Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Category: Sportonomics (page 2 of 10)

Sport and statistics

The Bric games

With Russia winning in its bid to host the 2018 World Cup, all four Bric countries are now cemented on the sporting stage. From China hosting the Olympics in 2008, to Russia in 2018, there is a defined 10 years where these four countries are moving from being an global economic story to centre stage of global sport.

In between, we have will have had India’s commonwealth games in Delhi this year, and Brazil with the task of hosting the World Cup and Olympics just two years apart, in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

Fifa and the IOC have clearly grasped the developing world concept. Beijing beat three developed world cities to the Olympics back in 2001 (Toronto, Paris and Osaka – the other was Istanbul). Delhi was chosen over Hamilton, Canada. Brazil was the only bid for 2014, but Rio won the 2016 Olympics over Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago. Russia beat a trio of “old Europe” bids – the UK, Spain/Portugal and Holland/Belgium.

So developing is in. Established is out. Throw South Africa 2010 and Qatar 2022 into the mix, and you have a clear indication of the way these sporting events are being allocated. London 2012 might be the last of its kind for a long time.

Going back to the four Brics, what can we expect? So far, the interesting thing is not the similarity, but the differences. China’s ruthlessly efficient Olympics in Beijing was in utter contrast to the chaos in the build up to Delhi, where the accommodation and infrastructure were barely adequate.

Brazil’s build up will be fascinating. Can a country hosting these two giant events so close find any meaningful overlap in the building work? A few airports and rail links aside, not really. A world cup needs 8 or so big (40,000 plus) stadiums dotted around the country. An Olympics needs to be based in one city, and cover (in Rio’s case), 28 sports.

A world cup hosts 704 (22*32) players. Rio’s Olympics needs to house around 12,500 athletes. The needs are quite different. This has only happened twice before: the World Cup in the US in 1994 and Olympics in Atlanta in 1996; and the Olympics in Mexico in 1968 with the football arriving two years later. The fully-blown modern version will be a very different challenge to those events. For the ’94 World Cup, the US had most of the infrastructure in terms of stadiums and airports already in place. Atlanta was a damp squib of an Olympics. In terms of competitors alone, Rio’s Olympics will be more than twice the size of Mexico City’s, with nearly 100 more countries taking part.

And so to Russia. Whether or not it is a mafia state, the rebuilding and logistics will be quite staggering. Then again, the Qatar has promised to build cooled stadiums to counter the 40-degree heat. At least they have the extra four years to get it right.

Why was Sam Allardyce fired?

Why was Sam Allardyce fired? Politics aside, his record merited a “wait-and-see”.

Allardyce’s record

Teams Games Wins Draws Defeats Win % points per game points per season
Newcastle United 21 7 5 9 33% 1.24 47.04
Bolton Wanderers 226 80 66 80 35% 1.35 51.45

Let’s put this into perspective. Allardyce averaged 1.2 points per game with Newcastle – a season average of 47. Since the Premiership was reduced to 20 clubs, no team has been relegated with more than 42 points. The average points gained by the top of the relegation zone is 36.4. So Big Sam was not going down. His points per game was better with Bolton, but it was early days at Newcastle. they hired a mid-table manager. They got a mid-table manager. Firing him is a mystery.

Some good stats on the Telegraph‘s site on this. I’ve just added my own extra stats.

Englishman for the England job?

After Steve McCLaren, who next? The debate about foreign coaches has started again, with Arsene Wenger saying that it should be an Englishman for the England job. Perhaps he just wants to keep the spotlight off him, but does he have a point?

Of the UEFA teams – the teams in Europe – there are 54 teams in total, with 19 foreign coaches, 33 domestic and 2 jobs pending (Republic of Ireland being the other).

So, with over a third (35%) of coaches being foriegn, is England being naive to think that post-Sven, England should be managed by an Englishman? Notably, the countries that are currently seen as the “powerhouses” of Europe – France, Italy, Germany – are managed by domestic, not foreign coaches. Smaller countries tend to have foreign managers – Liechenstein, Moldova, Cyprus and Albania are in the 19. Perhaps an English manager isn’t a terrible idea, it just needs to be a better manager.

Telegraph need a primer in profit and loss

Interesting piece in the Telegraph. Apparently if England don’t make it into Euro 2008, it wouldn’t just mean a summer off from all that football nonsense and Steve McClaren out of a job: according to the headline an “English defeat would add up to £1bn loss”. Really? Where is this coming from?

According to one study, by the Centre for Economic and Business Research, based on an examination of the impact of the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2004, the effect of non-qualification could be as much as £1 billion.

Sadly, the basis for this huge figure is hard to dissect, as the report isn’t on their website. But the Telegraph summarises some of the main points. The impact would be in advertising revenues, drink sales and betting – as much as £300m was spent in advertising during the 2006 World Cup, and Euro 2008 would give pubs etc a £285m boost.

So where’s the loss? Can’t see it yet. All we are looking at here is expected increases that might – or might not – happen. As far as I remember, that’s not a loss. It’s a fall in expected profits. Profit warnings aren’t much fun, but they are different to a loss. In each area money will still be spent: advertisers will display adverts in the matches, they will just be charged less; people will still go to the pub to watch France vs Portugal, they just won’t drink as much; people will still bet.

In short – money will be made, just not as much. If I promise to give you £100 for getting an A in an exam, but £50 for a B or less, if you get a B you’ve still made money.

But “less money will be made if England lose” isn’t such a good headline, is it?

Venables the saviour?

Statistics. Don’t you just love them? Especially when you make them say something convenient for your news story…

Hello Observer Sport. Goodbye Steve McClaren, England manager. Well, maybe, if England don’t qualify for Euro 08. In their big piece entitled “How lucky can you get?” the Observer ran a table in which they showed that:

McClaren and Don Revie are the only England managers to record a 24 per cent defeat record. The best record belongs to Terry Venables – 4 per cent, representing one defeat in 23 games.

P W D L win% loss%
Steve McClaren 17 9 4 4 52.9 23.5
Don Revie 29 14 8 7 48.3 24.1
Kevin Keegan 18 7 7 4 38.9 22.2
Walter Winterbottom 139 78 33 28 56.1 20.1
Bobby Robson 95 47 30 18 49.5 18.9
Graham Taylor 38 18 13 7 47.4 18.4
Rob Greenwood 55 33 12 10 60.0 18.2
Glenn Hoddle 28 17 6 5 60.7 17.9
Alf Ramsey 113 69 27 17 61.1 15.0
Sven-Goran Eriksson 67 40 17 10 59.7 14.9
Terry Venables 23 11 11 1 47.8 4.3

(note: table was rounded up with NO decimal points)

Gosh, that’s terrible, isn’t it? Sack him now.

Perhaps he will get the sack, but first, a few pointers.

1) Putting McCLaren top of the table was disingenuous. McClarens loss percentage is 23.5 – Revie’s is 24.1. Rounding up and down is fair enough, but Revie should be top of that table. Shame on the Observer for that one.

2) Venables is McClaren’s number 2 and has been mooted in some circles as a possible replacement. Suggesting he has the BEST record is very misleading. The best record? In terms of defeats, yes. But what was quietly gets ignored is that McClaren has a better WIN record than Venables: 53% to 48%.

In fact, in the win percentage stakes McClaren is a mid-table England manager.

P W D L win% loss%
Alf Ramsey 113 69 27 17 61.1 15.0
Glenn Hoddle 28 17 6 5 60.7 17.9
Rob Greenwood 55 33 12 10 60.0 18.2
Sven-Goran Eriksson 67 40 17 10 59.7 14.9
Walter Winterbottom 139 78 33 28 56.1 20.1
McClaren 17 9 4 4 52.9 23.5
Bobby Robson 95 47 30 18 49.5 18.9
Don Revie 29 14 8 7 48.3 24.1
Terry Venables 23 11 11 1 47.8 4.3
Graham Taylor 38 18 13 7 47.4 18.4
Kevin Keegan 18 7 7 4 38.9 22.2

And in terms of points per game (3 for a win, 1 for a draw), McClaren is again mid-table, just 0.02 behind…. Terry Venables.

P W D L win% loss% Points per game
Alf Ramsey 113 69 27 17 61.1 15.0 2.07
Sven-Goran Eriksson 67 40 17 10 59.7 14.9 2.04
Glenn Hoddle 28 17 6 5 60.7 17.9 2.04
Rob Greenwood 55 33 12 10 60.0 18.2 2.02
Walter Winterbottom 139 78 33 28 56.1 20.1 1.92
Terry Venables 23 11 11 1 47.8 4.3 1.91
McClaren 17 9 4 4 52.9 23.5 1.82
Bobby Robson 95 47 30 18 49.5 18.9 1.80
Graham Taylor 38 18 13 7 47.4 18.4 1.76
Don Revie 29 14 8 7 48.3 24.1 1.72
Kevin Keegan 18 7 7 4 38.9 22.2 1.56

I happen to think Venables was a better manager than McClaren, but the Observer’s table is not the way to prove it.

The English red-herring / why immigration is not to blame

I’m fed up of the argument that English football is suffering due to all the foreign players. I’ve looked at some of the arguments on my other blog, but the figures used by the Sunday Times suggest that, post-Bosman, the England team is basically screwed. Or is it?

The figures they give are not explained fully – are they representative of squads, average teams or just taken from the first match of the season? (This first match is often quoted in articles on this subject. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the most convenient figure.)

And here they are. I have added the increase and percentages:

Foreign players 1994 2006 increase % incr
England 141 316 175 124.1%
Germany 163 222 59 36.2%
France 144 178 34 23.6%
Italy 71 170 99 139.4%
Spain 86 191 105 122.1%

What does this show? Spain has had a similar increase to England in terms of percentage, but the national team is still a) full of world-class players b) without a trophy since 1962. Italy has had an increase of 99 players, roughly 4 per club. And they just won the World Cup, so no worries there then. Germany have seen a milder increase, but still have the second highest number (222 – equivalent to 12 foreigners per club which could be the entire first team), and have won Euro 96 as well as being runners up in the 2002 World Cup. It just doesn’t add up.

But…. should English players try traveling abroad? Currently there are 10 English players playing in other leagues aside from Scotland. Now, let’s take Brazil. The only figures I could find for Brazil suggested over 850 players abroad. France according to this article in Time has over 100 – and that was in 2002. Italy I couldn’t find figures for, but it’s certainly a lot more than England. When I find the numbers, I’ll add them here.

But the point is the same – travel is linked with success. Overseas players are exposed to a different culture and style. And it’s clearly an indicator of talent that exists in the first place, talent that is nurtured in academies (France) or on the streets (Brazil).

Plus, my esteemed colleague Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist, has a few thoughts on the subject. (The FT doesn’t do sport that often, so I’d pay attention). Oh, and here’s a another economist, Stephen King’s analysis (not the horror writer).

Import – but no talk of export

I have just got back from Paris, and a fine journey it is too from the new St Pancras. But as we took a taxi through the Hausmann boulevards, I couldn’t help thinking of French football and radio, and it struck a nerve about the English game.

The Premiership foreign players debate rumbles on and on. The Sunday Times had a good synthesis of the arguments, but as nostalgic old players chip in, no real solution is apparent apart from quotas as a means of making the England team competitive.

Hang on. Quotas? As in restrictions? Aside from being against European employment law and therefore pointless, when do quotas work?

And here is where France comes in. France are the most successful European team of recent years. And French music, in general, sucks. Stay with me here.

Quotas haven’t helped French music. Radio stations in France must play Francophone music as 40% of their music. And the effect has been patchy. French music stars such as Air and MC Solaar haven’t flourished because of this quota system, they have emerged despite it. All quotas have done is encourage flabby imitations of US and English acts. Quotas are nonsense.

And French football? The team during its most successful period had players scattered across leagues in Europe. Home-grown talent, yes. Unable to fashion a team because they are in different leagues? No.

In England we should worry more about whether young players are developing properly and have facilities, rather than the composition of our league. If a generation of young English kids grow up wanting to be Cesc Fabregas or Christiano Ronaldo, then fine.

Also, why aren’t we encouraging our players to play abroad, in Spain, Germany or Italy? It’s worked for France and Brazil.

It is also highly unlikely that English players will not flourish in the Premiership. The weather, language and culture are in their favour. But put the idea of quotas to bed forever. It’s a legal and economic non-starter.

P.S. The headline scare-story: At the start of the Premiership in 1992, just 10 players in the starting lineups for the first weekend were foreign. Of the 220 players who started Premier League matches last weekend, only 77 were English.

And, lest we forget, in 1992, England won the European championship, due to all the English talent at home. Oh, that’s right. They didn’t qualify. Whoops.


“Chelsea are furious”. Really? Why? Sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe points out that their wage bill is huge, but gets a few figures wrong.

Sutcliffe told delegates at the FT Sports Industry Summit yesterday morning that Terry earns £150,000 a week, that Chelsea are “£250m in the red” and that United had increased ticket prices by 13%. Both clubs disputed his figures.

Yes, ManU have increased their ticket prices for a season ticket by 10.87%.

Hang on… 11 per cent isn’t exactly in line with inflation. That hasn’t been up to 11 per cent since, ooh, 1981. Why ManU fans put up with this I have no idea.

Killer instincts (but not for stats)

The Guardian is starting to get it’s head around a few sport stats these days – aside from the spoof ones they run on the back page. To go with the Rugby World Cup opening weekend they ran a small piece that compared teams so-called Killer Instinct i.e the time spent in the opposition’s 22 compared to the number of tries scored in the match. The results were:

20.6sec Australia (269s in Japan’s 22, 13 tries scored)
23.6 New Zealand (260s in Italy’s 22, 11 tries)
49 South Africa (392s in Samoa’s 22, 8 tries)
68.8 Scotland (550s in Canada’s 22, 8 tries)
135.3 England (406s in USA’s 22, 3 tries)

While I admit that this shows that England played poorly, as a measure it is nonsense. A few quick observations:
1 – Scoring tries isn’t everything. If your opponents persistently foul by being offside, a penalty may be all you can get from being in the 22. At least the team is scoring.
2- Teams can strike from anywhere on the pitch these days. Possession between the halfway line and 22 can become tries, penalties or drop goals. Being inside the 22 does not make it that much more likely that you will score – especially if you don’t have the ball.
3- Camping out in your opponents 22 can be demoralising for them, and make it less likely they will score against you. So that’s not such a bad thing.
4- This is ONE game. Run it across a whole tournament and you might get something meaningfull.

Brooking weighs in

The foreign football player in Britain debate continues – Sir Trevor Brooking has joined in, suggesting that it’s a major concern for England’s chances at the big tournaments.

Then the BBC used some stats to back it up.

  • 76% of the starting XIs that played on the first weekend of the first Premier League season in 1992 were English, only 37% were English on the first weekend of this season
  • Only 10% (23 players) of the starting XIs in 1992 were from outside the UK, this season that number had increased to 56% (123)
  • Non-English players have scored 69% of Premier League goals so far this season – they have even scored two of the three own goals
  • Of the 118 goals scored so far, only nine have been scored by seven English strikers
  • According to the latest Deloitte figures for disclosed transfer fees, spending by Premier League clubs rose from £333m in 2006 to £531m in 2007
  • Half of that went to non-English clubs

  • Where do we start? Well, the first point is horrendously misleading. Starting XIs are not representative of clubs, given the squad system and rotation that most clubs use. If English players are in the squad, they will pick up ideas and techniques from their foreign teammates. Also, just the first weekend of the season? That’s not a data set you can really justify. Why not look at the whole season? In fact all of the data used is cherry-picked and misleading.

    “Half” (where’s the percentage) of transfer fees going abroad? Well, if you are going to buy foreign players, that’s where the money will go. Interestingly, that would suggest foreign players are being traded between English clubs, so once they are proven Premiership performers, they get sold on.

    But the link is just not proved. Here’s a scenario. In a league, domestic players count for less than 10%. In fact, it’s just the International team plus a few others. The rest of the league is superstars – the rest of the world’s best. What would this do for the domestic players? Make them worse? They are confronting the best that Brazil, Italy etc can throw at them every Saturday. Wouldn’t that make them better players?

    It just doesn’t follow that English players are suffering. In effect, it should make the next league down more competitive, and improve the game across the country. Talent is now borderless in sport, business and art. You don’t want to turn it away. These arguments are like the politician scoring cheap points by being anti-globalisation and trying to protect dead industry jobs. It’s time that a bit of proper scientific (dare I say it – economic) vigour was applied to the situation.

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