Data tracking in the Amsterdam ArenA
Ajax uses special software to measure and record every movement that its football players make. Using the same software, the ArenA measures even more things: from grass health to beer consumption during a summer soccer match. A conversation with the data architect at Ajax and the ArenA, Max Reckers.
How do you get the best out of your players and how do you get the most out of your building? These two seem like totally different things that can’t be analyzed in the same way. But Max Reckers, who does nothing else but measure, record and analyze the performance of soccer players, can see many similarities. “I studied computer science and worked for many years on Louis van Gaal’s staff as the innovation architect and performance analyst at AZ, Bayern Munich, the Dutch national team and Manchester United. My aim was to provide both staff and players in the team with the right tools and information. And if anyone wanted to know it all right down to the last detail, then that’s Louis.” These days, Reckers works for Ajax and the Amsterdam ArenA.
Over the years, the technical possibilities of data tracking – recording data – have greatly improved. Reckers: “At Ajax we’ve already started tracking the youngest children’s teams. For example, to record the performance of young talent, you want to know where the player is on the growth curve so that you can match them with the right form of training at the best rate. The players wear sensors and we use special software to measure the length of their stride, the height of their jump and their physical strength, and we can also record their technique and ball control in 3D. At Ajax we use Inmotio software to measure the players’ heart rate, position on the field, speed, acceleration and impact. On the field, it’s all about the combination of performance and heart rate (load and response). It lets you objectively measure how fit a player is. When you register that a player has a low heart rate in a training session and, compared to the rest, doesn’t sprint or accelerate that much, you can call him up on that during the session.”
Reckers also works with another innovative tool, GameOn. “We use GameOn for live recordings of the whole playing field, including all players. We have six fixed and several mobile cameras that move automatically, which we can direct to track certain players or a certain group of players and record the footballers’ performance. The coach can view the action in the GameOn app, live, during the game. On the interactive screen he can even slide the players into the ideal positions so that his instructions become visual. We want to bring this ‘coach’ experience from the Innovation ArenA to the fans in the stadium. You’ll be able to look at the match on your phone and zoom in on special moments. It means that the fans can sit on the coach’s seat in the stadium, and who wouldn’t want to do that!”
The Inmotio and GameOn software is also used for many other applications, for example, to enhance health and safety in the stadium. Reckers: “During a match, the first-aiders wear the same data recording vest as the players. It automatically directs the cameras to view their location. If something happens somewhere in the stadium, the central first aid post can see it on camera and deploy the first-aider closest to the incident. They can also zoom in on the situation and, if necessary, give the first-aider medical advice. We also gather lots of data about the state of the grass field. We have an automatic lawnmower that scans the grass as it mows, measuring how healthy the grass is. Data on moisture, temperature and nutritional value of the soil are automatically sent to what we call the Azure data lake. It lets us make far more objective decisions on, say, where we need to replace light bulbs for more light or where more spraying or sowing needs to be done. We do the same with all payment transactions. For example, we can track where, when and how much Coca-Cola or Heineken is sold per type of event. And we can also analyze why that is the case. What is the most important sales factor? Is it the number of people in the stadium or is it the temperature? The Mobility portal, which lets us give customized travel advice to our visitors, builds on these innovations. In short, we have a wealth of applications available and, as the data architect at Ajax and the ArenA, that makes me really feel at home. It gives our partners and those of us in the Innovation ArenA an endless opportunity to make the ArenA experience even bigger and better.”