Perform Spotlight: The impact of data at the 2018 FIFA World Cup

Posted 27.07.2018

As the sports world reflects on the 2018 FIFA World Cup from Russia, we sat down with David Wall, Perform Group’s Managing Editor for Data Editorial to discuss how the team brings football coverage and content to life using Opta data.     


Over the course of the World Cup, what type of content did the Data Editorial teams produce?    

We had all corners covered, this ranged from Opta Facts and Match Packs to answering over 1,700 client requests and providing live support to some of the world’s biggest broadcasters and media outlets across all 64 matches. We also used a brand new standalone product called Live Facts to power Google in over 10 languages, a great effort by all involved.

We have the most in-depth World Cup database available, with granular information going back as far as the 1966 edition. No other data provider can match that and it enables our teams to look at long term trends over the years and produce historical comparisons such as who was fouled more often, Neymar or Maradona (Spoiler: follow the fingers).   

People also often forget the role our content plays in driving Perform’s wider product offering. We helped power multiple Omnisport Editorial and Video products, we anticipated key milestones, performances and trends for our news colleagues and used our Opta Facts for DAZN’s Match Central pages and Perform’s media portals.    


How can a single event in a football match be translated into multiple data outputs?  

Let’s take Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick against Spain.    

  • Cristiano Ronaldo scores his third goal against Spain in the 88th minute. 
  • The Central Data Editorial team publishes three facts on all our platforms (Live Monitor, Perform CMS, Twitter, etc.). 
  • Ten minutes later in their BBC studio in Moscow, Gary Lineker & his pundits chew the fat with the help of our facts. 


  • 24 hours later, those three facts alone have over 10,000 retweets, nearly 20,000 likes and 2,000,645 million impressions, meaning they were seen over two million times. 

In this instance, the Data Editorial team have taken one event and dissected it into several different outputs which resonate with fans and increase engagement.  


How does Data Editorial add value to the fan experience?    

The key is always to tell a clear story in a short and instantaneous format, which can be easily shared – stats work best when we are saying something that no-one expected. A good example was Cristiano Ronaldo’s free kick record – before the competition he hadn’t converted any of his 43 attempts at major international tournaments, until he scored against Spain… 

Our clients use the data in different ways: the broadcasters will be wanting short facts or tables that can resonate with their viewers in five seconds or less. Print or online media might be after more in-depth details which might include some more complex analytics. That’s why we must be flexible.    


Do you see a difference between a hardcore ‘sports data’ type of fan and the wider fanbase? 

Our content is destined for the general public – that’s why we’ve attracted over 2 million followers on Twitter across all our accounts. They prefer easily digestible information, stories that are a bit out of the ordinary, quirky, but that can be easily understood. The more hardcore fans might be after detailed performance data, maybe with some expected goals or other more advanced metrics thrown in, so we need to make sure that we cater for every taste.   


What are the latest trends you are seeing when it comes to contextualising data for major competitions?    

The use of data has evolved quite considerably in the last ten years and there is now much more of an appetite for qualitative data and insights beside a simple number of shots or passes. That’s where innovative analytics such as expected goals and assists from our Data Science team come in. 

Largely, however, the stats that still resonate best with a wider audience are the simplest ones. For example, Kylian Mbappé becoming the youngest player to score a brace in a World Cup game since Pelé was massively popular. 


What would you expect to see from data at Qatar 2022?    

I expect us to be able to push out more qualitative data that the wider audience can relate to, telling even better stories. More of our content will contain insights from the new metrics being built by our data science team, which will help an increasingly data-literate sporting public better understand on-pitch performances. You’ll be able to see a lot of these developments coming out across this season so keep an eye out.  

Perhaps the biggest factor is that Qatar 2022 could be the first World Cup since 2006 to not feature Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, a strange thought…    


Finally, what’s been your data highlight from the 2018 World Cup?    

One of my favourites was Benjamin Pavard or even Harry Maguire now boasting more goals in the knockout stages of the World Cup than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo combined. It had also been too long since Marco Tardelli’s iconic celebration in 1982 represented the last occasion a player scored from outside the box in a World Cup final, so glad Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé put that one to bed. 


Our Perform Spotlight articles are monthly features that highlight the work of our people around the globe. Search ‘Perform Spotlight’ in our content section to read more about how we’re changing the world of sport.