What is a Football Hackathon?

What is a football hackathon?

Football and computer coding. What could these two have in common? Well as it turns out, football hackathons are increasingly popular and also leading to the development of new innovative solutions that could be the future of football.

Based on the popularity of the business hackathon events where people from diverse backgrounds get together to solve complex problems, football hackathons are now being hosted online and in-person around the world.

Football hackathons are growing in popularity as football clubs realise that innovation is there to be had through collective participation of fans. Real life problems for teams are sorted out at hackathons as technology meets the beautiful game. 

Unveiling the Football Hackathon Phenomenon

The name itself is a combination of the words “hack” and “marathon”. Originally hackathons emerged in the tech sector where software developers and programmers worked on projects collectively over a short period to come up with new ideas. This has spread into the footballing world as there has been a convergence over the last decade of sports and technology.

A football hackathon is a programming event where developers compete against each other to complete a task within a specified time. They solve an issue or problem developing an initial prototype, proof of concept or initial design that can be developed further. The events often develop a huge interest from tech companies, other clubs and venture capitalists all looking for the latest technology that they can develop.

Football clubs have realised the value in hosting football hackathons. The opportunity to host an event where they can attract developers, analysts and fans who will bring their vast skills to develop innovative solutions can be priceless. Fans value the opportunity to work directly with clubs, datasets and collaborate with key individuals with the organisations running the hackathon. 

For football clubs there is priceless innovation developed by fanatics who are often happy to give up their time in order to win sport and / or monetary related prizes. 

These events allow people to take risks they would otherwise not be able to perform in their day to day output and they can test some progressive ideas. An added appeal for many developers, analysts and programmers is the opportunity to work with world class, usually classified data sets from the world’s biggest football clubs.

As technology has progressed these events have become even more inclusive. Some are now totally online events which allow worldwide collaboration and remove the need for people to travel to in-person events. People no longer need to be present in person, instead they can organise and network through their computers. 

Organising events online opens up the opportunity for those who cannot afford to attend an in- person event and increases the number of people who can participate in the event. 

Although hackathons are in the interest of the clubs and organisers they do help people progress and share skills. For example, Sevilla hosted a hackathon with Indian club Bengaluru United based in India representing how truly global a hackathon can be. 

The Anatomy of a Football Hackathon

Hackathons are extremely competitive, even to get into. Hundreds of applicants from all over the world apply to get involved and those lucky enough will then be able to try to win a prize. The theme of the challenge will be communicated to participants. This can be from a diverse range of subjects such as performance analysis tools to help coaches all the way through to schemes to improve fan experiences.

Most often these will be done in a team format. These can be setup before the event or at the start of it. On top of this collaborative effort there is also the chance of extending learning by mentorship and discussions with experts who will be in attendance too.

Once the Hackathon starts everyone will be working against the clock as they will have such a short amount of time to produce their output. They will work together on ideas, develop and troubleshoot then at the end they will have to show the value of their work by presenting it to the judges. Those who are successful can win prizes and have their ideas more fully developed or even implemented by clubs.

Impact and Success Stories

Manchester City were the first Premier League side to host a hackathon. To show the impact of even this introductory event the outcome saw the winning team develop a machine learning algorithm that helped make in-game decisions. This was used to help improve the first team’s performances. Since then the club has become one of the most technologically advanced football clubs with a lot of in-house analysis. The team wants to be the best on and off the pitch, in both their mens and womens teams.

Chelsea FC have also held hackathons to help solve problems. One example is that the club wanted to use the expertise present at a hackathon to work on their concerns for fan engagement during their proposed stadium renovations. At the time the event proposed to “proactively discover solutions” to how to solve atmosphere and/ or attendance issues at the temporary home of Wembley and then creating a great feeling in their new state-of-the-art 60,000+ seater stadium that would replace the old Stamford Bridge. These plans have not gone ahead with the stadium overhaul postponed, but it is fascinating to see the way the team were planning to use a hackathon to proactively solve potential issues.

Future of Football Hackathons

The brilliance of hackathons is that it brings an almost unlimited potential to football. As technology emerges these events will ensure that the sport is kept up to date with the latest developments by keen fans.

One way that is likely to develop in the future will be AI and football. At the moment Artificial Intelligence uses are still in their first stages and there is still so much to explore in its abilities to help players. Teams have a huge bank of information and will want to automise as much of it as possible. The sheer volume of data means that it is hard for a human to preemptively act on output, but a hackathon may see a team put together a system that could help analyse in-game player performances so that managers can make numbers based decisions.

There is also likely to be an integration of VR, augmented reality and analysis. We are seeing the emergence of in-game augmented reality overlays so that fans can enjoy the game more, but this may also be coupled up with other technologies to flag performance markers on players for coaches. A VR headset may allow coaches to examine player attributes to see if they are playing well and can make tactical changes accordingly. This could also aid in player scouting as those assessing players will be able to gather in-game data and look at their targets without having to leave their offices.

One of the biggest problems facing fans coming to see their teams is fake tickets. But a hackathon may be able to find a way to cleverly utilise blockchain technology for football game tickets that would put scalpers out of business. This would add security for resale and remove the need for excess people in the supply chain reducing labour costs.

As these projects grow teams will have to add extra layers of security to make sure player data is safe. The way clubs collect stats now means that a data breach could release private medical records of players.

Hackathons are becoming more and more popular. Technology’s affordability makes football even more accessible and cheap processing abilities mean that there can be even more inclusivity on these projects. These events allow you to learn quickly in a great atmosphere and so if you are interested in technology and football, a hackathon would be a great experience. As a business they are a clever way to get enthusiasts to help you with innovation for low costs

Hackathons are having an emerging influence on the game and are a way to allow fans to contribute to their teams successes through creative programming. These events have already had a huge impact on teams and as more people learn about hackathons and they are further encompassed in the footballing sphere then they will increase ingenuity and creativity at clubs.

If this is something that appeals to you it may be fun to get involved with a hackathon in the near future. Teams regularly post about them and you could be lucky enough to make the cut!


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