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StatsBomb at 3

What a difference three years makes.  Starting as a place to simply host good stats writing, the site still does that, but has become possibly the most respected place for football analytics on the internet.

That’s not hype, it’s just truth.

There isn’t anywhere else like StatsBomb.

One of the things that makes the site different is we don’t publish data, we do analysis of the game. Often painstakingly detailed work that is unflinching in the level of reader it requires. It’s not Popalytics or bullshit infographics (okay, mostly not) – it’s always quality work. Articles published on the site are good enough to be used by professional clubs, while still hopefully being fun and readable enough for a widespread audience.

If you had the real names of all the followers to our Twitter account, you’d find an awesome collection of smart people working in and around professional football who follow the site. Teams initially intrigued by many of the ideas published here have now copied them and made them their own. Professional football clubs have also hired a number of contributors for jobs over the last three years, which might be the thing I’m most proud of. Giving people a chance to live their dream of working in football is pretty special, as I know from personal experience.

It’s not just football StatsBomb has affected, it’s also the media. Back when we started, non-penalty goals were not a thing. To my knowledge, Per 90s didn’t exist anywhere outside of a rare Opta piece. We wrote about better ways to analyse the game while learning to do so ourselves, the public responded, the data sites made changes, and the media ever-so-slowly followed suit.

First a thank you to all the writers that have contributed over the years, without you the site obviously would not exist. We have never monetized the site because if we tried, our use of data would suddenly become very complicated, and honestly there are few effective ways of monetizing websites now that work .

Guys who write here do it for free. They do it because they want to challenge themselves and ideas about football in ways almost no one else does in public. So many man hours have been spent gathering and studying data prior to writing anything on this site, it’s impossible to consider what is produced here as anything other than a labour of love.

Except, very occasionally, when they are an equally motivated labour of hate.

Also thank you to the fans that have helped us out, especially with technical insight and programming work over the years.

A very special thank you to James Yorke, without whom the site probably would have died when Colin Trainor and I disappeared inside of clubs. James’s work makes me very happy I left the site and all the work up when I was hired, which often didn’t happen in other sports when people went professional.

Finally, a thank you to all of you readers, whether you were there at the beginning, or have just become a fan of the site in recent times. There would be almost no point doing any of this without people who were excited to engage with the material.

Further Thoughts
The world is different now than when I started the site three years ago. I feel like we used to get a lot more social media shares from bigger accounts that would push us along. Those accounts were rewarding quality work with wider publicity. For some reason that seems to happen a lot less often now, and I don’t know how to change it.

In terms of audience, our Twitter followings have grown immensely over the years, but the actual average readership for an article has not. Maybe that’s a problem with the choice of material – I was writing a lot about transfer prospects back in summer of 2014 before it became my actual job, and I’m a bit more reticent to give that away now, so that clearly has an effect. But maybe we just stopped growing at some point and neither James nor I am aware of what to do to plug us back into the machine while not sacrificing quality of content for hits.

Some work on the site will always appeal to a niche audience, but it would be nice if our trending suggested we were consistently less niche than before. In most cases, the only thing anybody gets from publishing here are kudos and maybe a touch of popularity.

If you like someone’s work, tell them, but also nudge it along to other interested parties if you can. Post A LINK to Reddit, or to the Football365 forum, or some other high traffic venue that brings people to the site. DO NOT, if you can help it, post whole swathes of articles to anywhere because that traffic never hits us.

Less traffic = less impetus to write = less content = eventual death of the site because what’s the point?

It costs you nothing to read us. If you like the content, please give back in whatever way you can.

I was also entirely sincere in the podcast today about wanting to hear from people in what they’d like to see more of from the site. No ideas are bad ideas, and after 3 years, maybe some of your ideas will add a new impetus to material for the coming season.

All the best,

Ted Knutson
Owner, StatsBomb.com
July 15, 2016

mixedknuts@gmail.com
@mixedknuts

 

Postscript – Honest Personal Stuff
Working in football is an addictive drug. It’s especially so when you think that you have an edge, and believe you can dramatically improve whatever club you work for. Right or wrong, that’s where I am at right now.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter can probably sense my frustration recently at the fact that I don’t have a club to work with this season. This is especially painful when I see mistake after mistake in the transfer market fly by on my Twitter feed.

It sounds arrogant to put it in writing, but at this point it’s based on years of hard work and data: I am literally one of the world’s experts at using statistics in football, and especially in recruitment. With my skillset, I can

  • Find a club better players.
  • Make a club money in the transfer market.
  • Create actual goals on the pitch via tactical improvements including something I have avoided talking about much at all, but had amazing success with at Midtjylland: SET PIECES.

How much is a single goal worth in the Premier League? In the right environment, my approach can generate lots of them. Sadly, I am once again on the outside looking in.

The problem is that football is football, and it takes someone pretty special to trust the word of a relative outsider that things can be done better in almost every club in the world, across the board.

You see, football is a traditional industry. The way things have been done is generally assumed to be the best way, often with little critical thought being given to WHY this belief exists or whether it is even correct. Knowledge is passed down from master to apprentice, again often without reflection on whether it’s the best way – it’s simply the way they know how.

What we’ve learned about traditional industries over the last 30 years is that they are incredibly ripe for disruption. Add data and technology to traditional industry and BOOM, you suddenly have something much more efficient and effective than before. In certain cases, basic disruption creates wildly unexpected positive benefits the traditional approach never imagined.

Football is in that spot right now. But in order for that to happen, people at the top have to first be convinced the problems exist. Then they have to realize traditional football gurus are unlikely to know how to solve these issues, and often don’t notice the issues exist in the first place. And finally, people with solutions need to be empowered to make change. This isn’t an “advisory capacity” approach. It requires decision making power and ability that is rarely seen on the football side of clubs.

From my experience this summer, it still feels like the football world is a long way from being ready to do that, even with strong evidence backing up the arguments.

The issue isn’t isolated to football – we’re still seeing it crop up constantly in hockey, and we saw it for ages in baseball until eventually everyone basically admitted the stats and technologists were right too damned often to ignore any more. NBA was probably the sport that modernized the fastest, but even there you still see media dinosaurs peddling the same old wrong information, week in and week out – information that is often directly refuted by the actual data and decision making from the front offices themselves.

In modern media, the universal rule is: Talking heads gonna talk. TV requires content, and a bit like politics, you can lie all you want as long as you get a reaction.

Combine all of this with the feeling I’ve had recently that any innovations you release to the public are simply going to be copied and iterated by others in no time at all, with little or no credit going back to the person who did the hard work, and it’s a bit of a downer.

Original thinking and innovation take a tremendous amount of effort before you can achieve results. Seeing that immediately copied and spun into the ether makes me question what the fucking point of innovating is in the first place.

I’m on holiday the next two weeks and will take some time away from the site and football and see if my mood lightens. Maybe a grumpy disposition is causing me to misread the signs, and that the football world is ready to evolve and improve.

My worry – based on my own experience and that of plenty of others – is that even after three years of hard work and a lot of success both on and off the pitch, we’ve barely moved the needle at all.

There are only so many times you can stubbornly bang your head against a wall before you start to ask yourself whether that’s a healthy thing to do in the first place.

 

  • Geraint Morgan

    Ok, you asked for feedback on things you could be doing (and that i would read).

    Just going on what i would read….Fantasy Football. Preseason suggestions on players from foreign/lower leagues coming in (something like what sort of players that they are similar to), or players who if their minutes increase/they age they are likely to perform at a high level. Basically anything to make me think i will do better than the average manager.

  • Toshack

    A quick, maybe too quick reflection.
    Football is a conservative industry you say. I agree. Lot’s of money through FIFA, UEFA and TV rights give how much pressure to innovate? Plus the sugardaddies (at least for the last 5-10 years) have kept cash flowing in to keep the big teams rich, thereby able to buy big players or potentially big players, thereby keeping the hiearchy of clubs intact.
    But even if clubs want to climb the ladder (like Leicester), keep in mind that football clubs are mostly small business. Someone said that a big Tesco shop has more turnover than most English football clubs. Hell, the company I work for has more revenue than most English football clubs and the competence level here is a mixed bag. Mostly competent and committed staff, but also not so competent and comitted. Is football in general attracting visionary people with cutting edge competence? How many who graduated from Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge or INSEAD is working in a football club?
    Who are “inside” to drive change in football today?

    • Ron IsNotMyRealName

      It should be noted that most of the people that really led the revolution in analytics in American sports weren’t these elite-educated types. More of them have screwed it up really than anything else. I think the Cleveland Browns are the next in line on that. You need both sports savvy and the analytics knowledge (but you don’t really need to have a PhD in it or anything, the data problems are really not that complex).

  • https://twitter.com/aGooner aGooner

    First off I want to thank you for all the hard work you’ve been doing for +3 yrs. I cannot imagine being a football supporter without the kind of insights that you and the broader analysis community bring to the table. As you said in the podcast, the goal is to continuous improve, and analysis (for me) and certainly ‘disrupted’ the supporter perspective on a level that we have not seen before.

    So I think the problem that needs to be solved is how do we better connect and close the feedback loop on the work you do (and can share) and the broader audience. There is obvious value in the work you love to do, I think we just need to do a better job of improving the engagement and lifting away the sense of frustration you are feeling.

    The great thing is that we’re here, we’re listening and talking and we can continuously improve 🙂

  • Johan Ingerslev

    I think the site is really great and has had a big impact in the way I analyze and discuss football.

    I also think you will have a hard time getting real mainstream attention for this. Generally the vast majority of people (including very intelligent people) don’t really understand or value stats. I will never understand how you can, as a logical and intelligent person, question that stats are obviously the starting point for discussions re. which player is better etc., but I consistently experience blank stares and non-response when referring to stats as simple as goals per game etc. in discussions over which player is preferred with otherwise intelligent people. I think part of the reason is that many people follow football from a very emotional mindset, and essentially maybe don’t want the cold hard truths that stats provide.

    An idea for maybe attracting more attention would be to gather some of the conclusions in one-liners and have a bar at the top of the page which display some of them under a heading of “stats conclusions”, “derived from data” or something similar. I just read the post on player-aging for instance, and, for me, a natural (and non-clickbait-shit one-liner) conclusion could be e.g. “Wingers already peak at 26” or “production shows at 22” etc., making it easy for other media to refer to the conclusion. I understand the point about other media copying your work, but I don’t think it is necessarily without value for you to have other media copying the work without references, as it pushes the agenda of using stats more.

    Unfortunately I can’t help you with a job in a football club, but if it was my decision, I would hire as many people as you as I could find.

    Please keep up the good work!

    • Johan Ingerslev

      Also, a different point, with the advances in AI (machine learning etc.) and the advances in the quality (and amount) of data I think we will see that the quality and value of these statistical analysis and conclusions will increase dramatically, making them a necessity within a relatively short time. People like yourself are in a prime position to take advantage of this.

  • anonymous98345

    This site is great. Don’t change it. Hits be damned. Maybe you just need an interview with Michael Lewis?? (joke) Honestly wish my club, Liverpool would hire you. We have made a mess of evaluating players for so many years and need to change how we scout and recruit. Your recent article on LFC and Klopp was encouraging for next season.

  • NinJa

    I like your site. You are certainly one of the best sites for football analytics on the internet. To take the analogy with another (American) sport, you are doing for football what sites like Baseball Prospectus (BP) have done for baseball. Currently, several BP alumni are on the management side with different MLB teams or can be heard giving analysis on ESPN or other TV networks. If you play your cards right, the same can happen for you.

  • NinJa

    You wanted a suggestion for your site, and I have a simple one. The key mentality you should relentlessly promote is that EVERY team in the Premier League should aim to win the league. It is mind-boggling to me that only 4-6 teams currently aim to win the league. The rest are content (more or less) to simply stay afloat and avoid relegation! Imagine a different world where every team (or at least 10-15 out of 20 teams) was fighting for the league. If each team was trying harder, then more of them would be looking to find an edge where they can…which could well mean new opportunities for stats guys.

  • NinJa

    The related suggestion is that, if a mid-table team was to embrace stats and get ahead, you should be giving that team preferential coverage on your site. (For example, in MLB, the early proponent for stats was the Oakland Athletics, and they were the poster child for stats sites like Baseball Prospectus; this team was also the subject of the movie, Moneyball.) The thing is, this exact scenario seems to have happened in the last two years with the success of Leicester (and Southampton to a lesser extent). Yet, the coverage in all sites, including yours, seems to be slanted towards the traditional “top 6” rather than towards these underdog stories. People all over the world love these underdogs! A simple way for your site to stand apart from the rest is to slant your articles and analysis towards the Leicesters and Southamptons rather than the Arsenals and Man Us of the world.

    In any case, keep up the good work!

  • Barry

    The site is fantastic so thanks for running it! It would be good if you could keep it up!

    I originally found the site in a quest to improve my fantasy football skills… As someone has already mentioned, I’d guess that you’ve got a willing audience there if the content was tailored to their needs. Most players look at the rudimentary statistics anyway so there’s lots you could do to generate content and clicks on that front.

    Alternatively, without changing brand too much I’d suggest that you produce more articles with the basic and more intuitive concepts that are up to date with current events/narrative. The constant narrative merry go round of the media means that anything out of date quickly gets overlooked (and is harder to share/discuss). While the simpler metrics are easier to share and talk about with folk that aren’t converted. The novel research is great but i think it will always struggle to win over new people that aren’t already of an analytical mindset. Those that are, are probably the ones already clicking.

  • Ron IsNotMyRealName

    Ted, I think we need to ask ourselves a few questions (this is usually how I think of things, so no real shock)

    1. How did the people that hvae these jobs in performance analysis/player development get them? I know some clubs have poached leicester lately, how did those people get hired by Leicester? How can that happen again?
    2. How do we make the case that the job they’re doing is not as good as what can be done?
    3. What are the clubs really after? What would get to that in their language (for example, i think expected goals models are terrible for that because clubs aren’t interested in being average, I thikn we need to do better than that; in the NBA, no one implies that Stephen Curry and Mareese Speights have the same chance of making a given 25 foot jumper)?
    4. What is the archetype of the manager and club that would be most open to spectulative/innovative concepts of player valuation and optimization of operations in general?

    There might be other questions, and hopefully I’ve started people thinking about them if so. But those rae the ones that come to mind for me, with the end goal of putting together a clear case for “why analytics?”

  • joey_c

    ted, i just read the espn article about reinartz’s packing method (http://www.espnfc.com/german-bundesliga/10/blog/post/2915634/stefan-reinartz-new-metric-packing-helps-us-understand-effective-passing ).

    your comment about the idea on twitter was quite brief (the flaw of the medium), and since you asked for suggestions i suggest that you (a) address this metric in a post and (b) periodically comment on/critique metric usage by the media.

    i’ll also note that i love this site and your work. i wish i could pay you enough to write for the public in perpetuity so that we wouldn’t have to lose access to your output in order for you to have a fulfilling/successful career in football analytics.

  • Nathan Parmar

    I’m guessing you’ve already thought of this, but is there any way you could approach a football association to help them develop statistical analysis skills for their coaches, especially youth coaches?
    Call it vaccination. If the players at the very bottom of pyramid are already used to using stats in their football development, they’ll be more receptive to using them throughout their careers as they move up the ladder. And obviously, the majority of kids who play at a children or youth level won’t make it professionally, but they’ll still be used to analytics from their ‘youth football days’, and should be more receptive to their use in the media and general football conversation. Coaching coaches in analysis at the lowest level will enable those coaches to use stats as they move up the ladder, and (again) for the ones that make it all the way to the top, they’ll be more receptive to their use at the highest level – especially as they’re searching for any edge they can find over their various opposition.
    The benefit with this approach is that in 20, 30 years time, you have far less ‘stats-deniers’ working in (and watching) football than you do now, because the culture has changed to be more accepting of stats and their analysis. We’ve seen this before with sports science, physiology and nutrition. It’s currently happening with tactics, as young/new coaches are being trained how different tactical systems work, why they work, how to implement them and how to counter them. I’ve seen an increasing number of Scottish under 20 teams, when taking goal kicks, spread their centre backs and pass out from the back, which would be unheard of 10 years ago at that level. But they’re doing this because they’re being coached this way. Some teams are being coached that “keeping the ball is good”, and don’t fully understand how, why or when to play short from goal kicks; however, some have been coached well, understand the system, the strengths and weaknesses, and use it to good effect. But this is happening because the culture has been shifted, the system has been systematically changed, and the association (the SFA, in this case) has taken a specific approach in teaching their coaches.
    I think you could also apply this to statistics. Put the stats in at the very start, make them an integral part of football development, and you should see them appear in the fabric of football a few years down the line.
    The problem is, you wouldn’t be able to just phone up The FA and get them to say yes straight away. You’d have to convince them – whichever association you approached – that this giant shift would be beneficial, implementable, understandable; that it would produce better footballers, better coaches and better teams; that the effort is worth the effort.
    How you would go about that, I have no idea. Maybe it’s too early in the life of football stats to be targeting whole football associations with a systematic change to their football philosophy. They might want more working examples of teams or other associations using a similar approach and seeing positive results before they took you up on your proposal.
    But anyway, that’s my idea – vaccination.

  • Vishruth Srinath

    Ted, I’m sorry to hear that you are quite so frustrated with the current state. I am hoping this is a passing thing as I have loved statsbomb since its inception (since before this cool website) and look forward to new articles being published. Twitter has a lot of content that needs sifting through to find quality; but statsbomb is always quality.

    Do not be discouraged about the job situation. I wish you all the very best and hope you can find a good home for your skills.

    I cannot think of ways to help with people copying your stuff. Maybe the impact you have had on football analytics and the awareness of stats you have created has “inspired” people to follow in your foot steps and do good work. I hope more people credit you and your work for inspiring them. I also hope this helps you see the “copying” as a by-product of the good you have done.

    With regards to the number of visitors to the website, maybe it is incorrect to expect further steep growth given the current content of the site. What I mean by that is, the content of the site is mostly long form reads that maybe do not cater to many people. However, I personally think that you should stick to the format of articles on statsbomb as it is right now. I am sure a radar of Depay last year got you more hits than an in-depth article of Patrick Bamford would have (sigh.. seems like he won’t make it at Chelsea 🙁 ). But that doesn’t mean the longer articles aren’t valued highly. They are valued by fewer people maybe, but they are valued highly.

    About suggestions for new things statsbomb could do, I agree with people who have mentioned summary one liners (or a banner of “Fun Facts”) and a mix of stats and tactics as things that could attract more visitors to the site. I would also be interested in seeing articles that suggest matches to watch on a weekend. There are so many matches across the EPL, championship, Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1 etc every weekend once the season gets going that its easy to miss matches that could be interesting from a stats viewpoint. A recommendation from one of you guys on what match to catch would be invaluable for me as I try to learn aspects of soccer analytics. Another aspect I would really like statsbomb to point out would be what I should be looking for in said matches. Maybe Lukaku gives away the ball to much or Ozils way of finding space is amazing. These are things I could easily miss.

    Cheers,
    @vishtantrik

  • Carl

    I’m
    new to the site, so still exploring. I have booked marked the site
    firstly because of the podcasts – so please keep them coming.

    One
    thing I would like to see is a FAQ or something like that. Where do
    you get the data – free and paid and how to extract. Also, links to
    older articles that
    stand the test of time (if they exist), such as probability of scoring
    from certain areas of the pitch and other interesting stuff. Pointers
    for how people may start doing their own analysis and so producing
    information, etc.

    As
    for jobs at clubs, I would hire somebody like yourself. However, I
    would try and target somewhere like Brighton who is run by Tony Bloom –
    plays poker and
    understands analysis also part of a company involved in betting and
    higher a bunch of maths guys to get a small edge.