Opta Conference 2016 (Find me a player like Andrés Iniesta: Part 2)

This post is late. Really late. I’d intended to write up my 2016 Opta Forum presentation back in February when the conference happened, but somehow never got around to it. Now that applications are open for 2017, it’s definitely time to get this piece out.

For anyone unfamiliar with Opta’s Analytics Forum, it’s a chance for people in the public football stats community to pitch an idea to Opta, get access to detailed football data and then present their analysis back to an audience of analysts and coaches from professional clubs. It’s also a chance for a globally scattered group of football analysts who normally only talk on Twitter, to catch up in person and have a beer. It’s great.

(That wasn’t me, it was Dean Oliver’s fantastic keynote)

For 2016, I submitted an idea that built on my post ‘Find me a player like Andrés Iniesta‘. I wanted to show how the model in that post could be developed further, into an interactive tool for finding and comparing players. Opta gave the green light and suggested that it should be a ‘poster’, presented interactively during breakout sessions, rather than more formally, on slides at the front of the auditorium. This was ideal for what I’d proposed as the whole idea was to create an interactive tool and be able to use it live to answer questions from the audience.

If you’re thinking of applying to the next forum and would like to read my proposal from last year, it’s here. You have a couple of weeks left before the deadline for 2017. I should note that submissions are anonymous and so Ryan – who runs the event – removed references in my proposal to the Iniesta post, as I suspected he might!

Proposal accepted, I got to work building the new player recruitment tool and designing the collateral I’d need to help explain it. Opta’s brief called for two large printed posters to be designed, alongside anything I wanted to bring on a laptop.

Before arriving at the forum, I’d had no idea that ‘poster presentations’ are a well-known format in the academic world. They’re a bit like a grown-up science fair, where you write up – in some detail – your methodology and results on posters and stand ready to present to visitors dropping by your table.

I left academia with a BSc in 1999 and had never heard of a poster presentation. I also work in marketing. In marketing, we do advertising posters…

On to the event and I had a table in the fantastic auditorium at Birbeck University, with a screen set up alongside the two printed posters that I’d submitted ahead of the event. Plug in my laptop and we were in business.

The tool itself is best seen as a live demo, so here’s a video of it in action. Turn your sound on, because I’m narrating! At each break between presentations, I manned my table and spoke to the conference delegates as they came by to ask questions.

Can you access this new version of the tool publicly? Unfortunately not, as the data doesn’t belong to me. It does exist and continues to be refreshed and developed as a live updated project though.

Can we talk about how I did it and how you might be able to get access to the tool, or build something like it? Of course we can. Feel free to contact me.


At the event, it got quite busy…


Presenting to a small crowd at the event was great, but also a challenge. A few thoughts in case you’re asked to do the same…

I was happy that my posters were basically adverts that didn’t tell you much about how the tool works. You can’t get many people in front of a poster to actually read it and my tool was all about the demo on the screen. I thought they made the stall look interesting and approachable and was happy with that.

I’d printed some one page summaries of the tool and left them on the table. It was something of an afterthought, but I was hugely glad I did this. At the event, when you’re 2/3 of the way through a demo with one person, shouting a bit so others can hear, and more people arrive who didn’t see the start, having a summary on the table that they could pick up, was a big help.

I’d have put more methodology and explanation into the one-pagers and turned them into mini brochures if I’d realised how useful they were going to be. Several people saw a small crowd, took a one-pager and wandered off again. I’d like to have given those people a bit more to take away.


The day finished with some more conversations with club analysts and then an evening in the pub, which is how any respectable conference should end. I had a great time, and selected to present or not, really hope to be there again in 2017.

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