Where Change Gets Called by Tradition: The Case Study of SportsMechanics

 

By Invitation- Hari, Varun, Shrey, Kumar and Arjun

Every battle is won before it is fought.” –  SUN TZU

 

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”–  MILTON BERLE

Sports and the Modern Society

Sports has been an intrinsic part of human society dating back to eras sans records. Every nation, or culture points towards one sport or the other which is native and unique to its own roots. Being a source of unity, a mode to achieve physical and mental fitness and a teacher of fundamental human life skills, sports has shaped societies and communities dating back to the Roman Empire where Olympics was brought to existence to bring forward sports as a multidimensional influencer. Today, sports has become a strong institution which plays a dominant role in our lives as never before. With the prevalence of internet and television, sports is being consumed as not only an activity by those playing but also those viewing as an entertainment. Eminent sportspersons both amateur and professionals are looked upon as major cultural and political influencers.

Sports in society plays such a pivotal role that UN calls it a ‘human right’. It is recognized as a source of humanitarianism, development and peace-building. As rightly quoted by Billie Jean King “Sports are a microcosm of society”.

Today, sports has become a strong institution which plays a dominant role in our lives as never before

About SportsMechanics

SportsMechanics, a Chennai based firm was founded in 2006 by the Indian Cricket team’s video analyst S. Ramakrishnan. He had previously played for the Tamil Nadu Junior Cricket Team and had captained the Cricket Team of Indian Bank for 13 years. The 60 strong company comprises a good mix of young employees, sportspersons, experienced business professionals and technologists. SportsMechanics is a privately held organization funded by its promoters. From a turnover of 30 million in 2011, the company aimed to be a 1 billion company in a few years. Over the years, the company has diversified from performance enhancement solutions to various requirements of the sports industry such as content delivery, digital assets handling, and analytical solutions. Since its in- corporation, the company has achieved a strong track record, and has several high profile clients such as the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India), Hockey India, and the Sports Authority of India.

Pre-Inception

“Data is the new Oil”. This is not just a quote in today’s era, it is the face of the world. Whichever industry one looks at or a hobby one chooses, data would have touched it all. Whether it is improving one’s efficiency in a daily workout or to help cure a disease, data provides important inputs to answer some of the vexing questions.

The results that followed made the sporting world realize that data can enter areas where it was least expected, which can result in fascinating outcomes

The sports industry is one of the first to experience the Midas touch of numbers. The journey to the use of analytical tools and mathematics in a field that was traditionally influenced by adrenaline flow and complemented by guts, experience, and in- tuition was not a bed of roses to say the least. The origin of scientifically analyzing the results by numbers can be traced back to the 1940s, when Allan Rooth became the first statistician to be hired by a sports team. The results that followed made the sporting world realize that data can enter areas where it was least expected, which can result in fascinating outcomes. Since then, data and analytics have made consistent inroads in different fields of sport. For example, baseball (Sabermetrics) and many other sports have relied on data analysis to improvise their performance. Today, data collection and analysis are simply a part of the game and a bare minimum requisite to remain competitive. Leading professional sports teams not only run after on-field talent but also off-field analytical minds.

Athletes and trainers are not the only ones that make the most of data and statistics. Sports businesses are making extensive use of data to gain competitive advantage and complement their decision making. From aiding marketing theories, consumer understanding, realizing the target audience or business operations, data presents solutions to many day to day problems faced by sports organizations. The importance of data-driven approach becomes even more compelling when   it is associated with, not only solving today’s problems (diagnostics analytics), but also foresee future patterns (predictive analytics). What the athletes or customers did in the past is  no longer considered enough. One needs to understand what their future actions would be and their likely responses to certain strategies (prescriptive analytics – the new frontier).

In the 21st century, the problem is not to how to get data, but how to analyze it. The study of datum is the field where businesses are looking to invest and sports is among the forefront. In the sporting arena, new approaches constantly evolve to measure and leverage information from big data. Realizing the potential that lies within, while also working within the boundaries of the traditional sporting federations so as to not start a turf war between the athletes and the federations is a big challenge. SportsMechanics was the first sporting organization to bring data-driven analytics to sports in India.

SportsMechanics was the first sporting organization to bring data-driven analytics to sports in India

Inception of SportsMechanics

The idea of SportsMechanics originated when Ramakrishnan’s dad had bought him a video camera. He took the camera to his own net sessions, filmed his batting as well as that of his teammates. The footage was later analyzed to see where one went wrong and identify scope for improvement. Ramakrishnan subsequently became the country’s first video analyst in the field of cricket. He has the unique distinction of going to toss with Sachin Tendulkar as a player, and then later on working with him and other leading cricketers as an analyst.

SportsMechanics was conceptualized post the dot com bubble bust in 2000. Ramakrishnan began by starting a consulting firm offering sports technology services with Venky, who later became the operations head at SportsMechanics. He had always wanted to break the stereotype of ‘naked eye analysis’ as it had a lot of limitations which could be avoided by video analysis. He took the initial step by signing with the “Silicon Coach” software team in 2001-02 to distribute their software  in India. However, experience held a strong foot in the game in the country, and coaches perceived a threat to their job, and didn’t readily agree to incorporate technology into the game.

Coaches perceived a threat to their job, and didn’t readily agree to incorporate technology into the game

Their first step was to bring a change in their home state of Tamil Nadu. They automated the registration process for Tam- il Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) in 2002-03 and provided many eye-opening insights that could not have been realized by mere observation such as the average age of the first division league players being 29 and the challenges in getting the Return on Investment. Subsequently, to evangelize their ideas, both the founders travelled across stadiums with a computer in hand to showcase the power of data analysis. However, the results weren’t as expected. So, they took the help of media and conferences to bring forward the idea of visual analysis and presented it at the International Cricket Coaches conference in Sri Lanka in 2002-03. With the techniques conceptualized getting gradual acceptance, they started to provide services to many sports academies globally – providing end to end solutions, right from shooting the video, its analysis, and providing it in DVDs for future reference.

“Provided many eye-opening insights that could not have been realized by mere observation

The first big break for SportsMechanics came in 2003 when they were working with the fast bowlers at the MRF Pace Academy, Chennai. It was there that they could get the attention of John Wright, the then coach of the Indian cricket team. John Wright had called Ramakrishnan for a discussion after he had heard about the video analysis. What was supposed to be a 45 minutes meeting extended to the entire day since the coaches liked the concept. Completely mesmerized with the potential, John Wright offered an option for Ramakrishnan to join the Indian team, with a cautionary note however, that monetary benefits may not be very attractive. Stating that this was an offer that an Indian can’t refuse, Ramakrishnan straight away agreed to be part a of John Wright’s team. Soon, Ramakrishnan became a ubiquitous part of the team, that members started calling him as John Left.

This induction of Ramakrishnan fundamentally changed the way nation’s favorite sport was looked at. Every move had a statistical reason, every action was backed by numbers, and technical adjustments were no longer based on intuition. Realizing the potential of big data and analytics, Ramakrishnan along with two other co-founders started SportsMechanics to contribute to the sporting industry. Though predominantly focused on cricket, Ramakrishnan along with his colleagues made sure that the transformation he brought from naked eye analysis to visual data analysis in a short span of time to a century old sport can be sustained and improvised on. To make the impact more permanent, SportsMechanics partnered with BCCI, so that the changes are institutionalized in the sports body.

This was the birth of sports analytics in India and being a niche industry, opportunities were initially limited. The major change in the way talent acquisition and performance improvement was managed by the coaches captivated the BCCI. The BCCI then awarded a contract to SportsMechanics for performance enhancement services for the Indian cricket team. The immediate mandate was the Cricket World Cup 2007.

Every move had a statistical reason, every action was backed by numbers,

and technical adjustments were no longer based on intuition

The 2007 Cricket World Cup

The International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup 2007 was the biggest stage till then for SportsMechanics with the Indian Cricket Team. SportsMechanics leveraged the Indian Cricket Team with statistical, analytical and strategic content that involved technology enabled coaching enhancement tools. Despite tremendous efforts, unfortunately the tournament didn’t go as expected and the Indian team exited in the group stage itself.

But, this was a massive learning platform for the year-old firm. Understanding its shortcomings and realizing better strategies to serve the team, SportsMechanics took the learnings from the tournament and continued to feed the Indian Cricket Team with their insights and strategies such as visual based data translation and translation of key performance indicators as the team came back stronger to win the first ever ICC World T20 Cup in 2007 under the then skipper M.S. Dhoni.

As the Indian sports industry grew, the demand for the technological support grew as well

The 2011 Cricket World Cup

SportsMechanics introduced Silicon Coach, one of the best video analysis application, to the Indian sports industry. Several overseas teams had already started using this application. In Indian cricket, analysis prior to this was naked eye based. It had several limitations, which were addressed by the new technology solution. SportsMechanics brought in additional dimensions covering various aspects on the technical analysis of a player. SportsMechanics started to provide strategic and analytical content for its high-performance clients such as performance enhancement by discrete ball by ball events and molding techniques according to the venue conditions, based on the combination of numbers, videos and insights from years of experience of working with the top players.

The Indian Cricket Team has been one of the admired clients of SportsMechanics ever since its inception. SportsMechanics offered analytical, strategic, and technological support to the Indian Cricket Team from 2003. Being a part of the team in  the ICC World T20 2007, ICC World Cup 2011 and ICC Champions Trophy 2013 will go down as the company’s significant achievements in its 12-year period. The venture has also been successful in breaking the jinx of overseas inefficiency of the team by beating England in 2007 and Australia in 2008.

SportsMechanics became the first Indian association to work with more than five sports federations in the Indian contingent for two Olympics

Indian Premier League (IPL) has been the biggest hit in the history of the Indian Sports industry and it has supported BCCI, one of the powerful sports bodies globally. SportsMechanics have been an integral part of the IPL ever since its commencement. Having played a role in ICC World T20 2007, SportsMechanics had the opportunity to work with seven IPL teams in the first edition of the league. The company had a healthy success rate with all their clients in IPL, being a part of 9 finals and winning it on 6 occasions. It worked under proper protocols and ethical obligations while dealing with sensitive databases and also translating numbers to insights, thereby maintaining the sanctity of the game and the sport.

The company also played a significant role in the IPL auctions by suggesting the auction strategy for their clients based on a player’s performance in the international and domestic level. The scouting and tracking down the performance of a player at various levels is carried out by the company’s dedicated back end team. Mumbai Indians, with whom SportsMechanics has been partnering for the last 11 years, has been recognized to have a strong track record for unearthing the best domestic Indian talent.

Since 2007, BCCI and SportsMechanics have worked together starting with evaluation of domestic umpires based on hard data. The umpire’s evaluation project was carried out for 3 years, and as an outcome of the project, BCCI introduced the concept of having video analysts for all board matches who would assist the match referee in reviewing and evaluating decision making. This expanded the role of SportsMechanics from being just a performance analysis company to a business operations consultant.

Reaching the Cricketing Roots (2012-2017)

As the Indian sports industry grew, the demand for the technological support grew as well. SportsMechanics expanded its footprint to other functional domains such as Sponsorships, Activations, Sports Technology, Talent Management, and so on. The company strengthened its relationship with BCCI further when the company came up with a live scoring engine for all their domestic matches and provided technological solutions to handle the domestic player registrations. SportsMechanics has also offered the scheduling and match officials posting solutions to BCCI.

With the advent of the internet and mobile devices, SportsMechanics’ started to develop and provide enterprise governance platform for competition management system, fan and brand management for various organizations and associations such as the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), IPL, Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA), Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA), Karnataka Premier League (KPL), Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL), Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA), Yes Bank, Associated Cement Companies (ACC), Caribbean Premier League (CPL), International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), and Murugappa Group. Given the rich domain experience in the game, the company could also contribute in the brand and fan engagement. For example, handling of the digital assets for the Asian Cup and the TNPL, helped to transform the platform with engaging posts and aesthetic infographics, which were powered by eye- analytics.

The company also partnered with the WICB and enjoyed be- ing a part of their ICC World T20 Cup win in 2016. Leading  domestic cricket associations such as TNCA, KSCA and HCA have also been benefitted by the performance management solutions. SportsMechanics’ started expanding  its  footprint  in performance analysis to first class cricket when TNCA won the Vijay Hazare and Deodhar Trophy in 2016-17 season and when KSCA won the Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2017-18 season.

Going Beyond Cricket

Sports Mechanics has steered the sporting ecosystem in the country by initiating a transition in the decision making process of team management from a gut based model to data driven model

Having established a strong brand presence in Cricket, the company also sought to expand its solution offerings in other sports like Hockey, Soccer, Boxing, and so on. Replicating the model in other sporting domains also started to show results. SportsMechanics became the first Indian association to work with more than five sports federations in the Indian contingent for two Olympics. The firm provided its services for weight-  lifting and boxing that gave remarkable results. By winning  the Men’s Asian Champions Trophy in 2016 and participating in the Four Nations tournament in 2016 in Valencia, the firm brought a significant change in hockey within a short time. The company has also contributed to the Womens’ Asian Champions Trophy in 2016 and a bronze in the Men’s Hockey at the recently concluded 2018 Asian Games.

As a result, the competitiveness of the teams have drastically improved with more closely fought encounters occurring, thereby leading to a higher viewership and increased TRP for the sporting event

The Impact

Sports Mechanics has steered the sporting ecosystem in the country by initiating a transition in the decision making process of team management from a gut based model to data driven model. Being actively involved in the auction process of the world famous Indian Premier League, the company has been providing insights and solutions to its clients in the efficient and effective management of its resources with respect to team building, performance development, and planning and balancing workloads, and providing post session or match feedback. As a result, the competitiveness of the teams have drastically improved with more closely fought encounters occurring, thereby leading to a higher viewership and increased TRP for the sporting event. This can be validated by the fact that IPL rights was sold to Star India for a record $2.55 billion. With various sporting bodies including fitness as a mandatory requirement for selection, the athlete management system maintained by the company has been able to constantly monitor the fitness levels of the players and provide them with in- sights which enable them to perform better. Reduced injuries and faster recoveries have been a byproduct of the same.

Sports Mechanics has also been promoting smaller inter-state leagues such as the TNPL, KPL, and so on with an aim to in- crease the leagues’ visibility at the international level. Deployment of various fan engagement tools with interactive features such as chat bots, video scorecard, has led to a surge in the viewership levels on digital and social channels, year on year. From fan engagement off the field to enhanced on-field experiences driven by VR & AR, many new companies have ushered in the era of big data in sports, bringing in top minds from the sporting world such as managers, players and executives to discuss cutting-edge analytics solutions for sports landscape. The market has witnessed an emergence of new companies in the sports tech market, providing solutions surrounding the actual performance, in the form of data tracker, wearables and new kinds of sports equipment. Approximately 63.4 percent of the Sports Tech companies in India have been founded since 2015, which is more than the European average and shows an intense upward movement in the market.

Reduced injuries and faster recoveries have been a byproduct of the same

Moving Ahead

The aim of the company is to become the nation’s leading sports technology, analytics and content service provider by expanding its services into many sport-related services and provide solutions needed for different stakeholders in the sporting ecosystem. The vision of the company is to make India a sports analytics powerhouse of the world and elevate the awareness and quality of various sports, apart from cricket.  Its objective has been to meet the requirements of the entire sports community, starting from the grassroots to the nation- al team. With an enormous youth population and increasing awareness about the use of technology in sports, the objective of SportsMechanics has been to significantly transform the way sports is perceived in India.

Hari, Varun, Shrey, Kumar, and Arjun are members of Team Sports- Mechanics – Content Team. They work on understanding the global market consumption and how to cater to the demand with latest technological solutions and analytical insights, thereby providing a new dimension to viewing and experiencing sports.

 

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