Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Howler is Up on Kickstarter!

A long time in coming, the Kickstarter campaign for Howler Magazine is now up and running.  I am proud to be contributing to their magazine via both written word and financial contributions.  If you enjoy the writing of Franklin Foer, Aleksandar Hernon, David Hirshey, George Vecsey, David Wangerin, Jonathan Wilson, or me (yes, I just slipped myself into that esteemed list) then you'll love this magazine.

Howler Magazine will combine the finest graphical layouts with the best in long-form writing.  Every quarter you'll eagerly race to your mailbox or digital reading device in search of the latest beautiful images and rich stories. I'd ask that you watch the video below and consider making a contribution to their Kickstarter campaign.  I did...

Monday, May 21, 2012

On Forbes: A Chance to Prove Their Doubters Wrong

Who got the last laugh, Venky's?
My latest post at Forbes examines the performance of Sam Allardyce and his recently-promoted West Ham United. The Hammers earned promotion back to the Premier League on Saturuday via a last-minute win against Blackpool that was decided on a thrilling goal by Ricardo Vaz Te. My analysis looks at how well Allardyce has done over the years, and what it might mean for West Ham's chances of not only staying up next year but also their chances of long term success given their manager's track record.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

On Forbes: My Review of the 2nd Edition of Soccernomics

Just published at Forbes is my review of the second edition of Soccernomics.  Of course I run a few numbers to compare the two editions, and then I single out my two favorite chapters from the four new ones in the book.  I also use a personal example of material that shows up in the book to show the small, tangled web of interconnectedness that ties together the soccer analytics world to demonstrate the book's concept of knowledge networks.  Head on over to the Forbes site if you have a few minutes and leave a comment, especially if you've already read the book and have some thoughts of your own.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Your Questions for Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski

This Friday morning I will be sitting down to interview Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, authors of the recently released second edition of Soccernomics.  I owe a good bit of inspiration for my blog and continued writing to the first edition of the book, and look forward to asking a number of questions about it and the new material in the second edition.  In keeping with the book's theme of "knowledge networks", I fully recognize that I only have a fraction of the questions that should be asked inside my own head.  Each of my readers likely has many more good questions that need to be asked.

So here's your opportunity to play a role in the interview.  If you're interested, please submit your questions in the comments field below.  I will then be sure to pick the ones I feel best add to the existing questions I've already written up, and will provide full attributing to the source during the interview and my writeup at Forbes.  Please be sure to leave some way for me to contact you (twitter, email, etc.) if it's not already included in the profile with which you use to leave the comment.  As always, be respectful and keep it G-rated.  Judging by the content of the second edition of the book, the authors are more than happy to debate its finer points when approached in a respectful tone.

I look forward to hearing what you might like asked of the two authors!

Monday, May 14, 2012

On Forbes: Manchester City - The Ultimate Triumph of the Wealthy Benefactor Model

44 Years In The Making
What a crazy finish yesterday to perhaps the craziest season in Premier League history.  I know it wouldn't be nearly as exciting without the end-of-season story lines, but there is a part of me that wishes that the Premier League would kick all 10 matches off at the same time every weekend.

Personally, I was glued to the Arsenal/WBA and Manchester City/QPR matches.  I like to watch the front runners and see how they handle the pressure.  In both cases both front runners had momentary lapses of concentration that led to a sinking doubt that they might not pull it off.  In both cases the frontrunners were able to turn things around and get the wins they desperately needed to seal their fates for next season.  So it will definitely be Manchester City, Manchester United, and Arsenal heading back to the Champions League with either Spurs or Chelsea in tow.

As an Arsenal fan without much hatred for our cross town rivals, I've thought all of about two minutes as to which outcome I would prefer in next weekend's Champions League final.  My conclusion is that the drama associated with a Chelsea loss in this year's final and subsequent failure to make next season's tournament would produce a far more interesting story line than Spurs being left out for the second year in a row.  Therefore, in a final in which I don't have a dog in the fight I am going to be a mild Bayern fan.

Before I move on to what this post really is about, a congratulations is in order for the players and staff of Manchester City.  It's never as easy as buying the best players and paying them the best wages in the league.  Plenty have tried such an approach before, and many have failed.  Winning the Premier League is much harder than that, and City deserves to be congratulated for their great accomplishment under immense pressure all season long.

However, yesterday's outcome in the Premier League did set off immediate accusations that City bought the title, with counter accusations that United's been doing the same since the start of the Premier League era.  I decided to provide some analysis at my Forbes blog to help answer that question with some numbers courtesy of the TPI.  Have a look to understand why I believe Manchester City's title represents the ultimate triumph of the wealthy benefactor model that both they and Chelsea have followed to championship glory.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

On Forbes: One to Go in the EPL

My first blog post at Forbes is now up for everyone to read. It's the final weekend of EPL action, and I have kicked off my new blog by finishing up a series of posts started here back in April. I not only examine the latest form of the top six teams in the league, but I also take a look at the two teams battling to avoid the final relegation spot - QPR and Bolton. There will be a good bit of subplot and history no matter where each club finishes, and I supply the usual odds of each club's finish position per the Euro Club Index. Be sure to head over there and check it out, and have a wonderful final weekend of Premier League viewing!


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A New Opportunity at Forbes Online

A few months ago I posted about my desire to make a part-time go of professional soccer writing. I had reached a point nearly two years into the life of my blog that the topics I wanted to cover would involve some modest expenses on my part. While I've never been into writing about soccer for the money, I am also unable to simply throw money at the topic given my family's other financial commitments. Thus, I made the decision to make the pivot towards the commercial side of the business in the hopes of providing enough income to offset the expenses for a few of the larger topics I wanted to cover.

Today I am very proud to announce that I have begun to realize that goal: I am now a contributor to Forbes Online. One of the editors of the site stumbled upon my blog at the beginning of the year, and contacted me about a month ago to see if I was interested in writing for them. After only a few emails and phone calls I was able to work out what seems to be a very fair contract, and found the entire process to be extremely easy and transparent. From what I can tell the online team at Forbes really gets the decentralized, writer-driven world that the new media environment has become. The whole process of setting everything up has been extremely easy, and the staff has been extremely helpful addressing any questions I have had along the way. I am very grateful for their trust in me, and I look forward to growing our relationship in the coming months.

My vision is to post at least five times a month at Forbes. I will continue to use my own blog and the Transfer Price Index as outlets for writing about far more complex modeling and the nitty-gritty details associated with it. I will post links to all of my Forbes articles here, with "On Forbes:" at the beginning of the post's title to denote it contains a link to such a story. You can still use this site's RSS feed as a way to maintain a one-stop-shop of all of my writing.

Lastly, I want to thank each and every one of the readers of my blog over the last two years. None of this would have happened without each of you emailing, commenting, linking, and generally raising this blog's visibility. I am deeply grateful for all of your feedback and support, and continue to value such interactions going forward. My writing is about a two-way conversation where we learn from each other. Thank you for being a part of this journey with me. I look forward to providing even more high value content with the resources that writing for Forbes will provide me.

Now it's time to begin work on my first post at Forbes! I'll let you know when it goes live. Thanks again, and enjoy today's "replay" of the FA Cup Final.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Quick Update on Arsenal's Late Season Form

Remember when I mentioned a month ago that the race for third and fourth was anything but over given Arsenal's closing form the last few seasons?  With yet another draw, Arsenal continues to demonstrate why such a view was prescient.  See the graph below for the latest on their 4-match running average PPM.

Only four matches ago the Gunners had a five point lead over Tottenham and Newcastle.  That lead is now down to one and two points, respectively, heading into the final weekend of the season.  While the Euro Club Index has the match outcome favoring Arsenal, recall that the Gunners haven't won since Match Day 33 on April 14th - nearly a month from the day that the finale will be played.  It's worth considering how things may play out given the three outcomes available to the Arsenal match this weekend.

A loss at West Bromwich Albion next week opens the door for both Newcastle and Spurs to get through, leaving the Gunners in fifth.  It would also keep their 4-match PPM at 0.75, which would be their worst finish to a season over the last three.  If the Gunners were to miss out on Champions League play, either via finishing fifth or dropping to fourth and Chelsea winning the current tournament's final on May 19th, it would easily be considered the most disastrous late season performance of the Wenger Era.

A draw would ensure at least fourth table position for Arsenal, as Newcastle is too far behind in goal differential to close the gap if they were to tie Arsenal on points at the end of the season.  If Tottenham were to concurrently win their finale, the Gunners would find themselves one point behind Tottenham at season's end and their Champions League aspirations at Chelsea's mercy.  Their four-match PPM would rise slightly to 1.0, which would equal how they finished the prior two seasons.

A win seals the deal for third, with the summer worries isolated to squad depth and retaining Robin Van Persie's talents.  A win would also raise their 4-match PPM to 1.5 - their highest finish in three years.  However, this might be small consolation that would only serve to hide the fact that yet again the Gunners have run out of steam during the run-in.  Under such circumstances they will have certainly backed themselves into next years Champions League based upon luck rather than skill.

It didn't have to be this way.  Arsenal could have picked up a few points elsewhere during the run in to ensure they didn't need to win the final match to guarantee Champions League play next season.  Yet for every dropped point they've dropped in the final eight matches, their rivals for third and fourth table position haven't been able to take full advantage of the opportunities.  Thus, Arsenal finds themselves going into the final week of the season still in control of their own destiny.  Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good, although being good enough this weekend would ensure the Gunners don't need to be lucky elsewhere.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Quick Post: Two to Go in the Premier League

The header that may break a 44 year drought.
All of the clubs in the Premier League had now played 36 matches.  The season now comes down to two crazy weekends of action that will determine which of the two Manchesters will claim the title and which of the four teams battling for the final two Champions League positions will be on the outside looking in when the season ends.

When it comes to the battle for first place, all that can be said is that Manchester United picked the worst time to literally have their worst form of the season (see graph below).  After spending every week of the season but one at or above the 1.5 PPM threshold, United's loss to City on Monday dropped them to a 4-match average of 1.0 PPM.  That drop in form, along with Manchester City winning their last four matches for a 3.0 PPM on a 4-match basis, has allowed City to draw even on points and take the lead based upon goal differential.

City's win, United's loss, the clubs' prior form, and their remaining opponents mean the Euro Club Index puts City's odds of winning the title at 58%.

In the race for Champions League positions, the one point separating Arsenal, Tottenham, and Newcastle will certainly make for an interesting two weekends of action.  Mid-week wins by Spurs and Newcastle have now put both ahead of Arsenal on a 4-match running average basis (see graph below).

In terms of odds of finish position, the Euro Club Index has provided the numbers in the table below.

Compared to my last update, the following changes have been realized:

  • Arsenal's draw at Stoke combined with Spurs and Newcastle's mid-week wins have lowered the Gunners' odds of finishing third by 8%.  Their likelihood of finishing fourth went up by 6%, and their odds of finishing fifth are up 1%.
  • Tottenham's odds of finishing third have gone up 10%, while their odds of finishing fourth have gone up 27%.  They are virtually assured of finishing no lower than fifth.
  • Newcastle must beat Manchester City this weekend to continue to have a shot at finishing third.  The Euro Club Index has the odds of that match's outcome as 29% Newcastle Win/32% Draw/39% City Win.  It's not unprecedented for Newcastle to buck the ECI's predictions, with the latest example being their win at Chelsea only having a 9% likelihood of happening according to the Index.
  • Chelsea's loss to Newcastle effectively eliminated them from contention for third, and they only have a 3.3% chance of finishing fourth.  Chelsea's only hope of playing in next year's Champions League tournament is to beat Bayern in the final of this year's tournament.
This weekend's action will go a long way towards determining the Premier League outcome, with perhaps the Manchester City/Newcastle United affair having the biggest impact.  Enjoy what should be an exciting weekend of soccer!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Comprehensive Model For Evaluating Total Team Valuation (TTV)

Chelsea 2006/07.  The Premier League's all-time most expensive team at £657M in 2010 CTTV.
I just made my latest post over at the Transfer Price Index blog.  Our working group has been lucky enough to exchange data with Stefan Szymanski, which has given us access to a complete list of Premier League club wages for every club in every season through 2009/2010.  This newly available wage data has allowed me to create a comprehensive wages and transfer valuation model to estimate the cost of assembling and paying a year's worth of wages for any team.  Knowing what the total team valuation (TTV) is for each club for each season then allowed me to create current valuation factors (e.g. Premier League-specific inflation factors) that communicate the current cost of assembling prior teams (CTTV).  Finally, regression models were updated and we now also fully understand how much a club must spend in player wages and transfer fees to compete for the top spots in the league.  I'd highly recommend heading over to the TPI and have a read.

I am extremely grateful to Prof. Szymaski for his willingness to share his data.  It is part of a much larger data set he and his research group will use to study more than 40 years of English soccer from multiple economics angles.  I will keep you informed of any papers or books he publishes, as I am sure they will contain wonderful insights that will go way beyond my one dimensional analysis at the TPI blog.

Finally, I am extremely appreciative of Prof. Szymaski's and Simon Kuper's continuing dialogue on this topic.  It's clear that both of them have a different opinion than the authors of the TPI as to the relative impact of transfer fees on the game of soccer.  Nonetheless, we have an ongoing and continual dialogue via email and interviews, with the latest installment of the running dialogue found in Kuper's and Szymanski's expanded and updated second edition of Soccernomics that was released yesterday.  I picked up my copy on its release date, and as a humble brag I would recommend checking out page 413 of the book to see their thoughts on the TPI.  I will be pouring through the book in the next two weeks in preparation for an interview with both men that will hopefully shed more light on the topics contained in its covers.  Based upon what I was able to preview via Amazon's "Look Inside" feature, I highly recommend you pick up a copy as well and see what's contained in the additional 100 pages of material.