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How One Startup Reimagined Athlete Stats for the Age of Social Media

The rapid-fire nature of social nature prompted European soccer authorities to change how they think about stats.

The 2016 Euros may have wrapped up this month—with Portugal coming out as champions—but UEFA's work is never done.

If you'd been watching the competition throughout the summer, you may have caught some fascinating player stats presented live by the Union of European Football Associations. Whether you're a football/fútbol/soccer fanatic or just a casual fan, you've got to admit: being able spew off fun player trivia to your friends is one of the best aspects of the beautiful game—but that's never easy to do.

Image: After the Flood

So, this year London-based data design consultancy After the Flood teamed with UEFA to present soccer data with a newer, more beautiful and consumer-friendly interface for Euro 2016. The project, dubbed The Player Barometer campaign, was designed to take the large amount of complex player stats tracked during every Euro match, and turn it into insights fans could easily interact with and journalists can use to build stories around.

Whereas previous stats were collected and presented with an old fashioned interface and categorizations, After the Flood helped UEFA by creating player cards and Barometer pages in a new way.

For example, it ranks players according to what's classified as an "event" during a Euros game. These events include incidents such as tackles, strikes or what commenters call a "dangerous run into the box," meaning being inside the penalty box with a chance of a shot on goal.

"What we want to do is give fans a qualitative, not just quantitative, view of data," Max Gadney, founder and director of After the Flood, told me. "This is a Barometer that lives and breathes as the scores come in."

The data, provided by Turin-based Deltatre—which captures data for UEFA's Champions League and the Euros, among other competitions—is called "event data."

According to After the Flood's site, there's then "A live ranking updated these player cards with new data at the end of every Euro 2016 match, feeding in new stats regarding each player's performance."

Image: After the Flood

Throughout this period, according to Gadney, "There are people who log the events by human eye, not by camera. These young people with quick eyes are entering data as games are happening, and that builds up a picture as they go through the game."

Of course, as is with any online project, the biggest priority is to have users interact and share. According to Gadney, a former journalist who's always had an interest in data, The Player Barometer was designed with fan engagement in mind.

"We needed to address how fans talk about football," he explains. "One way we did that is by addressing players in a granular or defensive ways. Not just defenders, midfield and strikers—we wanted to introduce extra dimensions."

As any soccer fanatic (guilty) will tell you, goals and assists don't always reflect a player or a team's quality. Perhaps the most accurate representation is actually playmaking and attacks.

Due to soccer's fluid nature (there is no stoppage time or breaks except for the half), many of the game's famed players today tend to fall outside of a rigid stats box when it comes to evaluating talent. This sometimes means that keeping track of their goals and assists isn't always the best measure of success.

As Gadney puts it, soccer patterns and history, like finance, aren't always measured by numbers alone. "Global markets aren't shown in just a graph or two," he says. For example, in European soccer, players such as Germany's Thomas Müller, who's considered an attacking midfielder, demand specific stats to quantify their success.

"We can't say this midfielder is 'good or bad'," Gadney explains of old-school stats calculations. "We have to go beyond passes or assists."

Gadney, who started the company five years ago, explains that After the Flood's soccer stats use custom algorithm specific to player titles and roles, and so the company started at a basic level as far as player ratings.

The Player Barometer is just one piece of the puzzle for After the Flood. The company hopes to bring more transparency accompanied with context to the future of sports data.

"My responsibility as a designer is to explain some of these stats," he says. "Our responsibility is to have a fair and transparent presentation of player stats."

For After the Flood, its hope for the future of sports data is that it continues to become more sophisticated—with further initiatives to involve players and teams in the data presentation process.