Analytics brings Science to the Boardroom and Locker Room

Create knowledge. Make an impact.

Image of football player

Summary

This case exemplifies leading-edge practice in the coaching and management of elite sports teams in the UK, USA and Australia. Professor Bill Gerrard is one of the first to apply statistical analysis to the management of ‘invasion’/tactical team sports. This original contribution has been to practices in both the boardroom and the locker room. The approach affects day-to-day decision-making in a range of areas, including recruitment of players, training priorities, team selection and game tactics. Application of the approach now extends to three continents and is applicable to all invasion team sports including football/soccer, rugby union and rugby league.

Our research

The underpinning research began in 1995. Initially, Gerrard, in collaboration with Stephen Dobson, focused attention on the economics of the player transfer market in football – specifically how values were determined for players moving between clubs. Gerrard developed a statistical model to explain the variation in transfer fees for 1,350 player transfers between English professional football clubs during the period 1990 - 1996. Using his unique combination of statistical, coaching and academic business skills, Gerrard has developed this initial approach in three key phases:

Phase 1 (1997-2003) involved the development of a composite measure of the quality of individual players, the Player Quality Index (PQI). This was combined with weightings estimated from a statistical model of transfer fees. The PQI was used to develop a player valuation system for determining player wages and transfer fees.

Phase 2 (2003-2007) applied discounted cash flow analysis to player valuation, relating players’ impact on cash flow to their contributions on the pitch. Gerrard adapted a methodology from Gerald Scully (1974) for use in invasion team sports (those requiring tactical coordination and in which individual player contributions are not fully separable) as opposed to ‘atomistic’ team sports (those relying more on separable individual performance e.g. baseball, cricket). Gerrard was one of the first academics in the UK to develop a methodology for the economic evaluation of players and teams in invasion team sports.

Phase 3 (2007 – present) involved collaboration with Oakland Athletics (the Major League Baseball  team featured in Moneyball) which was diversifying into soccer. Gerrard analysed their soccer team’s performance as well as identifying performance trends across Major League Soccer. This was the first time that research on the analytical approach had been carried out in soccer in the USA.  

I believe that our collaboration has been important work, and that the intellectual capital we developed has benefitted not only my own organization, but the sports industry as a whole.

Billy Beane, General Manager, Oakland Athletics

Impact

The type of impact on external organisations has changed over time in content and in the nature of the academic-practitioner relationship as the research has developed. Initially the impact was principally arm’s length in nature with analysis commissioned on a recurrent or one-off basis to provide evidence to inform specific decisions. Research on player valuation has supported squad valuations used by football clubs to inform decisions on wage contracts, squad planning, transfers and insurance. It has also proved useful to financial institutions to determine the security value of playing squads.

As the focus of the research has moved towards developing an evidence-based approach to support day-to-day operational decision making, the impact has become more permanent, embedded in changes in organisational practice. This required a more integrated academic-practitioner partnership involving the co-production of data and analysis on an on-going basis. Gerrard became immersed with specific organisations in order to fully understand their specific needs as well as developing a high degree of mutual trust and respect. The work has culminated in the two principal current impacts at Saracens RUFC and Sky Sports:

An analytics approach was introduced to Saracens in 2010. Statistical analysis has now been embedded into the day-to-day decision making of the coaching staff. Gerrard is gradually facilitating the development of in-house capabilities to undertake the collection, analysis and interpretation of data. The key elements of the analytics approach introduced are: i) pre-game analysis, ii) post-game analysis, iii) training priorities and iv) strategic planning. In the first year of the process being implemented (2010/11), Saracens won the Aviva Premiership. They continue to be one of the top clubs in both domestic and European competition.

Sky Sports has adopted Gerrard’s methodology to enhance its televised coverage of rugby league. During the 2012 season, Sky Sports introduced the ‘Stats Wall’ as a regular feature in its weekly rugby league magazine programme, Boots N’All. This was further developed in 2013 as a separate 20-minute weekly programme ‘Stats Pack’ available via the ‘red button’ facility. Gerrard also developed an in-game ‘Performance Gauge’ to track changes in momentum during live televised games and introduced pre-game statistical briefings for the presenters.   

The research team

Bill Gerrard
Stephen Dobson, University of Hull
Peter Dawson, University of Bath