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July 15, 2016

StatsBomb at 3

By Ted Knutson

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.

 

Article by Ted Knutson