Bill Gerrard and Billy Beane are Doing a Number on Soccer

Posted on April 5, 2008 by

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Doing a Number on Soccer is a story penned by Chris Ballard for the April 7 issue of Sports Illustrated. The article (which I can’t find on-line) looks at the impact Billy Beane – the Oakland A’s general manager – is having on soccer.  Here is an excerpt from the story:

… the Oakland A’s general manager (Billy Beane), the Maestro of Moneyball, is bringing his stat-crunching mojo to the beautiful game, which he got hooked on five years ago after seeing a match in England.  He has brainstormed soccer metrics with a Leeds professor and jetted to the 2006 World Cup (during baseball season, no less). He even persuaded the A’s ownership group to buy an MLS expansion franchise, the San Jose Earthquakes, for a reported $20 million last July.  Since then, Beane has been the team’s strategic overseer… .

Back in January a similar story was told by Jeff Carlisle at ESPN.com.  In the Carlisle article the mysterious Leeds professor was identified.

Beane confirmed that he is working with Leeds University Business School professor Bill Gerrard in the hope of developing a proprietary system for evaluating soccer players, as well as looking to acquire additional sources of data.

As I noted last January, Bill is a Professor of Sport Management and Finance at the University of Leeds (in England).  He is described on the Leeds website as follows:

Dr Bill Gerrard is an international authority on sports finance. He has published academic papers on the player transfer market, measuring player quality, coaching efficiency, sports sponsorship and the media ownership of teams. He is Acting Editor of the European Sport Management Quarterly and a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Sport Management and the Journal of Sports Economics. He is a member of the North American Society of Sport Management and the European Association of Sport Management. He undertakes consultancy work in the sports industry, advising teams, governing bodies and financial institutions. Dr Gerrard has developed player transfer and wage valuation systems for use in the football industry. He has undertaken squad valuations for various football clubs, including Leeds United.

Gerrard’s approach to the study of soccer was detailed in the following article in the November, 2007 issue of the International Journal of Sport Finance:

Is the Moneyball Approach Transferable to Complex Invasion Team Sports?

This article looks at how sports like soccer, football, basketball, and hockey can be examined statistically.  Unfortunately, the Gerrard paper is not on-line.  If it was, it would help people understand how one models (and I like Gerrard’s label) complex invasion team sports.

And for those who want more, here is a two minute YouTube video I found of Bill discussing both the role statistics play in decision-making in sports as well as how performance metrics in sports should be constructed

One last note – and I noted this last January as well — Gerrard’s approach (developed independent of my own work) is entirely consistent with how I modeled basketball in “A Simple Measure of Worker Productivity in the National Basketball Association.” forthcoming in 2008 in The Business of Sport (eds. Brad Humphreys and Dennis Howard, 3 volumes, Westport, Conn.: Praeger). And yes, this paper is still forthcoming.  Hopefully it will be published very soon.

– DJ