In League Two this season, something strange happened... Two of the automatically promoted teams and two sides that reached the playoffs were StatsBomb customers.
It’s strange because despite the name, League Two is actually the fourth league in the English football pyramid. It’s also a league that we were told would likely never have the budget to use stats and data to run their football teams.
The reality has turned out to be something quite different. It’s different because these teams figured out that they needed to reallocate budget resources - which are still less than a single player’s wages for a year - to a competitive edge they will never stop using. And it’s also different because we don’t just give them data. Alongside the data come great tools that help people in football do their jobs better and faster than the competition.
Maybe that’s the difference between what people said would happen and reality. Or maybe the new generation of owners and analysts in football are just way smarter than mainstream media ever thought they would be?
I’m writing about this because the lower league portion of this story surprised even me with how quickly smaller teams realised the importance of incorporating this into their process. When I started in football, it was “little old Brentford” that was leading the charge - but little old Brentford were in the Championship, not League 2. Even pre-pandemic it was an open question as to whether or not the use of stats and data would spread beyond the top leagues and filter out into the broader footballing landscape. Now I would say that question has been decisively answered.
Once they start using it, people in sport never go back from using stats and data. This is true in every single sport that has made the data journey. We’ve been told by our customers it would be like willfully choosing to be blind, or losing a super power. So, basically the plot of Superman 2, without the charm of Christopher Reeve.
Further up the English football pyramid, one of the automatically promoted teams and all of the playoff teams are StatsBomb customers. In the Premier League, it’s 14 out of 20, and going to grow to more over the summer.
And it’s not just an English phenomenon… 12 of the 20 teams in Ligue 1 are StatsBomb users including all of those at the top and *gulp* none of those going down. But one of the nerd teams is coming up, so this sh** definitely works in Ligue 2, especially when you can avoid the playoffs.
Despite being slow at first, Italy is a growing market for StatsBomb, including a red team at the top who went from years of underperformance and missing Europe to on the verge of winning a Scudetto for the first time in ages.
Sound familiar? The English version of this story still has a chance (okay fine, an exceptionally slim chance) at winning a quadruple.
If you run (or root for) a professional football team in Europe, your team needs to make the switch. It’s not scary… it’s just objective information that helps teams do their job better, especially around finding, sourcing, and evaluating players. This is true in England's League Two, but it’s also true down to Bundesliga.3 in Germany, or League One in Scotland, the French Championnat National, the Czech 1. Liga, Spain's Segunda División, the Ekstraklasa in Poland and Serie B in Italy.
The alternative is the status quo. Keep putting fortunes into the football slot machine and hope it spits out all the cherries. But these days you do that at the risk of your competitors rigging things in their favour, and your team potentially being on the bad end of every transfer.
To put it another way: even in the lower leagues, the train is leaving the station. Get on board now or get left behind.