Rugby's Six Nation tournament kicked off last weekend, bringing good results for the Welsh and Irish but heartbreak for English fans.
But England's failures on the pitch weren't mirrored at the Rugby football Union's headquarters, which achieved the successful launch of its new TryTracker game analytics tool.
TryTracker gives fans real time insight into the England team and individual performances on-pitch using IBM's big data analytics technology. It is an excellent piece of content marketing which has already improved site traffic to RFU.com.
To find out more about how the RFU is using big data and the tool's success among rugby fans, I spoke to head of digital Nick Shaw.
And for more information on this topic, download the new Econsultancy Digital Content Strategy Best Practice Guide...
How did the partnership with IBM for TryTracker come about?
At the Rugby Football Union, we are continually looking for ways to grow rugby by reaching new fans and engaging existing supporters. Delivering exciting and innovative content through RFU.com is crucial.
The RFU wants to become a destination of choice for rugby content and generate increased interest in rugby through our RFU.com website, and felt that creating a platform to improve the fan experience and increase understanding of the game would help us to achieve this.
We needed to find a way to represent the tactical complexity of the sport in a way that was both engaging for those new to the game and insightful for knowledgeable fans.
We selected IBM because we were extremely impressed with their innovative work in the field of sports analytics, so working together with the IBM sports analytics team we developed TryTracker. It’s the first ever ‘in game’ rugby analytics platform to allow us to differentiate our fan experience.
While broadcasters provide in-game commentary and live statistics, TryTracker offers in-depth, real time analysis to produce insight that surpasses pure statistics.
IBM TryTracker analyses historic and current rugby data provided by Opta.
We’re getting more used to seeing statistical analysis of sport. How do fans react to this kind of initiative?
Brilliantly. But for fans, stats only tell half the story.
By presenting these insights in an exciting, intuitive and accessible way through three simple graphics that appeal to all rugby fans, we’ve managed to attract more people to RFU.com.
We’ve increased traffic by 27% by helping fans to understand what’s happening on the pitch and provide talking points and debate. This in turn has enabled us to drive engagement in rugby across all levels.
TryTracker gives fans access to a huge amount of data. How did you decide what data points were most interesting and should be included on the site?
Our aim was to tell the story of a match in real time. IBM held a number of in-depth workshops and analysed data from 300 international rugby matches to determine which data points were truly reflective of good team performance.
We also engaged with the England Rugby elite department to gain their insight on the potential keys.
Based on this analysis, we created three analytics dashboards which are displayed on RFU.com during live matches, each delivering a different kind of real-time insight of fans.
- ‘Keys to the Game’ - this predicts three performance areas per team that will increase their probability of winning. Released pre-match with real time updates.
- ‘Momentum’ - live, interactive timeline of a match. Identifies key moments more precisely than statistics used in TV broadcasts.
- ‘Key Influencers’ - this reveals which three players are having the biggest positive impact.
What are your aims for the TryTracker? What KPIs are you using to measure its effectiveness and success?
Our aim as a governing body is to bring more people into the sport at all levels - from casual touch-rugby games to professional coaching in schools and clubs. We know that driving fan engagement is the key to realising this vision.
TryTracker has contributed to record traffic to RFU.com at launch during the RBS 6 Nations (traffic up by 27% year-on-year) and the QBE Internationals (up 18%). The next step is to build on this increased popularity to further boost interest in live matches and grow the popularity of the game.
When we began this project, we were clear that we wanted TryTracker to have a life beyond the 80 minutes of a rugby match.
We’re currently planning to develop an editorial layer for the momentum view of the solution, which would enable newcomers and long-term fans to explore pivotal moments in a game with text, video and audio commentary, and gain a deeper appreciation of the tactical complexity of the game.
How will you be promoting TryTracker to fans?
On the Thursday of an International Test Week we release the Keys to the Game in the afternoon, following the team announcement that morning. This is featured on RFU.com and pushed through our social channels, identifying the three keys that can increase each team’s chance of winning.
On a match day, the TryTracker hub view becomes the default homepage for RFU.com. It is also integrated into multiple social networks applications, providing fans with talking points to further the conversation.
We promote the platform across RFU.com including news stories, MPUs, feature box and main hero box on our homepage, homepage takeovers, in-match commentary using the stats and communications to our 280,000 strong England Rugby database.
Does the RFU have its own data team? If so, how big is it and what other projects do they work on?
We don’t have a team specific to data in the digital team. We are currently working on a CRM transformational project to better understand information on rugby fans, their needs and preferences, to enable the organisation to communicate with supporters and participants in a more personalised way.
Finally, does the RFU have any particular plans for TryTracker or game data as part of promotions for the World Cup next year?
We are still working through our plans for the world cup at this stage and more news will be available nearer the time.