Fantasy data is serious business

26 August 2015

In many ways data is the product in fantasy sports, which is why ensuring it is robust and completely accurate is critical in today's DFS environment, writes Marc Saba, founder of European-facing site FootballFanager.

In fantasy sports, data is king. Players spend their days – and often nights - poring over goals scored, games won, points per game, starts, substitute appearances and more.

They compare each team against their opponent, picking out those players that always score when playing away, or keep clean sheets against the top teams. They understandably demand that this data is right first time, every time.

Fantasy sport operators therefore need to ensure that every goal scored and minute played is up on their site after every game. It takes one missed statistic to cost a fantasy manager their game, so operators have to ensure complete accuracy.

In the major European soccer leagues, there are on average 20 teams with squads of approximately 25 players.

That means upwards of 500 potentially active players which, as fantasy providers analyse statistics across anything from goals scored and conceded to appearances and clean sheets (at Football Fanager, for example, we make use of 14 analytical areas), on a given weekend they’ll be required to ingest and apply quality control to upward of 7,000 data fields.

Given that the correctness of data is so critical to the platform’s development.

An increasing number of fantasy sports sites have moved to partner with statistical companies such as Opta, SiS or Sportradar, to deliver detailed live sports data to bring together statistics garnered through scouts on the ground at scores of football matches every week.

Data is also becoming ever more prevalent and in-depth across the soccer world. The English Premier League has long been working with Opta, which was acquired by Perform Group and recently expanded its portfolio with Australian A-League soccer.

Another provider, SiS, delivers data for Spain's La Liga and a third, SportRadar, now works with Romanian and Czech Republic football.

This sporting data is, of course, used by the ruling bodies and clubs for analysis, but in a consumer sense, similar analysis is being carried out by fantasy sports fans on a daily basis.

Fantasy sports providers are tapping into that enthusiasm by offering an outlet for users to demonstrate their analytical skills.

Who can create the best team? Who can spot that unknown talent before anyone else? Who can identify their favourite team’s weakness and avoid it?

That raw data is then developed into an algorithm that calculates the soccer players’ points that are unique to each individual site, which puts added pressure on respective developers to ensure the sums add up.

Data skills
The most successful platforms manage these scores very carefully, ensuring that a soccer player’s performance is accurately assessed and simplified into a generalised total.

These scores, and their accuracy, is given another layer of importance in the fantasy sphere. In traditional gaming, there’s a massive element of chance.

We know that Manchester United should beat Leicester City, but it’s still a real skill to pick out those players on the pitch who will make the real difference. The skill element in fantasy sports requires the data to be robust and consistent.

One player performing well in the Manchester United v Leicester game should score the same as who has reached the same level in the Liverpool v Arsenal fixture, for example. Those two factors – consistency and accuracy – go hand in hand.

According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA), there are currently an estimated 56.8 million fantasy sports players in the US and Canada – a huge number.

In Europe, the market is young but growing fast too. The FSTA also finds that most players look at four or five different websites to obtain their data.

It is in the interests of the fantasy sports operator to keep users on their own site, so creating an environment that provides easy-to-access statistics, delivered in an easy-to-understand way - completely accurately, of course – is almost as important as hosting the data in the first instance.

That environment needs to be accessible by a broad range of demographics and target markets, from the fantasy sports mega-fan, to the casual gamer or first-time user.

With the emergence of HTML5 websites and responsive web design, sites are being redesigned and data is becoming more accessible.

From added leagues and more in-depth player data to increased usage of mobile devices and apps, new interactivity and new ways for users to analyse teams are being introduced into the market constantly, something we’ll be involved in over the European close season.

In an increasingly competitive fantasy sports market, it can be easy to lose sight of what fantasy managers really want – quality, accuracy and usability.

All of these can be attributed to data, which remains at the absolute core for operator success.

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