What do the people in a football analytics company actually do all day? The truth is no two weeks are exactly the same, and transfer windows are as manic as everyone says.
The day starts with reading the messages that have come in overnight. Football runs on WhatsApp, and our company runs on Slack, so they are the first places checked.
As Ram, one of our founders, is based in India he has typically been working while the rest of us sleep and there will be new scouting reports or interesting data insights to catch up on first thing.
Early in the week the match data will have been updated in our supplier’s systems so one of the first things to do will be to start compiling opposition analysis reports for the next round of fixtures. We use data from one of the major suppliers, store it in our own database, process it, and use tableau to create reports and visualisations. We’ve worked with the coaching staff and analysts at our client clubs to find out the information the coaches want to know. We supplement this with video work to ensure the data matches what we are seeing.
The standard week would involve a lot of scouting. Market knowledge is absolutely key to us so we do a lot of proactive scouting. Proactive scouting is basically watching football to ensure we have excellent knowledge of players, managers and teams at all levels. The advantage of our model is we can watch one game on behalf of all our clients, there will be players at, below, or above, their level. There may be players we see do not suit their current system, or players who are making their debut and have not yet been picked up by data. The larger a business grows the harder it is to concentrate on just watching games but it is vital to how we want the company to run.
The bulk of our scouting is in the EFL/Scotland/U23 football, this is a change for many of us. The reality of our client base, and post-Brexit changes mean that these leagues will contain the vast majority of players we will sign. We will typically enter a few of the interesting players into the databases we run for each client.
During a transfer window we have to dedicate more time to reactive scouting. This window in particular is a very difficult one for clubs, there are a lot of fixtures still to play, clubs want to run slightly bigger squads due to the congestion, and the EFL salary cap means players on bigger wages aren’t affordable to League One and Two clubs. This means the typical players being offered up by agents and clubs are not experienced players with data profiles. Our job is to watch these players and offer our clubs an opinion on whether they are worth more time. Sometimes agents do offer players you hadn’t thought would be available, or can provide context for their performances, so it is important we watch every player recommended and grade them for our clients.
Football is ever-changing, as an example we could get a call or message from a client saying that one of their key players looks likely to miss the rest of the season. They may need a right back on loan.
In this case we would go through our existing list of right backs who suit the client’s style and budget. We pass the names and data on but also have a fresh look around the market.
The most likely loans come from U23 football, we realised this was a weakness of ours a few months back and hired in some specialist consultants, along with increasing the number of games we watch at that level.
Scouting activities don’t just cover the UK. Several of us monitor leagues we know our clients can’t cover as much as they would like with their in-house staff. We have an ongoing list of interesting players and our Slack channels are where we discuss where we see their potential future level.
Despite the amount of football watching we do we are still believers in the value of data. Earlier this year we invested in some advanced API data for our main leagues. Kevin and Ram are using the data to improve our in-house tools. By having access to the XY coordinates for each action we have been able to develop our own models we believe help us identify the right players to recommend to our clients.
Like all companies we have to choose what to make public (because we like sharing interesting things with people) and what will give us and our clients a competitive advantage (because we need to make a living).
Clients will often make a request for detailed information on players. This serves two purposes; due diligence for deciding that the player is worth the cost, and also to persuade the player to join the club.
One thing we’ve learned over our time doing this job is that talent always has options. You are very rarely the only club to have identified a talent, and even if you are players have agents who will soon let everyone else know their client is on the market. Managers and Sporting Directors play a big part in the player’s final choice and showing they know exactly how their system will get the best out of the player can play a part in persuading them.
Some of our consultants are working with us on a project for some clients overseas. We have helped put together a few squads for various leagues around the world. One of our first customers, Tampa Bay Rowdies, won the USL title this year. Another is having a very successful season in Asia. Whether we are working with a team paying £30k a week or £300 a week the process of player identification and assessment is the same. We have watched a lot of grainy footage from the Spanish 3rd division in the last 6 months!
The boring bits of running a business like invoicing, accounts, employment, and paying bills have to be dealt with.
Strategy. We are strongly of the opinion that data is great for helping with recruitment, scouting, and squad management. And that there is still a lot that can be done by clubs to improve all these processes.
What we like to spend some time on doing is thinking about what comes next. The length of time between a promising player making their debut, the data flagging them up, and Brighton (or Brentford) signing them is ever shortening. So we need to find out how to compete with this.
Data scouting works really well and if you have an owner who likes a calculated gamble (as both Brighton and Brentford) do you can do very well from it. But what comes next?
We put aside some time each week to talk to people interested in figuring that out. We discuss strategies on multi-club networks, developing intellectual property, and clubs with unique advantages in terms of demographics and work permit legislation. Working with investors looking at buying into club football, and post-acquisition strategy is something we have started working on and will be doing a lot more of in the future.
Lastly we need to do publicity, be it blogs or podcasts. Football is a competitive industry so we do have to put content out as regularly as we can fit in to keep ourselves in people’s minds.