Arsenal IT Director Christelle Heikkila explains the role of data in football

© Acronis

Arsenal FC is one of the most successful teams in the English football history, but for IT Director Christelle Heikkila, success is judged by much more than what happens on the pitch.

"We're much more than just a football club," Heikkila tells CIO UK from the Emirates Stadium in Islington, where cybersecurity firm Acronis is hosting an event for its partners and customers. "We have a very successful charity, we're a multichannel retailer with three shops that are incredibly busy on a match day and a website selling merchandise to fans across the world, we have a partnerships team, and a dedicated CRM team. It's incredibly diverse, and technology touches all of those functions and all of those departments."

That variety was a big part of what attracted Heikkila to Arsenal in July 2018, when she replaced CIO 100 regular Hywel Sloman, who was promoted to the position of Operations Director. Sloman had been IT Director when the club when it made its most significant tech acquisition: the £2.165 million purchase of StatDNA, a US-based football data analytics company.

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English football clubs had been slower to embrace data than American sports teams, in part because the game has more ambiguous parameters than the likes of baseball, and many coaching teams have proven sceptical about the impact of IT. In recent years, however, that attitude has shifted, as data-driven decisions have proven their value over choices based on personal experience and human judgment.

"The players, their coaching staff, the people looking after the fitness, the medical team, they're all very interested in how they can use technology to further Arsenal," says Heikkila.

Heikkila adds that their support is contingent on their being assured about the tech's security, as the club stores a vast quantity of sensitive information. This includes over eight terabytes of video of every first-time and academy training session recorded at Arsenal's training ground in London Colney, a village in Hertfordshire.