The following headline appeared on the BBC website during the week; Mark Warburton: Brentford boss rejects increased statistics use, the article goes onto quote the Brentford boss;
“He (the owner) wants recruitment to be based more on mathematical modelling and statistics allied to normal scouting methods,” he told BBC Radio 5 live.
“For me, I have a different philosophy on how the football department needs to be run to be successful.
The following day a brilliant piece appeared on the ESPN site written by Ben Alamar titled; The Inside Man: NBA Analytics which I recommend everyone reads. Ben has worked in professional sports analytics since 2008 and throughout the article he pulls no punches in outlining the limiting factors facing increased use of analytics in sport. Two main points stuck out for me;
1. Clubs are not willing to pay what is required to hire the best of the best. To make use of the hoards of data now available, gone are the days of keyboard warriors having the required skill-set. In order to get the best staff clubs now have to compete with companies such as Google and Apple who pay handsomely for the same skills.
2. Even if clubs invested in staff, the rate of managerial changes means the job comes with very little job security.
An Outsourced Future?
Can clubs get access to the best talent and can analysts be offered more job security?
Wikipedia tells us; ‘In business, outsourcing involves the contracting out of a business process to another party’. Big business understands that any one business cannot be a specialist in every area. Even when it comes to hiring talent they employ head hunters, people who are skilled in identifying top talent. Could the same model work in elite sport?
What if companies such as Deloitte or McKinsey, big consulting firms, had a player recruitment division? A club could in effect outsource a large part of player recruitment. The consulting firm take responsibility for hiring the best of the best staff, they can offer them job security as the spread the risk of having multiple clients on short or long terms contracts, even across multiple sports.
It also offers the clubs an advantage. The might pay a basic fee for the service but only pay handsomely based on performance? If the players recruitment division identify a Cristiano Ronaldo – there contract is linked to future performance or resale fees. Likewise if they identify a Ryan Leaf and it turns out to be a flop the club is not taking all the risk.
Downside v Upside
This model is not without some possible downsides or issues to be overcome but this ‘service’ is an everyday occurrence in the business world so why not in sports? The big advantage for me is that the upsides are huge and very measurable either on pitch or off. The question is a matter of who will take the risk? Judging by Ban Alamar’s piece clubs are unwilling to take that risk – so who will step up?