Cameras, Statistics and Broadcasting: Navigating the Bundesliga’s Complex Visualization Network

A couple clicks, some scrolls and certainly no more than a few minutes is really all it takes to be impressed by the Bundesliga’s website. With a clean presentation, straight forward format and a digital presence that includes, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, RSS and Google+ (there’s an Instagram employee somewhere wondering where and how he missed this boat) it is clear that the Bundesliga has its digital act together, they even have a monthly newsletter.

Another significant online asset actively being used is the league’s Youtube Channel.  A medium now being leveraged by any team or organization looking to grow and interact with its fan base, Youtube has become a tool to give fans and consumers a closer and sometimes background look into the clubs and sport they follow week in and week out.

One such video recently uploaded by the Bundesliga lets viewers take a glimpse into how the league gathers it’s match, club and player statistics from each game.  With commentary from DFL Sports employees, it is revealed that at the start of this most recent season, every stadium in in the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 were outfitted with six HD cameras used to record and compile a massive amount of match data.  The cameras map the position of every object on the field twenty five times a second, producing four million data sets per match.

In two and half minutes, it becomes pretty clear how all those playercards on the website have such accurate and detailed information.  The concept of player and object tracking is not new, as revealed by DW, the Bundesliga has actually been doing this since 2011, while La Liga and the Premier League have been doing it for even longer.

While the league’s website and stats area doesn’t have the Opta logo like widely circulated publication FourFourTwo’s statszone, they are involved and the interconnected-ness of the industry is certainly interesting

DW’s 2011 story mentions Impire AG as the technology provider for the two HD cameras and data assessment services, yet during the video it’s clear that the DFL technicians are wearing ChyronHego branded jackets.  Thats because this past April, the contract to provide real time sports data passed to ChyronHego, a recently merged company of Chyron and Hego Group who separately addressed live production, telestration, graphic solutions and obviously proprietary image player tracking systems.

The 4 year contract in fact involves a consortium with Opta.  Opta will do what it already does with MLS, La Liga and the Premier League with regards to goals, assists, throw ins etc while Chyron Hego will deal with player/ball related statistics like overall distance, pass completion percentages and more.  This is being billed as the most comprehensive data collection in the professional game, but with ChyronHego also putting a deal into place for similar services in the Premier League this year, there looks to be more like it coming along.

What makes the Bundesliga’s set up interesting though is that they are providing all this information in real time, to every club for free.  There is also retrospective information giving clubs and scouts information on upcoming opponents that they might not have been able to previously obtain without paying a heavy fee for.  It might be an exaggeration when a league representative says that this brings everyone to a level playing field, however it certainly does help make certain aspects of opponent scouting a bit more even.

Another interesting note is that Impire’s website still claims that it runs the largest Bundesliga database, contrary to this ChyronHego deal.  Critically, there is no copyright date on the website, though there is an information correctness disclaimer and neither their Hamburg, or Munich offices are very close to Koln, where the data center is supposed to be located according to the Bundesliga’s Youtube video.

Despite the apparent inaccuracy of the company’s statement, it does reveal the possibility that the database may not be as in house as the league makes it appear. The cameras and imaging technology are proprietary, it seems reasonable that the data evaluation software would be as well and the technicians are wearing ChyronHego jackets.

It seems even more likely given that the Bundesliga’s most recent media guide indicates the top match camera concept involves the use of fourteen cameras including pitchside, reverse angle, super slow motion and in goal chip cameras to distribute a high quality HD signal while the next tier covering the rest of the Bundesliga matches as far back as 2009 had as many as 9 HD/SD cameras.

These are all in addition to the 6 HD statistics gathering cameras.  Add in the potential for more 3D coverage testing like the one done in 2010 in Berlin that involved eight different camera pairs using Grass Valley and Sony 2D and 3D cameras as well the recent proliferation of Dallmeier security cameras in German stadiums and the amount of visual and production infrastructure becomes a pretty complex beast.

The complexity of the task, one which only appears to get bigger given the growth of television contracts and demand for more interactive, in-depth and consumable content, is one that the average fan may not be aware of, nor one that they really ever have to worry about.  The task of coordinating the infrastructure and organization of broadcasting, data collection and the synthesis of the two into a solid consumable package lies with the wholly owned DFL subsidiaries SPORTCAST and DFL Sports Enterprises.

With Stefan Kiessling’s ghost goal for Bayer Leverkusen that was counted despite going in through the side netting, it’s clear that neither the number of cameras nor the complexity of the programs guarantee a perfect product.

How the two sub-organizations handle the job going forward will be something to see but if the leagues current television and digital manifestations are any indication of the standard being held, they may be on the right track to success.
What do you think about the Bundesliga’s data collection initiatives? Let us know in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.