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Nine months ago, Google introduced GA4, ending decade-long processes for analysing website engagement. Across sport, upskilling for GA4 has been slow, despite its powerful machine-learning, predictive insights and automated analysis capabilities. Tom McGuiness explains what sport is missing out on.

In July 2023, Google ceased its support for its existing Google Analytics offering (Universal Analytics) in favour of Google Analytics 4 (GA4), with the objective of offering greater insights and the flexibility to track activity and events across websites and apps.

In creating GA4, Google completely overhauled the user interface of Universal Analytics, leaving few similarities to its predecessor. And as it requires a greater level of skill to implement, many sports marketers haven’t upskilled to harness its potential.

Why did Google migrate to GA4?

Previously, every time we visited a website, we added a third-party cookie to our browser. That gave huge amounts of tracking information on who we are and the content we engage with.

Advertising networks, retargeting campaigns, and Universal Analytics all relied on websites using third-party cookies.

However, increased awareness of online privacy, and legislation across the world to protect individuals’ privacy online, have seen online platforms move away from third-party cookies to track online behaviour.

As a result, Google needed to create a new analytics platform that is event-based instead of session-based – centred on the idea of tracking user IDs, reducing the reliance on cookies.

This effectively means every interaction or action a user takes on a website or app – which could be anything from clicking a button to watching a video – is connected with user IDs, making it easier to understand how users interact with a website or app over time, even if they switch devices.

Critically, all without third-party cookies.

Why haven’t sports organisations upskilled?

Many reasons. One we frequently see is that lean marketing teams work across – and for – multiple departments, leading to a focus on getting campaigns out of the door, with less time available to measure their effectiveness beyond sales.

GA4 needs much more setup than Universal Analytics; it requires a level of expertise in web analytics and data tracking, and involves setting up events, goals, and custom metrics to capture relevant data for analysis – and ideally these should all be relevant to campaign and platform objectives.

And because, of course, no two organisations are the same, it needs a more proactive approach to implement on-site – in effect a higher level of customisation to set-up the dimensions and metrics an organisation wants to track.

What’s sport missing out on?

Compared to Universal Analytics, GA4 offers greater real-time insights, enhanced data-tracking, and an improved user experience for better-informed marketing decisions.

In particular:

1) AI-Powered Insights

GA4 uses machine learning to deliver insights around areas such as churn predictions, lifetime value, and propensity to purchase.

Sport’s Use Case?
More accurate sales and marketing attribution. With Universal Analytics, attribution would typically come from the last click – so if someone purchased a match ticket for the derby via a link in an email, we wouldn’t know whether seeing an advert on Facebook would have influenced their purchase. With GA4 we can better split attribution across engagement platforms prior to sale, helping marketing decisions next time around.

2) Cross-Platform Tracking

GA4 allows organisations to track user interactions across websites, apps, and even offline touchpoints like club shops, and as a result provides a more holistic view of customer engagement.

Sport’s Use Case?
Better understanding members’ engagement both digital and offline. With Universal Analytics, a fan of a team who used the official app to download a digital ticket and then watch content on the website would be classed as two individuals. GA4 brings an anonymous single (and therefore more detailed) customer view.

3) Data Integration

GA4 can integrate into third-party platforms such as BigQuery, the cloud data warehouse through which organisations can analyse large datasets faster and in more detail – and Signals, part of Google’s advertising reporting platform that provides data from users who have signed into their Google accounts.

Sport’s Use Case?
More detailed commercial and marketing reporting. Whether it’s a sponsor activation, major content piece or season-ticket campaign, data from across owned digital platforms can be ingested and built into reports that give a 360-degree view of what was achieved through a range of metrics.

4) Data Accuracy

GA4’s event-based model allows businesses to define and track custom events that align with their specific goals. This flexibility enables more accurate data tracking and measurement of meaningful interactions, leading to better-informed business decisions.

Sport’s Use Case?
A more accurate understanding of the value of individual fans. Historically, a club or tournament might have calculated an online shop had one million visitors, 40,000 transactions and £1.4 million revenue – equating to every site visit being worth £1.40. As GA4 removes much of the noise, for instance showing how many of the one million visitors were individual visitors, it can give a far more accurate customer value, both for specific products and campaigns, and across a lifetime.

5) Revenue Analysis

GA4 provides quick access to revenue data from various sources, enabling faster financial decision-making, whether that’s e-commerce, ticket sales, retail or OTT.

Sport’s Use Case?
Commercial Director questioning the impact of your activities on the bottom-line? GA4 allows commercial and marketing teams to report far quicker than with Universal Analytics, and gives a clearer, nimbler view and what is over-performing and what is under-performing.

Will sports organisations embrace GA4?

We hope so! There aren’t many powerful, free data analytics platforms as GA4.

We’re supporting a number of clients on GA4 integration and upskilling as part of a range of our data and digital support – so get in touch if it’s something your team wants to get on top of.

Best way to do that is by dropping us an email on

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