BreakAway: Empowering athletes with their data

BreakAway was founded in 2020 by former NFL Wide Receiver Dave Anderson and ex-US Marine and NFL Coach Steve Gera

BreakAway was founded in 2020 by former NFL Wide Receiver Dave Anderson and ex-US Marine and NFL Coach Steve Gera

AJAX Head of Science and Data Vosse de Boode has described it as “a big wave” and warned “you need to start peddling now, like a surfer, because if you don’t, you are going to be smashed.”

The wave is the right of players to access and control their own data. The catalyst was the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which gives every individual rights over their own personal data.

This has massive implications for football, because of the huge amount of data being collected by clubs, federations and providers - and the fact that they haven’t been systematically sharing it with players.

“It’s not culturally normal for clubs to systematically and consistently share data with players,” explains Ben Smith, the Head of International Business for BreakAway Data.

“Generally, players are given information when a club wants them to do something, meaning they have curated exposure to what’s going on. The idea that it will stay this way for the next five years seems highly unlikely to me.

"In a worse-case scenario, you will get players who are frustrated and annoyed that their clubs aren’t sharing and engaging with them and will potentially look for legal avenues to change that.

Ben Smith will be speaking at TGG Live on October 9th & 10th on behalf of BreakAway Data. To find out more and to buy tickets, click the button below.


That’s not helpful in a high-performance environment, where you want settled, aligned and focused individuals.”

BreakAway was founded in 2020 by former NFL Wide Receiver Dave Anderson and ex-US Marine and NFL Coach Steve Gera, who had seen this big wave coming. They created an app that stores data for the player - the licence holder - and acts as their “career passport”.

In Smith's words, the BreakAway app acts “as a data controller for the player." They are then able to visualise and analyse their data within the app, or export it for use in other ways.BreakAway want to work collaboratively with clubs, national governing bodies and agents (they provide different forms of membership for each), although it is always the player who remains the licence holder.

Before joining the US-based firm full-time at the end of last year, Smith had worked for Chelsea for 16 years, latterly as their Head of Research and Innovation, so he was well aware of the need for something to be done.

“At Chelsea, when we did some research around GDPR, our best guess was that it would take about 14 days of manpower if a player came and asked for their data,” he reveals.

“We didn’t have a way to share it. It’s a huge body of work and we kind of said, ‘Let’s hope this doesn’t happen,’ which doesn’t seem like a great solution.”

US sports are generally much further ahead on this issue than football is.

“We’ve got really good traction in the NBA, for example,” Smith says. “When you talk about empowering players with their data, they get that straight away. Football is following that trend but it’s just behind.

"If you realise a big change is coming, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to wait for a player to say, ‘I want my data’ and then work out how to respond?

“Or do we get in front, educate your players and create that environment of trust?”

There are a number of key reasons why football needs to get on board with empowering players with data, which we'll look at in this article.


GDPR was introduced in Europe and the UK in 2018 and described as the toughest privacy and security law in the world.

The Regulations give individuals access to - and control of - their personal data. Article 4 of GDPR defines personal data as “identifiers” including physical attributes, location data and physical information.

Former football manager Russell Slade then launched a group legal action against the data industry to recover lost income from the sharing of their performance and match data without permission.

“In a number of ways this whole issue could explode and become a bad situation for all the stakeholders,” Smith admits.

Last September the world players’ union, FIFPRO, launched a Charter of Player Data Rights aimed at implementing global standards to protect the privacy of footballers and enable them to manage and access information about their performance and health.

FIFPRO discussed the issue at their Technology Experience Tour in Tel Aviv in March, with BreakAway invited along to share their expertise.

“What we were doing was trying to educate the players’ associations about what’s going on in that data landscape at every level, so they can work with players to know their rights," Smith says.

“We don’t work with Russell (Slade), but we are sympathetic, because we feel players should be fairly compensated for the data they have created. But, equally, we are not interested in getting into a legal situation.

“We are trying to build relationships with those data providers, not burn them by taking them to court. At BreakAway, we are a vehicle to pull it all together so you can engage with your data and store it. The knowledge that you have access to your data and that it’s under your control should be an important thing for players.

“Players are storing their information and can choose to share it with their stakeholders, which could be their club, national team or private consultants. As they transition between environments, everyone can align to support the player.

“From a GDPR perspective, with the player at the centre, they can give permissions to do that. Historically, there has needed to be quite a complex legal agreement to share the data about a player. But the player can now request it from you and choose to share it because of their GDPR rights.”


There are not only legal reasons for giving players ownership of their data, but performance once too. Smith says the BreakAway app acts as a performance passport - “This is me over the last five years; this is my training history, this is my injury history.”

This is important, because elite players rarely operate in a single environment throughout their careers. They will transfer to new clubs, play for national teams and work with their own private performance teams.

“If the player has the data, they have the evidence base of themselves as a performer, which provides the new environment with a really clear understanding of what works for them as an individual,” explains Smith.

“We saw an NFL player who graduated from a major US college to the NFL and he didn’t have his data. Within 10 days he just broke, because they were working him at a level he hadn’t worked at before.

“If you had a quick overview, you could see the intensity he had worked at before and periodise him into your environment. We hope that becomes normal, supporting people to make good decisions.”

The BreakAway app hosts a huge amount of performance data, from GPS to heart rate to sleep to nutrition, which the player can make accessible to everyone.

“The idea that clubs can’t choose individually to be with different providers is a stumbling block to this idea of sharing data seamlessly,” Smith says. “We are intentionally agnostic and want to work with all data providers so we can support athletes and clubs to make choices they feel are best for them.”

There have been efforts to empower players with their own data, from FIFA at last year's World Cup and at Ajax, as we've covered on TGG, but, again, these have been restricted to particular environments in a way that BreakAway isn’t.

“Ajax have an app, which is brilliant as a way of sharing information with players, but when you leave, the app doesn’t go with you,” Smith says. “We are licensed with the player and the app and information goes with them - it’s a career passport.

"The challenge FIFA have is the same. They have developed a really good player app that they launched at the World Cup, but it’s limited to the FIFA environments and match data.

“What we do is cover every environment, across training, recovery, all of it. Around the men’s World Cup there were a lot of injuries during a very busy and demanding games programme. The idea of sharing information would reduce the unnecessary risk of injury.”


Germany General Manager Oliver Bierhoff coined the phrase "independent entrepreneurs" to describe a new breed of elite players who want to take control of their own careers.

Smith says this idea has been prevalent in US sports for many years, with a desire for athletes to have control of their own data being a by-product.

“In the NBA, players are used to being the CEO of their own world,” he explains. “‘I employ my own team, get my own private support.’ When you talk about empowering athletes with their own data, they get that straight away. Going into another sport, Novak Djokovic has his own data science team.

“I would estimate that more than half of Premier League footballers have their own support teams and that is the direction of travel. The next step is wanting control of their own data.”

Another cultural development is people being accustomed to using data and having it at their fingertips.

“Young players especially are really savvy in terms of engaging with data,” Smith agrees. “Young players spend a lot of time in Academies engaging with their match stats and their GPS - it is normal.

“The place they get least access to their data, often, is in first-team environments. That can’t - and won’t - continue.”


Commercial considerations will be another big driver behind the sharing of data.

“What will happen is that all this performance data will become a commercial asset,” Smith believes. “Players will learn to monetise it. It will be sponsorship activations, personal branding and media - storytelling with this performance data as the narrative.

“Fans want to get closer to the performance and players who have a good data set have the ability to tell a story. This could be via second screen engagement while the game is going on.

"Their commercial teams will be able to manage this data once they have it. The players won’t have to do a lot of work.”

The former Chelsea man says this will commercial opportunity will be for the game as a whole.

“We are talking about the commercial opportunity through this asset creation of performance data, which is a whole new market,” he says.

“That doesn’t exist at the moment, that new income stream, and we have an opportunity to distribute fairly, between the data providers, the athletes, all the stakeholders who have helped create that situation.

“We are trying to create a whole new network with new opportunities and we make sure they are seen to be fair and equitable.”

Current users of BreakAway include the former Wimbledon winner and world number one Andy Murray, who has used the app for almost a year, as well as 35 Premier League players and two Premier League clubs (one Academy and one first team) and “we’re looking to get up to four more on board for the start of next season,” Smith says.

What’s beyond doubt is that player ownership of data will become a bigger and bigger issue in football in the months and years to come.

“We are at a point where we haven’t crossed that threshold where it’s normal for footballers to get their data,” Smith says. “Over the next six months we are keen to change this.

“It might not be us that you work with, but you had better have a provision for sharing data with your players.”

  • If you're curious about athlete data, from whatever perspective, then you can get in touch with the BreakAway team at

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