Technology is revolutionizing many industries, and football isn’t an exception. Today, we are interviewing Nikolay Tashev, CEO and Founder of Ubitrack – an advanced optical tracking company which uses AI to help football teams improve their performance.
What is Ubitrack?
To be honest Ubitrack is an ideal. The name is derived from the words ubiquitous and tracking. For the sports industry it means that we strive to track all performance, all the time at all sports events.
To achieve this vision of ours we know that we need automation. So we developed a state-of-the-art optical tracking system. It utilises computer vision and machine learning algorithms to extract big data with benchmark accuracy from football matches.
How did you come up with the idea for Ubitrack?
It is one of those stories which sound a bit made up. Before we started Ubitrack one of my contacts was an executive at a Bulgarian football club. He suggested that my team and I look into optical tracking as it was a hot topic at the time. A
s most people, Roman and I assumed that the sports industry is a lot more technological than it turned out to be. After a couple of months of researching we reached the conclusion that there is a void in the market and that optical tracking truly is a technology in its infancy and has the potential for growth.
What makes Ubitrack different?
I strongly believe that our biggest virtue is that we are a cooperative team. I believe that we satisfy a need which very few companies can do and we do it without stepping onto other companies` markets. We are a missing link in the whole industry chain and in short empower the stakeholders up the industry vertical.
Of course we started as most companies convinced that we will take over the world, dominate the sports industry and destroy everyone else. We were going to provide data, video, analytics, you name it. We achieved almost no traction while being in that position.
That led us to realise that we provide a service which very few on the market can do, we are one of the highest quality providers and we are rubbish (compared to the already established players on the market) at the other activities.
So we took the direction of data providers. We are going to deliver consistent, reliable, high-accuracy and affordable tracking and events data. The data enhances analytics companies, coaching staff decision-making, betting companies, media and broadcasters, etc.
Why is access to data so important for sports clubs?
The simple answer is the enormous gap in the quality and results of the top-tier teams in the BIG5 leagues (Premier League, Serie A, LaLiga, Bundesliga and Ligue 1) and the rest of the world.
These leagues with their astronomical revenues (because the football is so attractive) get all the data one can think of. That leads to them designing new and improved methodologies, regiments, physical, tactical and technical approaches, just to name a few.
On the other hand some markets in Eastern Europe consider video recording an innovation at the moment.
The main reason for that is financial. In order to get the necessary data, one has to invest and invest heavily. That is why it is Ubitrack`s vision that providing accurate and affordable data will result in closing that gap.
Teams in smaller tournaments will get more competitive, they will attract more fans, increase revenues and hopefully reach profits.
Do you think that data should be affordable for all clubs? Is it currently?
Absolutely! One need only look at the Spanish LaLiga as an example. The league provides all positions and events data, analytics, coaching tools and much more for free to participants in their league.
Spanish teams (apart from Real Madrid and Barcelona as they are simply outside the norm of any competition) have proven the benefits of that approach and are achieving results on the international scene.
I even want to go a bit further as performance assessment and analyses can improve the performance of an A team in any club, but the data can be used in the academies as well to develop the next football heroes and have a much bigger impact.
From your experience, what are the biggest mistakes that football clubs make when it comes to collecting and using data?
I would have to say education and personnel. One of the biggest stoppers for technology adoption and implementation is inability of a coaching team to use the information or they simply cannot afford enough people to look through all the data.
Data can bring enormous benefits to a team, but if the capacity to use it, it is a waste. Keep in mind that teams usually have 4-5 day (sometimes even less) to prepare between matches. One needs formal education in order to read the information available to them and also the man-hours to do it.
If you could give them one piece of advice, what would it be?
This is a very open question as different audiences can benefit from different advice. To the football clubs, leagues and broadcasters my advice would be to be mindful to stay in line with technological developments.
It is understandable that sometimes technologies are unproven, failing in some corner cases which repels investments. But once they are developed enough one should utilise them.
To sportstech entrepreneurs, my advice would be to never give up. It is a tough, conservative, yet exciting industry and only persistence and belief in your vision can lead one to success.
In your opinion, what is football going to look like 10 years from now? How is data going to shape it?
My first reaction when attempting to answer this question was look 10 years back to consider how football has evolved. And it has changed a lot. My idea for football in 10 years is one where many more people are engaged in the sports.
Data is available at every level of the game (professional, semi-professional, youth and amateur). It allows for the discovery of amazing talent like Haaland, Mbape, Messi, Ronaldo, de Bruyne, etc.
The competition is elevated to unseen hights, the fan-engagement absorbing the fan during a game. Emotion and excitement dominate every event, the fans are closer to their heroes like never before.
Data and connectivity will make sports an even more exhilarating entertainment.
About Nikolay Tashev
Passionate football fan, inspired by advanced technologies turned his interests into his profession. Nikolay still feels the excitement when attending football matches which makes his work that much more enjoyable.