We're back, and what better way to begin a season than an interview. But hold on a sec, it ain't no player. I'm not that popular yet (although I would like to be sometime in the future) but it is someone who runs a sports business that is highly regarded as one of the best stats centres in sport. From athletics to volleyball, they cover everything and anything that goes on statswise in between. This past summer I managed to persuade the head of Opta Sports Duncan Alexander to agree to do an interview with the FD. So without further adu, here he is:
1. Hi Duncan, first of all for those who've never heard of Opta
Sports, would you care to explain to the reader what it is your
Opta are Europe’s leading sports data company. We’ve been collecting football data since 1996 and have the biggest & best database of sports info there is. We work with professional clubs, the media and the betting industry to provide content and analysis in whatever format they require.
2. As Britain's leading football statistician you must be up to your
Eyes in stats. What's a typical day like for you in Opta Towers?
I head up the whole range of content delivery for the UK. That could be something like data feeds to power a website or Chalkboards or creating bespoke features and analysis for television or the national press. Ultimately you’re working with sports data every day and looking for angles and stories that will shine an objective light on the game.
3. Is understanding maths an essential component for working at Opta?
Depends on what your role is really. An understanding of statistics helps enormously, particularly the concept that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. That said, you could be Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting but if you don’t have a robust knowledge of football then you’ll not be any good. A love of the game and an understanding of the trends that are shaping it are key.
4. Opta Sports recently decided to share their information to the
public mainstream when they opened their first twitter account,
OptaJoe, in June 2009. Gathering over 100,000 followers within that
two year time period, do you think Opta have surpassed their
Twitter has been a massive success for us, helping us to connect directly with fans and help the public understand what it is we do. The response we get when there’s an OptaJoe quiz, for instance, are huge.
5. Does Opta have plans to expand their horizons for the new seasons
to the various leagues in Europe / worldwide?
We are always looking to expand the leagues and sports that we cover. We recently became official data suppliers to MLS in America and may look to analyse some South American leagues soon. We already analyse every game in the top-flights in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France as well as international club competitions and international tournaments.
6. Your twitter bio tells us that you're a Wycombe Wanderers fan. How did that come about?
My grandfathers supported Wycombe and Chelsea respectively and I got to choose which team to support. More chance of getting to Wycombe games so I went with them, a decision I have yet to regret.
7. What's your most memorable moment whilst donning the colours for the Chairboys?
The standard WWFC answer is the famous FA Cup run of 2001 but I think winning 2-1 at Maine Road in 1999 tops it for me. I had lived in Manchester for three years and seeing my team beat City in a league game was almost beyond comprehension. Can’t see it ever happening again, put it that way.
8. What's your favourite sporting event in the calendar year (doesn't have to be football by the way)?
The Tour de France by some distance. I’m a big fan of pro cycling and while there are races that are often better than the Tour (the one-day classics, the Giro D’Italia), the sheer size and intensity of the TdF gets me over-excited every year.
9. Since the inception of Opta in 1996 the company's gone from strength to strength to unparalleled strength. What's next on the agenda for Opta Sports?
We have seen a big change in the way that sports data is viewed over the last decade or so. Originally seen as ‘too-American’, statistics are now being used widely by clubs, the media and fans to achieve greater insight. Opta will keep trying to develop products & content that enables people to analyse football, rugby, cricket and many other sports in ever-greater depth but still in an accessible way.