aspect of the StatsBomb model is the measurement of pressure – a metric developed to try and help clubs better understand and quantify the events in a game that create pressure on an opponent.

“We record a pressure when a player moves to within a given range of the ball carrier in an attempt to close down the ball. There can be multiple players applying pressure in the same action,” Dorrington said.

“The lack of pressure data was one of the key flaws in the existing datasets before the launch of StatsBomb data. It gives so much more information to work from when assessing defensive contribution.

“To give a widely understood example, if we wanted to analyse Roberto Firmino’s defensive contribution at Liverpool with the previously available event data, we’d only have around three tackles and interceptions to look at for every 90 minutes he’s on the pitch, around 90-100 per season.

“With pressure data, we have an additional 23 or so defensive actions per match, around 750 per season. That is a huge increase and one that allows us to get a much clearer picture of when and where he is involved defensively.”

According to Dorrington, StatsBomb was continuously assessing its model to try and find new-and-improved insights it can provide clubs.

“While there are many clubs who have successfully integrated data into their decision-making processes and who are deriving real benefit from that, there are still many where there is a disconnect between the data people and those who are making decisions and where there isn’t enough of an understanding of how data can be used effectively,” he said.

“Beyond that, there are many emerging markets in which data is barely being used to any meaningful degree. We are committed to providing models and analysis tools that are just as applicable at the top end of the game as in those lower-budget scenarios.

“The teams with the biggest budgets and most qualified personnel will continue to raise the ceiling of possibility but we hope to help democratise data so that teams with less resources still have an opportunity to compete.”

Victory may well be the first cab off the rank in Australia, but they may not be the last.

“It is interesting that since announcing our partnership with Melbourne Victory, we’ve already had a couple of enquiries from other A-League teams,” Dorrington added.

“We often find that’s how it works. You get an early mover in a given league or territory and then others follow.”

You can find out more on StatsBomb and their features here.

The importance of boosting the connection between clubs and their local businesses

Football clubs across the world have financially suffered over the past two years, through the length of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it was the smaller businesses in these clubs’ catchment areas who were affected even more.

Local businesses are a vital part of the overall football economy across the world, including in Australia, but according to studies local businesses saw their revenues slashed by 20-30% on average.

With stadium gates around the world already reopening or in the process of it, these clubs have the opportunity to not only rebuild their own revenue, but play an important role in boosting their local economies as a whole.

Blackpool-based Eleven Sports Media is rapidly expanding their existing mission to assist in that process.

Over the past 13 years the company has bridged the gap between clubs’ time-starved commercial teams and their local business communities.

Eleven specialise in owning, managing and operating Community Partner programmes for clubs who decide to use their services. Resources are freed up, with the club provided a solution which grows multiple long-lasting partnerships with local businesses.

Over the past year, demand for the company’s deeply held community values, top-class activation expertise and high-tech stadium inventory has surged.

The company’s Stadium, StatTV and StatZone fan-engagement platforms continue to evolve rapidly, with many clubs across the world noticing these improvements.

More than 40 clubs across all the of the UK (many of them being in the Premier League) have partnered with Eleven Sports Media, with the company also recently striking a deal with MLS side New York City FC (NYCFC).

Their growth is a testament to the work they do in helping clubs build strong connections with their local business communities.

“We have been fortunate to work across all tiers of the game and in all regions of the country for many years,” Matt Cairns, founder and CEO of Eleven, told FC Business.

“We know exactly how important the ties between clubs and the businesses around them truly are.

“It’s those businesses that will always be there to support their clubs through the ups and downs, and we understand what those local businesses need for real growth. That’s why we have evolved our model so far beyond simple stadium advertising. From boosting digital audiences through to achieving CSR objectives or creating high-impact experiences, we cover all the bases to make sure those businesses enjoy real returns from of their partnerships with clubs.”

Eleven’s new agreement with the New York club will see them develop new partnerships for local businesses, giving them an unprecedented platform for growth possibilities in the future.

The company’s branding will also be displayed on NYCFC’s academy kits, an investment that Cairns says speaks to Eleven’s commitment both to the MLS club and to the new partners it will engage on their behalf.

“We are the shirt sponsors of over a dozen Academy teams, and it’s great to add NYCFC to that list. Investing in our partner clubs is hugely important to us – it matters to those clubs, and to the local businesses around them. There’s no better way to demonstrate our own values, as well as the rewards that come from meaningfully engaging with clubs in this way,” Cairns stated.

Matt Goodman, Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Operating Officer at NYCFC, believes the club’s partnership with Eleven is an evolution of a community focused ethos that the MLS team has maintained since it was founded.

“We’re a community asset,” he told FC Business.

“Our role is to connect with the community to empower better lives through soccer. We would have said that before the global pandemic, but even more so after it.

“Our responsibility is to help pick the citizens of the city, those businesses, back up.”

Goodman was an influential member in a team that delivered a unique collaboration with Mastercard last year, which extended the club’s commercial and digital marketing expertise to struggling local businesses.

The club has also worked to free up retail room for local challenger drinks brands – another one of the ways it has provided opportunities for small businesses within New York to gain exposure in the marketplace.

“The most exciting part about partnering with Eleven is that shared emphasis on small business and on community,” Goodman said.

“To help those who need help the most. Eleven’s history with global football, coupled with an emphasis on community, is the most unique part of how Eleven operates.

“What the partnership will do is it will give us a much larger platform to be able to speak to more fans and give more small businesses, a bigger platform for success. And that to us is the most important part.”

It’s a similar story in the UK, where Eleven is the shirt sponsor for both Celtic FC Women and the club’s B-team, providing the Scottish giants with an array of technology and partnership solutions.

The club was founded in its community to initially address the issue of poverty, and despite its strong worldwide following, its devotion to its local roots remains strong. Eleven has added many local businesses to Celtic’s network of local partnerships.

“The club was born in the community,” Commercial Director of Celtic FC, Adrian Filby, told FC Business.

“Local businesses are an important part of the community; they employ local people – they are supporters. Our partnerships with Eleven gives them the opportunity to be part of a premium global brand.

“Therefore, we are – in a big way- supporting them and helping them come back through a difficult period.”

“It’s about bringing everybody back to what the club stood for. Without local businesses, without local people employed, there isn’t a local football club.

“We’re all one, so it’s a critical part of the ecosystem for us.”

In finding these innovative ways to connect with local businesses and expand their relationships, with the help of companies like Eleven, clubs are viably supporting their own future – but also that of their local economies.

 

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