DU Startup Hopes to Usher Analytics Revolution to Soccer
Faculty and alumnus team up to create soccer data company
How do you mix the free-flowing nature of soccer with analytics to drive improved performance? Well, a Daniels faculty member and recent alumnus are trying to do just that by bringing data to the “beautiful game.”
Ryan Elmore, an associate professor in the Department of Business Information and Analytics (BIA), has teamed up with recent graduate Will Palmquist to launch First Team Analytics, an early-stage soccer data startup. The duo first connected while Palmquist (BS 2020, MS 2021) was an undergrad at Daniels, majoring in BIA and finance, and again while Palmquist received his master’s in finance in 2021.
They’ve now launched into this new business venture as Palmquist chases his professional soccer dreams with the Richmond Kickers, a club in USL League One. Palmquist’s soccer career was a major influence in launching First Team.
While he was playing goalkeeper for the University of Denver’s men’s soccer team, Palmquist was given post-match reports that were curated by Wyscout, a global company that does scouting for Division I men’s soccer programs. While the reports provided some tactical information, Palmquist thought they could be optimized even further.
“Can we build something that makes the scouting process easier to look for tendencies in the other team?” Palmquist recently said about the motivation for First Team.
For the past year, he and Elmore have worked to do that, combining Wyscout’s data with an intuitive dashboard to improve soccer scouting and strategy. The two began by building and trialing the company’s data dashboard with the University’s men’s soccer team this past fall.
The initial application melds the standard match statistics like shots, possession and passes, with deeper analysis into expected goals (which tracks the likelihood of a shot to score), passes to the final third of the field and expected threat. The aim is to provide a usable dashboard that delivers crucial scouting insights in a flash, reducing the need to comb through hours of film to learn a team’s tendencies and preferences.
In working with the men’s soccer team on campus, Palmquist and Elmore said they have learned a lot from how First Team’s dashboard was used.
“We didn’t want to open this to everybody; this was going to be a learning experience for both of us,” Elmore said. “We wanted to see what coaches value and get that feedback.”
Now, with that feedback incorporated, the duo hopes to expand First Team to more college soccer teams and, eventually, the professional ranks.
In the meantime, First Team launched a World Cup-focused dashboard that gives users a peek into the company’s proprietary analytics offering. The app provided detailed match reports for every World Cup result, showing the highs and lows of each game in the expected threat trend chart.
While other sports like baseball and basketball have embraced the benefits of analytics, soccer has been a little slower to adopt.
Palmquist said it’s a lot harder to quantify soccer because of the free-flowing nature of the sport, and that even the best data may not translate to the pitch. With that barrier, First Team is prepared for slower adoption of its product, but hopes that it can prove the benefits of statistical analysis in the global game.
“You have to be able to convey an edge that data analytics is giving you and that’s the bridge that’s starting to be crossed,” Palmquist said.
For a real data revolution to strike, Elmore said it will take complete adoption from major soccer organizations.
“It really takes the GM or the owners of the team to say, not only are we going to look at these analytics, but we’re going to use these insights from the top of our organization throughout every layer,” he said. “Then, you will really see the buy-in.”