Scout7 welcomes real-life football manager comparisons and says it can make football recruitment easier with data and video content from around the world
The modern football fan is able to find out just about any piece of data about any player in any professional league around the world, simply by searching the Internet. But 20 years ago, not even football clubs themselves had access to such a wealth of information.
It was something players of Football Manager could do, simply be entering a few paramaters or a name into the ‘player search’ tool, a function deemed so powerful that hardcore gamers said it was too unrealistic.
Fast forward to 2015 and it’s a reality. Some clubs even use Football Manager’s database for recruitment, so it should come as no surprise that dedicated tools have also been developed.
Scout7 is one such product, offering clubs an online database of player information collected by a team of researchers, from the public domain and third party providers like Opta, since 2001, and video content from around the world.
“At that point in time, it was very difficult for a club or a fan to get information on players,” explained Bradford Griffiths, operations director at the Birmingham-based company. “A decision was made very early on to put this online. Bearing in mind, in 2001, it was a time when a modem sat in the corner and made loud noises at you and connectivity at football clubs was a pretty foreign concept as well. But in any event, by luck or judgement, it was the right decision.”
Aston Villa and Wolves were Scout 7’s first clients, but now 18 of the 20 Premier League sides use the platform, as do the majority of the championship and teams in major European leagues. The data on the platform can be modelled however teams seem fit and can be introduced into certain workflows.
Clubs can find players by age, club history, position and decide whether they want to take further action. Griffiths says that although clubs still need to scout players, the first part of the recruitment process can now be done in front of a computer, saving time and money.
“The start of that process never existed before. It was just someone dropping you a name. The world has become a lot smaller in your ability to identify players. You’re no longer looking at players within a 100 mile radius because that’s where your scouts are and can get in their car and watch [a target].”
Teams can enter their own data into the system, with the promise that in such a competitive environment and with millions of pounds at stake, it is protected.
“All of our services are Software as a Service (SaaS), so they’re all based online via web browser,” said Griffiths. “Any connection is a secure site layer, so HTTPS and the storage of that is in dedicated data centres with the standardised security and all that.
“Even within the club, the access rights, we can manage on a per user basis and for particular information types, so it’s a very powerful licensing / access rights management model built into our software.”
Video content was added in 2009, with broadcast feeds taken from around the world. This means a team can not only see stats about a potential transfer target, but see how he or she plays as well. Getting hold of the content is not difficult, as with a closed network and many of the top teams as clients, Scout7 is not subject to any licensing agreements, but encoding huge files is no mean feat, and required the firm to enlist the help of Intel.
“The primary thing was really about the amount of video we were processing and the length of time it was taking to process that video,” explained Griffiths. “Intel QuickSync technology has changed the landscape of what we can do and how quickly we can do it.
“We used to have this massive transcoding farm that was taking days to transcode our stuff – now we can do a match in 15 minutes. This being done on boxes that are commercially good value for money. It’s like going and buying a desktop computer rather than specialist hardware.”
The speed at which video content and data is added to the system, as well as the ability to enter club-specific data, means Scout7 is now being used for purposes other than recruitment.
Transfers are still the primary use, but teams can now use the platform for match reports, training and even in the boardroom, with data used to track contract clauses like bonuses and solidarity payments – just like in Football Manager.
“What naturally evolved from was clubs asking ‘can you help us with things in our own environment?’” added Griffiths. “We actually built a training ground product for clubs. That’s about helping them manage the information collected during training, the academy things like that.
“We work at the top end of football, but we have clients as far down as the [National League] (the fifth tier of English football). The clubs have different resources and different workloads.
“We have products all the way down the food chain, from top to bottom. The level of complexity varies and the product is very customisable.”
The value of data
The use of statistics and data analysis is a new concept in football, at least in England anyway, popularised by the likes of Moneyball and the spread of stat culture from the US.
With the pool of elite players concentrated at the biggest clubs and transfer fees becoming increasingly expensive, many teams hope to gain an extra edge by looking at the data – but Griffiths admits a statistical approach will never eliminate the human element to recruitment.
“I certainly believe there’s no secret sauce based purely on statistics. We don’t even try and purport that statistics are the answer to your problems. All we’re saying is this information is there, it’s going to assist you.
“[There’s] definitely value to stats but there’s a lot more value to get out of that data. I don’t think we’ve even asked the right questions of it yet. I mean, how far a player ran on the pitch on a match day doesn’t really give you any valuable information. He might be going back just because his team’s conceded corners every two minutes.”
There’s bound to be some resistance too. Coaches are becoming more accepting of new approaches, but many scouts are creatures of habit. Griffiths says any product like this needs to be usable by a wide range of people, and he’s not too proud to admit Football Manager itself has influenced Scout7’s design.
“One of the biggest challenges is you’ve got those typical ‘flat-cap’ scouts with a pen and paper and all they want to do is file their report. So we have a very intuitive user interface for those guys where they can file their report and that’s as far as they can go.
“You’ve then got your new breed of university-educated stats analysts and they really want to model the data and have a lot of power over how they interrogate the data and for them, we’ve got more advanced tools.
“I think they is making sure your product is flexible enough to target a user base. [Are we looking at] things like Football Manager? Absolutely. We’re always keeping an eye on any technology that’s all about presenting large amounts of data in a very intuitive way. I think we’d be foolish to sit back and ignore these things.”
We’re a football company
Traditional analytics firms like are also looking at football recruitment, with SAP recently agreeing a major deal with the City Football Group, parent company of Manchester City, New York City FC and Melbourne City.
Scout7 has to compete with bigger names, but it believes it attention to detail and experience of the football world make it stand out from the competition.
“We only work with professional football. Our only clients are football clubs, associations and federations,” he said. “We’re not a software company who has a football product, we are a football company underpinned by technology.
“A lot of people in our company come from football. We’re not distracted by other products we have to manage.
“We get the football clubs involved. What comes out of that is a product that is more intuitive and is not forced on them. It’s not a product that comes off the shelf and tells them to work in this way. It’s more about ‘how do you want to work and how do we make a product support that?'”
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