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Gold Coast Titans’ Data Exec Tackles Sporting Insights Challenges

Ahead of CDAO Brisbane, Chris Knell, Gold Coast Titans’ Head of Consumer and Club Data shares his thoughts on the current data and analytics challenges in the sporting world with Corinium’s Vanessa Jalleh


Most industries and organisations face a myriad of challenges when it comes to delivering excellent results in data and analytics. For the sporting sector, capability is one of the hurdles data and analytics leaders are striving to overcome.

Chris Knell, who serves as Head of Consumer and Club Data for the Queensland based rugby league football club, Gold Coast Titans, says the scale of the individual clubs plays a role here.

“In the sphere of mainstream professional sports like the NRL and AFL, most clubs are small/medium size enterprises and so don’t have the capacity to vertically integrate.  This creates an environment where third parties must fulfil critical aspects of their operations, like ticketing and participation,” he says. 

“The downstream implications of this have traditionally been a very fragmented data environment, with many disparate sources that are difficult to align.”

More Opportunities to Be Tapped

Knell says it is fair to say that the sports industry has been slow to react to the challenges presented, therefore missing out on the opportunities considering the proliferation of technology that has been presented to businesses, especially within administrations. 

In fact, he notes that it has been the athletic parts of the business that have been better at parlaying data into performance. 

“We’ve all seen how statistics driven sport is, but this extends far beyond the half time and full-time summaries we see.  These days, players wear GPS monitors that capture hundreds of data points and coaches scrutinise games and develop game plans to the nth degree, and it’s all based on data,” he says.

“Up until recently it’s been my observation that data was a bit of an afterthought.  Businesses have failed to recognise the opportunity – and of late, the risks – that the data they have accumulated represents. 

“This isn’t a criticism; it’s just been the way that the industry has evolved.  When I started, there was never any consideration of the need for data professionals.  The data function within our business fell to me because, in my capacity as the Head of Consumer, I was exposed to data more than anyone.”

The other key challenge has been the need to pioneer data management in the context of the industry. 

“I’ve lost count of the number of times a vendor has approached me about new technology that claims itself as the panacea to all our woes or the league has set about standardising data management.  It’s taken many false starts to understand what works and what doesn’t.  We’ve really been operating without a user manual or any real precedent, we’ve had to build it from the ground up,” Knell says.

Knell says his answer above would not be complete without a reference to governance. 

“Even though I consider our club to be one of the more progressive when it comes to data management, we’ve barely scratched the surface on the governance piece,” he says.

“It’s a major priority for us.”



Centralising Data

The need to centralise data set in place a kaleidoscopic change for Knell and his team.

Though the gap between data literate and data illiterate organisations is still vast, Knell highlights that businesses who have made investments in this space (in systems, people, and cultural change) are beginning to show returns on this and it is not going unnoticed.

“In our business, this started with one simple concept – the need for us to centralise all our data,” he says.

“As mentioned earlier, the fragmented data environment spawned from the traditional way of conducting business made it virtually impossible for us generate any commercial return or derive any meaningful insights to drive strategy.

“The process started in 2016 when we changed one of our operating systems. This was consolidated in 2019 with the introduction of our data warehouse, learning to write and interpret SQL, and produce dynamic BI reports. Marketing automation was also a major driver of the benefits we started to see from all the foundational work to ‘get the plumbing right’.”

Culture Shifts

Organisational culture is key to managing the challenges.

“It’s something that we are doing well, but by no means is it something we would yet consider to be entrenched,” Knell says.

“In my experience, outside of us having committed ourselves to centralising all our data, it’s been the micro projects that we have been able to stand up and show wins from - either as a commercial return, unearthing a key insight or improving efficiency - that have piqued the interest of other areas of the business and been the catalyst for the start of their journey.

“We are very fortunate to have an incredibly supportive CEO, who believed in the vision we presented and helped us convince our board to make the initial investments we needed to get things moving.”

Data Breaches

No conversation around data and analytics problem-solving is complete without mentioning the subject of data breaches.

“I can’t go past the major data breaches we have seen recently,” Knell says.

“We’ve been able to build a framework that is delivering value to our business yes, but in so doing we’re creating an ever-increasing reliance on our data that demands proper governance.

“This extends beyond the security of our systems – a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Proper data management policies that help educate employees – especially those exposed to data but for whom data management is not a skill – need to be prioritised.”


Chris Knell will be speaking at CDAO Brisbane on February 27th and 28th, 2024 at the Brisbane Hilton. Join him and many other data and analytics leaders to learn about the latest trends and opportunities in the industry. Register here to attend.