Episode 11: How to Make Your Sports Viz Appeal to a Wider Audience - Featured Data Viz by Ben Matheson

Ben Matheson. Image via his Twitter.

Ben Matheson. Image via his Twitter.


Welcome to episode 11 of Data Viz Today. How can you make your sports viz appeal to a wider audience to include those passively interested in your sport? Host Alli Torban dives into specific ways to pull out the strategy and nuance of your sports data. Featured viz by Ben Matheson models how to appeal to a wide audience by visualizing the strategy behind the run/rest decisions of Iditarod mushers.

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Google PodcastsStitcher, SoundCloud & Spotify.

"A Debt That Must Be Paid" By Ben Matheson. Image via his website.

  • Welcome! I'm Alli Torban.

  • 00:30 - Today I’m diving into the question “How can you make sports data viz appeal to a wider audience?”

  • 01:00 - If you’re interested in occasionally drawing in the passive sports fan into your viz, this episode is for you!

  • 01:14  Today’s featured viz is called “A Debt that Must be Paid” by Ben Matheson

  • 01:45 - Ben Matheson works on freelance data and web projects in Anchorage, Alaska. He also was a trail reporter for the 2017 Iditarod where he followed and interviewed the teams. He also helped create the super cool podcast called Iditapod.

  • 02:15 - Ben wanted to answer the question, “What’s the strategy behind each musher’s decisions to run/rest their dogs?”

  • 02:55 - He got the data from the Iditarod’s website.

  • 03:10 - He used R and DPLYR set of functions to clean the date formats.

  • 03:25 - He wanted a barcode-like style of visualization to show each musher’s run/rest strategy.

  • 03:48 - Tools used: d3.js and scrollmagic.js

  • 04:00 - Describing viz

  • 05:10 - Why is this so interesting? Ben was able to tap into a strategic component of his sport.

  • 05:25 - How can we recreate this? Thinking from the sports novice perspective, I’m interested in the representation of the moment-to-moment strategy and the nuance of a particular move.

  • 06:30 - Strategy and nuance!

  • 07:10 - For my inspired viz, I thought of stop/start or on/off things or one-time decisions that happen in different sports.

  • 07:20 - This made me think of the castling move in chess.

  • 08:05 - This one-time move is the perfect instance of showing strategy and nuance in sports.

  • 08:20 - PGN files for chess notations

  • 08:30 - Download PGN files from soooo many matches!

  • 09:00 - I used beeswarm plots in R to show the distribution of when players tend to castle and to which side during the 80th Tata Steel Chess Tournament. Did some edits/annotations in Illustrator.

"Majority of Chess Players in the Tata Steel Masters 2018 Tournament Castled Before Their 10th Move" by Alli Torban

  • 10:05 - Final takeaway: If you want your sports viz to appeal to a wider audience, then focus on how you can visualize strategy and nuance. Think about start/stop, on/off, or one-time decisions during a match.

  • 10:25 - Ben’s advice to designers just starting out: “Don’t let anyone psych you out about the learning curve a specific technology or technique. Everything that’s worth learning is a bit of a pain and requires repetition to build up skills. That was the case for me and D3, I kept pushing it off until recently because I had assumed that it was as difficult as some described. But  If you break things down into really small pieces, you can see for yourself what it’s all about. And if you combine that with a project you’re really interested in (like iditarod) and want to build, you’ve got the recipe for the perseverance to get over those initial humps and really push your skills.”

  • 11:10 - Check out Ben’s website and follow him on Twitter @BenMatheson

  • 11:30 - Nominate a data viz to be featured on the show!