Footy Tech Nerds: 20 Years & A Pandemic
Updated: Mar 15
The job of an analyst at the elite level of sport is an enviable one. But as the saying goes, "it's not all beer and skittles".
Let’s take a look back and see how the job has evolved over the years. It's fair to say the footy technology landscape has changed a fair bit...
Not all of this is autobiographical – but all of it is true.
It’s late in the year 2000. We were supposed to have Hoverboards by now but all we’ve got is the Bombers nearly going undefeated for the season.
Every team has high hopes to knock them off the next year.
A Club gets ambitious and employs some kid out of uni – basically just to fix the printer and plug stuff in on match day.
This is where the revolution begins…
· Champion Data start collecting AFL stats. You’ve never heard of them, but they probably won’t be around for long.
· Land an interview at an AFL Club for a traineeship. Club happy because they don’t have to pay you.
· Turn up to the interview without any sleep after watching the World Cup Qualifier against Uruguay with friends down the pub overnight
· Somehow get the job anyway. This should be interesting…
· Arrive for your first day at work in your best black pants and Doc Martins. Realise everyone else in the footy department is wearing a tracksuit
· Get stuck in a dark room under the stairs when management realise you don’t have a desk. Or a computer.
· First task – transcribe player video interviews from the media department. BY HAND.
· Realise you can’t hear half of them properly. Microphones are overrated.
· Get asked to come and help kick balls back to the players during training. Look like a complete dickhead out on the oval in your suit pants.
· Hit by a footy in the first 5 minutes. $100 OPSM spectacles somehow survive
· Retreat back inside and complete the day. Quickly figure out everyone in the footy department finishes work at 3:30pm
· First game day: Spend most of the pre-match trying to find the dial-up connection in the coaches box, and the Telecom account details.
· Watch the 10 club statisticians madly scramble to figure out who is playing for the other team as they run through the banner. They misspell the debutant’s name and start the game with one extra.
· Look over at the coaches box and see your boss getting abused by the coach for no apparent reason.
· Watch someone kick out the powerboard gaffer-taped to the floor
· Team scores 100 points but loses. Don’t really care because the team you support played yesterday.
· First Coaches match review: Bring them fifteen bacon and egg rolls and eight chocolate milkshakes. Help them fix the projector when one of them melts their notebook by putting it in front of the lens
· Hear more swear words in the five minutes spent in there than the rest of your life combined. Apparently a few players can’t kick.
· Call the VFL game stats from a VHS tape copy. Cameraman misses the first five minutes of the second half while getting a burger at the Port Melbourne canteen.
· Use Al Pacino’s speech from Any Given Sunday in a motivational video. Fail to realise this won’t be the last time.
· Spend the rest of the year figuring out where everyone sits.
· Start the new season with high hopes after missing the finals. Combine full-time university with full-time work at the Club. Nearly die from exhaustion.
· Get paid less than the bootstudder.
· Sit next to the recruiters for the year. Quickly realise they have no idea about technology.
· Spend hours making VHS tape-to-tape copies of potential prospects.
· Make a mental note that Fergus Watts is destined to be a star. This recruiting caper is easy.
· Type emails for the Recruiting Manager. You can type faster than he can think.
· Fix the printer at least once a day for twelve months
· Witness the rise (and fall) of biomechanics. Try to synchronise four cheap Sony DV cameras and film goalkicking techniques.
· Improve the goalkicking of exactly zero players
· Coaches boxes now have 34cm TVs and a bar fridge
· Learn how to plug the yellow, red and white cables into the back of the telly so you can record onto your VHS machine
· Make a digital copy from the tape. Realise after two hours of recording that it didn’t work
· Make a deal with a backyard operation software company to finally give you every AFL game of the season
· Celebrate like it’s the moon landing, conveniently forgetting that most teams had been doing this for years
· Finish out of the eight again
· Positive about the chance of team success again, but you don’t get carried away. Coach is quoted saying that your team can win the flag. You don’t think so.
· Hopes dashed a little when your boss gets sacked. Not sure why.
· By default, earn a promotion. Get paid the same as last year.
· End up in charge of two teams’ technology needs. No extra resources. Or money.
· Before long, get in a fight with the VFL coach because he mistakenly thinks you’re his slave. First introduction to footy politics.
· Try your best to manage a fleet of laptops still running Windows 98, and a team of statisticians who would be lucky to see over the other side of the ground
· Watch the coach obliterate the phone in the coaches box. Take fifteen minutes trying to source a replacement. Lie to the MCC about how it was broken.
· Spend an entire year building an Excel database for the fitness guy that never gets used
· Conduct an experiment by not updating the database for a month to see if they notice. They don’t.
· Coach gets the sack, caretaker coach comes in and makes you work even harder.
· Fergus Watts plays 5 games
· Somehow still love footy
· Hopes lower than last year. Starting to get the hang of managing your own expectations.
· Spend an entire year just pressing play on videos for the coaches
· Forever be described as the guy who “does the stats”. Fail to realise this will never change for the rest of your career
· Behind the goal vision starts to gain momentum. Arrange to swap tapes with most teams. Exclude one team from the deal because your coach thinks the other coach is an absolute c#&t
· Your first introduction to electronic, magnetic match-up boards developed by a mad scientist who is good with computers. They are equal parts ahead of their time and completely bonkers.
· Collingwood buys one because they're loaded. Other clubs get jealous and follow suit.
· Get locked out of the ground when picking up the DVDs from the broadcast truck that no one ever uses
· Game vision still includes 30 seconds of commercials after a goal. Somehow that’s your fault.
· Fergus Watts doesn't play a game for the season.
· Fixtured to play a pre-season match in a poor country town. Film from the roof of the bowls club next door in 35 degree heat.
· Pretend the video didn’t work so you don’t have to share with the opposition. Both know you’re lying.
· Someone comes up with the idea of following your fat forward pocket at training with the video camera. They call it ISO Cam. Little do you realise how annoying this will be for many years to come.
· Some coaches boxes get the internet. Usually from the single most inconvenient spot they could choose.
· Budget for gaffer tape grows to $500 per year
· Team hits a flat spot. Show the Any Given Sunday speech to the playing group again.
· Get a call from a furious assistant coach - on New Year's Eve. He has just found out his work MacBook doesn't have a DVD drive anymore so his kids can watch movies on holidays. Somehow your fault for not telling him.
· Fergus Watts plays one game for St Kilda.
· Club invests six figures in Blackberry servers and devices. Rolls them out to staff literally the day the iPhone is released. Die a little inside.
· Get asked to do stats at training. Not sure why.
· Head coaching job applications now include a pretend match review, complete with video and a Powerpoint presentation.
· Every coach you’ve ever worked with asks you to help with their presentation
· Basically do the entire thing for them, then they take credit for it in the job interview.
· At least one of them slings you a slab of beer for the trouble. Disappointed when it’s Crown Lager.
· None of them get the job
· Still referred to as the “stats guy” or just “I.T”, even by your own family
· Fergus Watts delisted. Maybe not the star you thought he was. Concede that recruiting is tricky.
· Start work for a new club. People still call you the I.T guy.
· Spend your first game in the coaches box. Fuck up the video capture. Lie and blame the AFL.
· GPS units introduced to AFL football. One unit costs nearly as much as your yearly salary.
· The first test of the device at training: player runs 100m in 4.6 seconds. Map shows he ran down the Monash Freeway at the time.
· People now think you do the stats and the GPS.
· Spend more time filming ISO cam footage at training that no one ever uses.
· Introduce a new Athlete Management System – it is run by a guy who pretends to have fifteen staff when its just him and a 20 year-old programmer. Try and make it work.
· Doctors are disappointed that the system doesn’t take notes for them.
· Team wins three games. The end of year piss-up is more enjoyable than the actual season.
· Club finally makes the transition to MacBooks. You quickly realise no one knows how to use them.
· The coach asks you to ISO cam your worst player for an entire training session. No one watches it.
· Meetings are held in a portable classroom. Turning on the heater in winter causes the fuse to fly across the room.
· Conduct a pre-training meeting from the Victoria Park changeroom – the projector is balanced on top of a wheelie bin.
· Your captain sits on the extension cable and brings everything down. Sweat profusely while everyone stares at you while you fix it.
· Finish last
· Fergus Watts retires from footy and starts Bastion Group.
· Pre-season seems to go for six months. Everyone gets bored and asks you to do all sorts of useless projects.
· Film a pre-season game from the top of a scissor lift, without a licence to operate one. Workplace safety apparently overrated. Nearly get hit by a footy about four times a quarter.
· Get asked to make DVDs of player highlights for their parents. Sigh to yourself that in no other industry would you have to make a Best Of package of someone at work for their parents.
· The iPad is released – every staff member asks you for one. Most of them just want one so their kids can play Angry Birds.
· A whole bunch of coaches get the flick. Half of them refuse to return their computers. Spend two weeks chasing them all up.
· A large number of new staff arrive. Every single one of them wants to make a video, powerpoint presentation or invent a fancy spreadsheet. All of this involves you.
· All the new staff compare you to the analyst at their previous club.
· New coach steals all the IP from his previous team. One analyst spends three weeks converting everything to your club colours.
· Team is struggling. Crisis talks mid-season come up with the genius idea of doing stats at training again.
· The opposition leads by six goals at quarter time. Senior coach smashes a phone into fifteen pieces. Your job to replace it.
· Produce a 100th game milestone video for a full back who doesn't have any highlights. Cop shit for the song you chose.
· Get complaints about not having a colour printer in the coaches box. Tell them that you'd get a lot more complaints if you couldn't print after running out of Magenta by half time.
· Not surprisingly, miss the finals.
· Introduce Dropbox to the footy department. The coach thinks you invented it.
· Get left off the bus to the airport after the game because no one remembers you're still packing three Pelican-cases full of shit from the coaches box.
· Meanwhile, the coaches all happily file onto the bus without their computers, expecting you to hand-deliver them in a bunch like they're envelopes
· Finally get a behind goals camera at your training ground. Try to explain to the coaches that it won’t work very well in the rain. Or the cold. Or in the sun.
· Film some more ISO cam of non-compliant players that never gets used.
· Still get asked to fix the printer after all these years.
· Have your resignation letter ready if the coach you hate ends up with the senior job
· Just miss the eight after winning four games.
· You finally get to hire a decent analyst to help you out. Club wanted the I.T guy instead, who couldn’t draw you a football. Hold your ground.
· Spend about 10% of the year doing the things you actually enjoy
· Notch up the 100th time someone has asked for the Any Given Sunday speech to motivate the players
· Freak out when one of the first-year players synchronises his personal photos with the club Dropbox. Thankfully no one else sees him in a compromising position with his girlfriend.
· Start to think a shared Dropbox is a bad idea.
· Everyone now expects you to fix their iPhones and personal computers on work time
· Win two games. You thought last year was bad.
· The height of the Sports Software Boom: Take meetings with every tech company on the planet. All of them trying to sell you something for a fortune. Most of their products are shit.
· Major dramas with the coaches box technology. Resist the temptation to throw your analyst under the bus.
· An assistant coach asks you for the game vision before the match is even over.
· Finally get Wifi in the footy department. Get asked for the password at least eight times a day.
· Someone suggests we should develop an app so we can communicate with players. Point them to the Messages, Phone and WhatsApp icons on their iPhone home screen.
· Double your win tally from the previous year: four wins. Equal bottom.
· The AFL introduces the soft cap to stop the rich clubs from employing 100 coaches. The only thing it seems to effect is your workload and salary. Still lots of coaches.
· Switch to a new Athlete Management System. Fitness staff, coaches and doctors all still disappointed it doesn’t do their jobs for them.
· Team not performing very well. Coaches desperately showing Youtube videos of Lebron James, Tom Brady and Tiger Woods to the players as inspiration.
· Teach them how to get the videos onto their computer. Again.
· Wifi struggles a bit in the meeting room. Your fault.
· Win seven games. Have a cracking year doing your job, but no one noticed because the team is still shit.
· Fergus Watts’ company Bastion Group changes its name to Bastion Collective and expands into the UK.
· Interchange benches start to have more tech than Silicon Valley. Someone wants a printer down there for no apparent reason.
· Big push to have three screens down on the bench to display messages and information. Coaches forget speaking English isn’t banned on game day.
· Your analyst is stolen by the coaches to do opposition analysis. Basically never see him again.
· Clubs agree to share their GPS match data with the AFL, only to have it sold back to them for more than the cost of a staff member.
· Win ten games. THERE IS HOPE.
· Bastion gives its staff unlimited leave. You get a six week window each year to take a holiday.
· Coach goes overseas to visit a couple of NFL teams. Returns with only two take-aways: every training session needs a clock and gangster music. Both are your responsibility, presumably because they plug into something.
· Start using drones to film training. Coaches expect them to be able to fly for 2 hours straight.
· Get mad at the players for trying to kick a footy at the drone. They don’t listen.
· The trainee flies the drone into a tree. Realise the irony when everyone starts kicking footballs at it to get it down.
· AFL introduces phone use restrictions on game day. Completely ignores the 25 MacBooks and 8 iPads around the coaches box and interchange bench.
· Thankfully land on the approved list to use your phone on game day. Only problem is none of your staff are on the list.
· Every injured player, executive staff member and corporate partner wants to sit in the coaches box on the same day. You find out 5 minutes before the bounce.
· Think of holding a Tribal Council to determine who leaves.
· Miss the eight by 0.5%.
· Training and match review moves offsite as a “circuit-breaker”. Cart your whole kit to the new venue in your 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer at 6am
· Field several complaints when the new venue isn’t as good as your own facility that is currently sitting vacant
· The footy data revolution continues: all staff become obsessed with building dashboards. They have no idea why they want them, but it’s now your job to make them.
· Coaches furious that the drones can’t fly in the rain.
· Bastion Collective becomes the largest independent marketing and communications group in Australia. You still get paid the same as four years ago.
· Quickly realise you’re in the wrong industry if money is important to you.
· Make the finals. Footy is finally fun at least.
· Optimism high for the year. Everything falling into place.
· Pre-season training sessions ramp up - The squad of 45 somehow splits into 39 groups and you’re expected to film all of them.
· The two analysts do their best to film training, plus Gavin from accounts – he’s helping out apparently.
· Gavin’s footage looks like it’s filmed during an earthquake.
· The AFL introduces electronic screens for the interchange benches. You have to somehow sell the concept to the coaching group. To say it doesn’t go down well is an understatement.
· Screens get returned after the first pre-season game: they weigh eight kilos and can’t be seen in the sun.
· Spend two days putting a funny video together for the players at the request of the coach. The payoff is a 5 second hearty chuckle.
· The coaches box looks like an Apple Store.
· Miss the eight again.
· Bastion plans to invest $11M in acquisitions.
· COVID-19 shuts down the season for months. Budget cuts and job losses are savage.
· Get paid half as much to do three different jobs.
· Most experienced tech guys at club-land become too expensive to keep and get shown the door. Every other department leans on the experts in their field.
· The Club believes anyone who knows how to plug stuff in can do footy tech, practically for free.
· Chuck from the IT department is brought in to help on the bench match-day, even though he can't draw you a football. Explain to him what a Centre Bounce is.
· Move to a hub in Queensland for three months.
· Players who are paid nearly seven figures a year expect you to share your NBA GamePass login, Netflix password and fix their internet. Daily.
· Apply for a role at Bastion.
· Cancel culture comes for your sports tech internship program. The social justice warriors see a two-page ad and decide the Club is into slavery.
· Footy journalists jump on the story. None of them approach it impartially.
· Raise the bat after your 100th Covid test. You've got more chance of dying in a car crash on the way there than having Covid.
· The team has high hopes for the season. You're confident of finishing in the Top 16 at least.
· The comp returns to a 22 Round season. Try and find the energy to go around again.
· Die a little inside when the coaches come up with the brilliant idea of using The Last Dance as motivation before the team runs out for Round 1...