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Visualizations in Sport

April 10th, 2012

The world of sports offers a potential goldmine for visualization experts, providing an incredible amount of data about, for instance, rankings, results, schedules, financial results and many, many more. This vast amount of data also means that, whether it is following the schedule, results and standing of my favorite Dutch football club Roda or checking how Finland’s Teemu Selänne is doing in the NHL with his all time score, I want my data in a clear, fast and personalized manner.

Especially in the USA, with both its professional and school/university leagues, results from both teams and individual players are eagerly followed on an almost real-time basis by sports fans through dedicated sport channels such as ESPN: who is leading a specific (regional) league? Who will go to the play-offs? Who is the MVP (most valuable player) of the game? What are the batting averages of players? It is then no surprise that also the mobile phone companies skillfully play into this market by making dedicated commercials targeting sports fans, as Samsung shows with its Galaxy Note.

But let’s go back to the data and, especially, the ease of access to this data through visualizations. As I said, I want my data in a clear, fast and, if possible, personalized manner. In that aspect Yle’s “tulospalvelu” (“result service”) is interesting, as it allows you to customize your view according to the sports you want to follow and open a pop up with additional data down to the results of two clubs (for instance Roda vs PSV) over a period of time. For the true sports connoisseurs among us this provides a lot more information than the sport articles in Helsingin Sanomat, though we need to keep in mind these articles serve a different and often complimentary purpose to the above.

Before you can check the scores of games, you of course need to know when the games take place. This is not only with regular competitions, but also, if not especially, with tournaments. Canal+’s timeline of ice hockey tournaments is in this aspect interesting, as it shows in a clear and linear manner which main tournaments are coming up. However, if you want to know a schedule game-by-game and see who will meet whom after each round, the schedule finder of the London Olympics leaves a lot wanting, as does the ESPN NHL schedule finder. A schedule visualization such as the one used for the World Cup Football in 2010 is much handier in use. And yes: Spain was, how difficult to admit, the better team… the data here confirms it in several ways.

That leaves us with the visualization of data along the side lines of sports, something in which the New York Times is doing a very good job; whether it is an infographic on the techniques of alpine skiing, the results of different owners of the New York Yankees, the amount of medals at the Olympics (similar to Flo App’s work for HRI) or the top players on Facebook during the 2010 World Cup (Flo Apps’ price winning Twitter Map could have been a nice addition to this!), they all show a lot of interesting data in a clear, visually pleasant manner.

With more and more data becoming available in different fields of sports, the future of data visualization looks bright. However, as with all visualizations, careful thought needs to be given on what to show and how to present the data, so that each user can find what (s)he wants in a fast and easy manner. Individualization and customization of views will become more important during the oncoming years.

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