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StatsBomb Editorial – Status Report September 2013

By Ted Knutson | September 17, 2013 | Boxes

StatsBomb has been alive for a little less than two months, and I wanted to just give a heads up of where we are at, what we’ve learned, and what we’re working on. For those who missed my introduction to the site, you can find it here[Link].

For starters, I know the site needs work. I wanted to get everything up and running before the season, so that we could do season previews and the like, and I was incredibly happy with what we produced for those. Now that we’ve kind of bedded in though, we’ve all noticed a number of niggling things about the WordPress theme we’re using that are annoying (LIKE INVISIBLE LINKS GODAMMIT and the fact that somehow the theme author’s pagination into the archives doesn’t work), so we’ll fix those and make the site more user-friendly and accessible in the process. I’m an idiot when it comes to actually making/fixing websites and I have absolutely zero cycles to spare learning it, so I’m paying someone to do it. It will just take a little time.

I’ve also heard some valid criticism that Football/Soccer stats writing isn’t accessible (enough), including stuff here at StatsBomb. This is fair. On our site, you’ll usually find guys go out of their way to make even complex stuff approachable compared to other hardcore stats authors, but I personally need to do some organizing of the site and make more introductory pieces available. We’ll have a highly visible glossary with links up by early next week. We’ve already started writing more intro pieces on specific topics (like Defensive Shells [LINK] and Per90s [LINK]) and there will be more.

I’ve also wanted to do a more comprehensive introduction to football analytics since I started reading about it, but things change so much and so quickly that it’s hard to make something currently relevant that won’t be outdated within a couple of months. Additionally, there are a lot of things from just a few years ago that are buried under a mountain, and you need to know the right people to even be aware they exist. However, as part of making our own stuff more accessible for new readers, I may take a crack at making sure people know some historic work exists as well.  I’m at least nine months better read than when I first wanted to write the piece, so it has at least a chance of succeeding now.

What Have We Learned?
This isn’t about the game itself, but more about the site and the audience. First, I think a surprising number of fans are ready for this stuff. The Numbers Game by Chris Anderson and David Sally had very solid reviews in the UK and has now spread to the US as well, and I know they’ve been doing fairly prominent press for it.

That said, football analytics is an infant. We just got extra years of detailed player data two months ago. Good public data has only been available for two league seasons now, and the whole discipline is still in the process of figuring out what data matters, as well as trying to get data providers to give us data in a way that is clean and useful. Americans faced with this immediately shout, “What the fuck?!?” because their sports culture has been stats obsessed for some time. Europeans often first shout “Shut the fuck up!” because they don’t think stats matter, or that they ruin the purity and sanctity of the beautiful game. Obviously the Americans are right, but it will take a good many years before we get anywhere near the level of data availability and acceptance that say NBA has right now. (And that sport has only seen a popular analytics explosion in the last five years or so.)

Adam Bate (@ghostgoal) is writing some good analytics stuff for Sky Sports and Mike Goodman (@theM_L_G) has been able to work in some strong analytics intros to Grantland, but I wouldn’t describe the use of analytics for football writing to be widespread or mainstream. I think there are some sites and guys that are comfortable with doing a little bit of it, but it’s not a daily thing by any means.

On the other hand, this type of stuff is now widespread for other sports. Grantland is the best sportswriting site in America, and they are very happy to have guys like Bill Barnwell and Kirk Goldsberry producing analytics material for NFL and NBA almost every day. I’ve reached out a little to The Guardian to see if they want stuff on analytics like they get on tactics from Michael Cox and Jonathan Wilson, but it hasn’t happened yet. For now, they run pretty infographics from WhoScored, which is something new and at least in the ballpark.

Any of our writers would be open to branching out and testing the major media waters, so get in touch if you are interested.

Speaking of which, WhoScored, Squawka, and EPLIndex have shown explosive growth in the last year. People are interested in the stats and what you can do with them. The harder analytics community may grouse about some of their written pieces (which can be rough or just completely miss the point sometimes), but I’m happy to see them grow and delighted for the stats they are delivering.

Fantasy sports are a natural hook, and so are providing stats on hot transfer targets. I also feel like match recaps will see massive changes in the next couple of years in that the narratives will focus on and use the statistical details much more than just telling a story.

Where Are We?
On a normal publishing day, StatsBomb gets about 2000 hits. Good, team specific articles can get closer to 5-7K during their lifespan, depending on what ReTweets they get on Twitter and who is kind enough to publicize them. Honestly, that’s what we live by. Some bigger Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea accounts have been kind enough to promote our team-specific work, and that’s how we get more fans and more followers.  If you like our work, please tell your friends and their friends, and post links on busy forums or on Reddit, etc – that’s the best thing you can do to help us grow, which in turn means we’ll keep writing. (And thanks to guys like ArsenalColumn, Tim Stillman, 7AMKickoff, ChelseaStats, and everyone at The Tomkins Times for being supportive of our stuff.)

It sounds silly, but I used to write for Magic the Gathering sites and would get 10K hits per article without trying (and it’s a lot bigger now). Football has a much larger potential audience, but stats and analytics inherently limit it. You kind of sub-select smart people by picking this topic to explore and write about. On the other hand, we get quite a few more readers on average than most guys would get on their blogs, so in that sense we’re succeeding.  Honestly… the site has only existed for two months and it’s gradually growing. I wish we’d grow a little faster, but I’m not putting a lot of effort into it and neither is anyone else, so whatever. The bulk of “effort” goes into the writing and the research.

The @StatsBomb twitter account itself hasn’t broken 1K followers yet. This is despite promising we’d announce a kit giveaway once we reached that mark (and we totally will. You know… when we get there). My own account has 3100, but has grown quite a bit since earlier in the year. Additionally, I know at least 5-10 first team analysts from major football clubs are actively following what we produce on StatsBomb, so the research is interesting some very specific people who view it as important, even if it’s not got a broad following as yet. The aforementioned Goodman produced one piece on the site, started a conversation with Grandtland’s Chris Ryan, and now writes for them. Good things are happening.

On the other hand, good, team specific Twitter accounts I see have 30, 50, 80k followers. Crappy ones have 15k. Our guys are doing great work, but nobody knows about them yet. Will we ever reach the point where someone has 100K plus like friends of the site and TV faces Janusz Michallik and Gabriel Marcotti? Doubtful, but who knows?

I’ll be honest – if I cared about hits, I’d be writing entirely different stuff. Instead, I care about the writing and the research, which is why we produce what we do. I do want to start producing more graphics and prettier data explorations, but that takes time to learn in and of itself.

There’s no pay in running the site or writing for it. We’re not monetizing the site right now either. (I could, if I didn’t work for who I work for, but for now it’s better than it grows organically.) On the other hand, we want our work to be read and be popular. I also want the discipline itself to grow. We can satisfy both by making things more accessible and doing some low-key, low-cost marketing, so expect to see a bit of that in the next month or two.

So that’s where we are at. Statsbomb will get a better user experience soon. The site is growing, but slowly. Football analytics is growing rapidly in some areas, but is still in its infancy compared to what is going on in other sports, and also in its usage in major media. Fans are definitely ready for it, though.

We do get some really amazing compliments from you guys. If you like our work, tell your friends, and help us get the word out.

Thanks for listening,


Article by Ted Knutson