Postcard from Brazil: applying data analytics to Brazilian soccer clubs

By Christopher Maringka

When I told my business mentor that I was looking for a unique opportunity that aligned well with my studies, he said, “Why don’t you go abroad then?” Before I could answer him, he told me about the Mitacs Globalink Research Award — it didn’t take long before I was infatuated with the idea.

After learning about the award, I reached out to my professors at SFU to identify potential supervisors and was eventually connected to Dr. Daniela Blettner. Through our discussions, she agreed to introduce me to Prof. Moises Ari Zilber, her colleague in Brazil, and the three of us agreed to develop my proposed study: research of data analytics to increase the performance of Brazilian soccer clubs.

In the study, we were interested to see if a team that has successfully adopted data analytics has shown better results in both on-field performance and financial management. The metric used in the field performance study was a soccer club’s maintenance of long-term positive results in the long run. For the financial component, we measured the capability of a soccer club to increase profit outside of player sales on a yearly basis.

Once I arrived in São Paulo, I was responsible for establishing contacts within major soccer clubs in Brazil and conducting interviews. Prof. Wilson Nakamura, Prof. Zilber’s colleague, helped me a lot on this and through him, I quickly made contact with major soccer clubs, such as Palmeiras, São Paulo FC, Santos FC, and Botafogo FR.

Our interview sessions were a bit challenging, especially since not all of the sources can speak English and I only speak Portuguese “mais ou menos.”  But I was lucky that my interviewees allowed our conversations to be recorded, and each of us came prepared with Google Translate and interview sheets available in both languages.

The research revealed that both external and internal factors played important roles in the implementation of data analytics in soccer clubs: both frequent organizational restructuring and a weakening national economy have increased the difficulty of realizing long-term projects using data analytics.

With that in mind, several soccer clubs have implemented their own strategies to bring these types of projects to fruition, and we have noticed a positive trend in terms of soccer clubs’ interest in adopting management practices that professionalize their organizations and make them responsive to internal and external environments.

I am very grateful for the opportunity from Mitacs to have a taste of academic research in such a unique industry. This project has given me many skills, as well as experience that I believe will help me be a good business analyst. Furthermore, my supervisor Dr. Blettner and I are interested in further developing our research through a subsequent similar project.

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia for their support of the Globalink Research Award program in this story. Across Canada, the Globalink program also receives support from Alberta Innovates,  the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba. 

In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with international partners to support this award, including Campus France and Inria, India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord.

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