While FIFA stalls on technology, Premier League embraces it to improve player analysis

By Stuart Condie, AP
Thursday, July 22, 2010

Premier League using technology for player ratings

LONDON — While FIFA talks of introducing technology to soccer, England’s Premier League has signed its first official technology partner in a move they hope helps further popularize the sport in the United States.

Cameras will be installed at every Premier League stadium to provide material for analysis by video game publisher Electronic Arts in time for a planned overhaul of the league’s official player ratings system for the 2011-12 season.

FIFA’s lawmaking panel has yet to reconsider the use of goal-line technology since the World Cup, so the cameras cannot be used to aid officials with the sort of controversial decision that involved England at the tournament.

But they will be able to track players’ movements for what EA Sports and the Premier League hopes will be enhanced analysis of the game including shooting speed and distance covered.

The stats may help the sport compete with baseball and football in areas previously resistant to its appeal.

“As someone who lives in the United States and went over there in the 1970s, but also someone who understands American sports very well, Americans need to statistically analyze everything and this is where soccer befuddles them sometimes because it’s too fluid,” EA Sports global president Peter Moore said Thursday. “That U.S. consumer that is used to waking up the next morning and being able to look at every baseball box score.”

The Premier League will continue to provide its existing player index, which placed Frank Lampard top in 2009-10, for next season. The new cameras should be at all 20 clubs for the Aug. 14 kickoff so that EA and the league can spend a full year working on how to improve the index.

“We’re going to be collecting a lot of that information by camera, a lot of new information as well,” Premier League director of sales and marketing Richard Masters said. “The challenge for us is to work out how that information can be used to enhance the performance of the performance index. How do you make it more objective?

“It’s an important part of how we market the league. We need to be providing an enhanced product.”

EA’s deal with the Premier League will see the EA Sport name and logo attached to the player index and team of the week, which are published after each full round of weekend action.

Neither party would disclose the financial details of the arrangement.

“We’re not discussing dollars or pounds or euros but it’s a great deal for us,” Moore said.

Moore, a British-born Liverpool fan, said EA’s involvement will lead to far more accurate ratings.

He said that the data and technology used in the development of 18 editions of EA’s FIFA soccer game and 22 editions of its Madden NFL game allowed it to successfully predict six months ago that Spain would win the World Cup and pick six of the last seven NFL Super Bowl winners.

EA predicts that Chelsea will retain the Premier League title in 2011 by two points from Manchester City. Moore stressed that the prediction is likely to change as player trading continues until the end of the summer transfer window.

“Pure data, pure telemetry, very objective to move the game forward,” Moore said. “In the United States for many years there’s been the technology element of being able to rate performance on an objective basis, rather than the ‘let’s give him 6 out of 10′ mentality that you’ve seen over the years.”

FIFA confirmed this week that goal-line technology will be discussed at October’s International Football Association Board meeting, but only to decide if it is on the agenda for its subsequent meeting in March.

IFAB this week approved the continuation of an experiment using extra officials behind the goals. That could be permanently adopted instead of video technology.

The debate on goal-line technology was rekindled at the World Cup last month when England was denied a goal against Germany because officials failed to see that a shot by Lampard crossed the line after bouncing off the crossbar.

Had the goal been awarded, the score would have been 2-2 after 38 minutes. Instead, Germany went on to win the second-round match 4-1.

“Even baseball now allows video replay — and baseball’s been played as long as soccer’s been played at a professional level — for controversial home run calls,” Moore said. “And that’s the equivalent of a goal.

“It is a little part of why we’re starting to think ourselves we need to help bring the game on a par to where we’re seeing other sports around the world.”

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