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Volume 21 No. 2
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Opta's numbers add up

Years before many other companies began exploring the expansive possibilities of location-based sports analytics, there was Opta Sports.

The London-based firm began plotting soccer player and ball movements on x/y graphical coordinates in 2002, opening up the ability to use computers to chart player performance in real time. Such analytics have since become wildly popular on both sides of the Atlantic, and have grown far beyond soccer, now having a major influence in basketball, baseball, football, cricket and numerous other sports.

Opta’s Aidan Cooney and his team produce analytics for hundreds of sports clients.
Photo by: Opta Sports
Opta’s early beachhead in the space enabled the company to develop key relationships with hundreds of major European sports entities, including the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga and the Dutch Eredivisie.

“We’ve seen the European data market as more visually oriented than the U.S.,” said Opta CEO Aidan Cooney, who led a purchase of the company in 2002 from BSkyB. “The U.S. is a very sophisticated statistics market. There’s particularly a lot of interest in box scores and what I would call timetable-based reports. In Europe, those kinds of statistics are relatively new and there’s more of a history of the more location-oriented measures. But in general, the market for data and the demand for data is absolutely exploding.”

Similar to U.S.-based competitors Stats LLC and Bloomberg Sports, and European rivals Prozone and Infostrada Sports, Opta operates on two primary, parallel tracks: a consumer-facing side of the business in which data is provided to the public through media, league and team partners, and an enterprise-level side in which analytics are used by team management for scouting and to help shape roster development decisions.

In soccer, Opta’s analytics can determine passing accuracy for each player in a specific zone on the field, measure

the distance the player runs during the course of a game, and isolate tendencies of what he does each time he gets the ball.

Because of the more developed realm of sports betting in Europe compared to what exists in America, the company is also aligned with most of the major bookmakers including Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and William Hill.

The company now operates locations in nine countries, has nearly 120 employees, and is expanding operations into South America, Asia and other rapidly developing territories. In early 2011, Opta also signed a large-scale data services deal with Major League Soccer, giving the company a meaningful entry into the U.S. market.

The recent run of growth has brought the privately held Opta Sports to a crossroads. More than a decade after Cooney led a team of largely individual investors to purchase and develop the company, Opta recently struck an agreement with U.K. digital media company Perform in which Perform will acquire Opta in a deal valued at $61 million, with a management incentive of up to $10.7 million more. The pact is conditional on a successful fundraising Perform intends to make through a share placement.

Opta will remain a stand-alone entity and keep its brand name within the Perform umbrella. But it will in part be integrated with, Perform’s global soccer portal.

“This process has actually been developing for a year,” Cooney said of the search for a new, more institutional investor. “Right now, there are more than 60 individual shareholders, and what we’re after is a new type of investment structure.”