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Is the Moneyball effect ruining football?

by Matt Peden Matt Peden

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  • Posted on Monday 2nd November, 2015

Moneyball is one of my all-time favourite films and I did wonder as I walked out of the cinema in 2011, would this methodology ever come to English football and more importantly, will it work?
For those who don’t know what the Moneyball effect is…here goes.
Baseball as a sport was turned on its head in 2002 when the Oakland Athletics, and mainly General Manager Billy Beane with the help of Paul DePodestra, turned to mathematics and statistics to build a team of undervalued players on a limited budget into a more successful team. Since then, Beane’s methods have been replicated by baseball teams and teams from a range of sports including football. In fact, Beane was made an advisor to Dutch club AZ Alkmaar in 2015.
However, has English football seen this approach yet? In simple terms, yes.
I was driving home from the office this week listening to Stan Collymore on talkSPORT discussing the structure of managerless Aston Villa. As a Villa fan, Stan is obviously outraged at the outcomes of the club in recent months, but did make a good point about how the club’s transfer policy is run by a Sporting Director who has a reputation for making successful commercial deals with brands, not signing footballers. Stan talked about how he was heavily reliant on their head of analysis, whose name can’t be found on google! Either way…it’s a stats man and a commercial man who have the power now at Villa Park.
Brentford have gone down this route. Sacking their most successful manager in years to bring in an inexperienced “puppet” to follow a strict formula. He lasted all of three months. Swindon Town, although there is no evidence to support they have followed the Moneyball method, currently have their Chairman as Manager. Why? Because he doesn’t think anyone else is good enough.
I would go as far as saying that the majority of teams in The Football League now look at stats in more detail than ever before, but I don’t believe we have gone full “Moneyball” yet. Time will tell if we do, but what we do know is that there is more pressure on football clubs from a commercial perspective than ever before, and this may lead to a change of strategy and a change of thinking. This has a direct link to sponsorship revenues and activation.
If you were a Chairman, and remember the new television deal that comes into play next year, and a up and coming manager would win, lose and draw and % of matches and keep you in the division based on the Moneyball method, would you gamble, or would you stick to what you know (which is also a gamble, unless you hire Big Sam apparently)?
Commercial pressures on clubs have brought new people into the game, which has given fresh thinking. Some good, some bad, but the ultimate point is that it is a team both on and off the field. Everyone has to be working in unison or it simply won’t work. Beane only worked with people who believed in his methods at the Oakland Athletics – there was no half and half.
So the question is…can football even go “all-in” and what influence will this have on marketing, sponsorship and fan engagement? If results are a winner, then we’ll all be in!