ZONE14: Football data startup that cooperates with Austria Vienna and Wiener Sportklub

The Viennese startup zone14 wants to bring video analysis and statistics like in the Champions League to Austria's soccer fields. And since its young existence, it already has well-known partners.

Perhaps some football fans can remember "legendary" football discussions on TV, when veteran ex-footballers and coaches of the time philosophized about why Austria's football was so unsuccessful. Some of the "old guard" accused the young players of playing too much on the Playstation and no longer spending time outside climbing trees. One former coach even said that "tactics are overrated" and the expression "laptop coach" became a slur. Today, however, it is precisely those data fetishists like Jürgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola or even Thomas Tuchel who are shaping football. Simon Schmiderer, the founder of zone14, is well aware of this.

Less gut feeling, more data

"It's changing. The older generation, who identify more as 'gut instinct coaches,' don't want to deal with modern analysis. But even they have young and innovative assistants on the team," Schmiderer says. "The younger generation of coaches, on the other hand, is very different. They want to work with data. You notice that even down to the lower leagues. After all, they see their role models sitting on the bench in the Champions League with a laptop."

Together with Lukas Grömer and Tobias Gahleitner, the Technikum Wien graduate had the idea for zone14 - part of the Entrepreneurship Initiative of the FH Technikum - back in 2019. Two years later, they founded a startup that has developed a video system with Al algorithms for football clubs. Their goal is bringing the democratization of match and video analysis in football.

Zone14 founder relies on automation

"With zone14, we want to build a brand that stands for innovative and uncomplicated video and data analysis. After all, coaches often sacrifice parts of their free time for it - so it's only fair to have a tool in hand with which analyses are possible without much extra effort," explains Simon. "Until now, 'event' and performance data of players was often tracked by hand. 'Alaba to Casemiro, long pass to Ronaldo. He crosses. We thought to ourselves that it must be possible to automate this."

So the team turned to AI and computer vision to develop algorithms. But then ran into a complication relatively quickly. There was no video footage available for lower leagues. "That meant for us, before we build the algorithm, we first have to develop a camera system," Schmiderer continued. "Our goal was for clubs to have access to professional video that they could process quickly. Many coaches in the lower leagues do their job part-time and don't have the time to sift through the recorded footage for important scenes, post-process and edit. That was the big 'pain point' we had to resolve."

4k Plug&Play camera system for football

While the startup was still in the AWS First Incubator, an easy-to-mount 4k plug-and-play camera system was developed. The recorded videos are then uploaded directly to a cloud via the zone14 box. There, the videos are processed and the trainer can analyze games and units online. The cameras are connected to the box via a LAN cable, and the box to the Internet via the club's W-LAN. Alternatively, tzone14 can also provide a mobile network connection.

(c) ZONE14- The AI of zone14 will soon automatically recognize players even in confused game situations like corner kicks or scrambles in the penalty area.

The system also allows coaches to 'tag' and mark chances, actions, throw-ins or corner kicks "live" right during the game. Tagged scenes can then be organized into playlists and then shared with the team or fans. In the future, important game situations such as goals, free kicks and corner kicks, as well as players, will be automatically recognized and "tagged" by artificial intelligence.

Austria Vienna and Wiener Sportklub

In developing the software, the startup worked with six partner clubs - district league club SV Freistädter Bier, Union Neumarkt from the 2nd class league in Upper Austria, and USC Markersdorf and TSU Hafnerbach from the 1st and 2nd classes in Lower Austria, as well as a regional league club Wiener Sportklub and a Bundesliga club Austria Vienna. Of course, the Violets have their own camera system using which zone14 helps to track and visualize various data of the players.

"We see ourselves as a 'provider' for all clubs. Also for those that play a little further down the league pyramid, in youth or also in women's soccer. There's a lot of potential there. We see that people want to work more professionally," explains Schmiderer.

A lot of potential from zone14

The founder knows that his system is also applicable to other areas, to other team sports for example, but also in retail or other industries. "We have decided against it at the moment, however, but have spoken with the people in charge at Schönbrunn palace, for example. We could be used to find out how the animals travel in the cage," Schmiderer continues.

However, zone14's next goals include collecting feedback once after the launch on September 13, 2021 working on updates and features, improving player recognition in parallel, having the first running data of players ready by the end of the year, visualizing "heat maps" and spatial control and, in the long term, supporting Austrian football in digitalization.

Schmiderer concludes, "We don't see ourselves as Robin Hoods now, but narrowing the gap between the big players in football and the grassroots - the amateur clubs - is a vision that drives us massively."

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