The window for new Moneyball stories is more open than ever
Data analytics have been entering sports for a while now. Moneyball, the most famous data analytics story in sport, has not just become a wildly successful movie, it’s become so much a part of our cultural lexicon that, as we’ve mentioned, it’s become a part of presidential campaigns. “Moneyball” does not just refer to the book or movie; at this point, it’s a term used for whenever someone leverages data to their advantage.
Modern Football Moneyballs
A few clubs in football have been said to “Moneyball” their way into an advantage they’d previously lacked. These are incredibly well-known stories to almost any avid football fan, but we can recount them just in case. FC Midtjylland were on their way to becoming bankrupt when, in 2014, they gained new management. Matthew Benham, a professional football gambler whose success as a gambler hinged on his immense expertise in data analytics, acquired a controlling stake in the team and immediately went to work.
He analyzed the club’s wins and losses and made sure to get players he thought were undervalued. He used xG, a metric that was not very known back then but is now used by every analyst, to measure how good specific players were, and found the ones who weren’t considered “the best” by people not crunching those numbers. But beyond that, he made sure to expand the strengths he had. Midtjylland's incredible Moneyball run reached its peak when the small Danish club qualified to the Champions League group stage.
For his other club, FC Brentford (which he was a long-time fan of), Benham hired specific coaches for the aspects the team was weak at. He got a coach specifically for free kicks, noticing that it was something the team could improve at overall. He changed two teams, and today Midtjylland are serious competitors, and Brentford is the biggest overachiever in the Premier League - its budget is severely outmatched by its rivals, while its play definitely is not.
Of course, when they started competing, other clubs looked into their methods. FC Barnsley, with the help of the original Moneyball creator, Billy Beane, looked into solving their own low-budget problems. They used their own metrics, set an age cap for recruiting players, and hired players who weren’t only good, but fit into the unique playstyle Barnsley believed in. They didn’t seek to shore up their weaknesses as much as work to improve their strengths, and they used data to find ways to make it work.
Who’s going to be next?
This is the modern football gold rush. Every club is trying to get their hands on the best data and find their own angle to make that data work for them. They are facing the same issue any rapidly growing field is facing; with the increase in demand, easily accessible ideas have been used. For better analytics, better tools are required, and this leaves success in analytics to the clubs with the most money.
The top clubs can hire a team of analysts, a coach for every different aspect of play, a sleep therapist, and on top of that pay the highest rates for the best players. It can seem like there was a brief window for true Moneyball stories like Midtjylland and Brentford, and that it’s over. The reality is actually the opposite. The market acknowledged the sub-elite teams’ needs and as always, reacted fast.
Everyone wants to access data and leverage it, but it's currently available only to a few elite teams
Track160 is one of the companies that are on a mission to democratise football data analytics. Its solution is the only fully automated all-in-one platform that does not require a team of analysts to get the best data, and also fits stadiums and training fields of all sizes. Its goal and its capabilities are to give the sub-elite access to the same tools the 1% have. We hope to have as many leagues as possible join us, and improve the game of football for everyone.