THE victory of Bradley Wiggins and the expertly assembled Sky cycling team in the Tour de France could be a model for success in many arenas, according to a University of Huddersfield professor who is pioneering the use of operations management theory in the field of sport.
When his ideas are adopted, the results could be better-managed stadiums and competitions, providing a more rewarding experience for larger numbers of fans, cheering on teams and players performing to the peak of their ability and in addition, greater profitability for clubs.
And the selection of players would be based on statistical evidence rather than gut feeling by coaches and managers, says David Bamford, who is Professor of Operations Management at the University's Business School.
"The idea would be to move away from the cult of personality and more towards what the Sky cycling team did. They identified the athletes they needed on the basis of their podium potential. You identify that by using performance metrics."
And this use of key performance indicators is taken straight from operations management theory, which is Professor Bamford's area of expertise. The winner of many awards for his research projects, he began to realise that his theories could be applied to the sports world after being invited by the the World Academy of Sport in to provide training in statistics to directors of Tour de France cycle teams.
Now, with research assistant, Benjamin Dehe and Jim Bamford, a University of Huddersfield lecturer who is also an operations management expert, he has formed a research group at the University of Huddersfield and one of its key aims is to develop a role in sports operations management.
Already, in addition to the link with the World Academy of Sport, Professor Bamford and his team have been working with partners in rugby league, cricket, netball, karate, and snowboarding .
One area they will be examining is the management of stadiums, so that the best use can be made of sporting infrastructure.
Part of his aim is to ensure that sports clubs get a better return on their investment in facilities. But fans too will benefit, if operations management techniques are used to boost playing standards, providing a more rewarding spectacle.
"There is a direct correlation between what happens on the pitch and the users' experience. So the next stage is to see how we can use numbers, metrics and business analysis to improve the on-field performance. This should create a virtuous circle of improvement."
Professor Bamford does not believe that his theories will rob sport of its romance.
"The passion that players and athletes put into their sport can never be broken down into just dry statistics. The reason fans watch sporting events is for the very unpredictability of the outcome and the emotion and beauty of the physical performance. Operations management can aid the athlete and players by ensuring they are at the right place, with the right kit at the right time to turn in a winning performance. We can ensure, by design, that the little details that could distract from a peak performance are minimised. Operations management has the potential to increase the satisfaction of the spectators even further," said Professor Bamford.
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