How teams of mathematicians and math kids started a revolution in sports

Remarkable is the way in which the manager of Premier League football club Brighton & Hove Albion, Roberto De Zerbi, has surpassed predecessor Graham Potter on the playing field.

When Potter left for Chelsea, currently the most expensive club in the world, in September 2022 with the promise of unlimited spending, it seemed like a good idea. Chelsea have earned a whopping £488 million in the transfer market since the start of the 2022-23 season.

Chelsea’s new owners, Los Angeles Dodgers baseball owner Todd Boehly, backed by West Coast private equity group Clearwater, are part of a private equity revolution in the sport.

Keeping score: Tony Bloom, owner of Brighton and Hove Albion (pictured at the Amex Stadium), founded specialist online sports betting analysis company Starlizard

Keeping score: Tony Bloom, owner of Brighton and Hove Albion (pictured at the Amex Stadium), founded specialist online sports betting analysis company Starlizard

Premier League clubs and rivals in Italy’s Serie A and Spain’s La Liga, as well as Six Nations rugby, have all been targeted by public-private investment groups.

The belief is that by applying modern financial disciplines and advanced data to sports ventures, value can be released.

That certainly turned out to be the case for private equity group CVC in Formula 1 car racing. Major European sports have not embraced the progressive statistical approach enthusiastically adopted in America.

The profit opportunities presented by analytics, social media, streaming services, enhanced franchising, smarter accounting, and much more, if skillfully embraced, can be huge.

Chelsea has already found new ways to account for transfers or human capital.

Instead of paying the new talent out of current income – the conventional approach – acquisition fees, like any other investment, are amortized or amortized over the life of the contract.

It was no coincidence that Chelsea chairman Boehly chose to involve commentator Danny Finkelstein when he put together his board of directors at the football club.

A lifelong Chelsea supporter, Finkelstein was an early adopter of the statistical approach to football analysis through a sports column in The Times newspaper.

The contrasting performances of Chelsea (who have struggled) and Brighton since Potter’s departure are of great significance to me personally. Growing up I was an avid Brighton supporter.

My subscription, in the old Goldstone Ground, now a dismal shopping center, was within sight of the director’s box, which was then occupied by Harry Bloom, the vice-chairman, among others.

He was the grandfather of the current owner, math genius and gambling entrepreneur Tony Bloom.

Bestseller: Moneyball author Michael Lewis

Bestseller: Moneyball author Michael Lewis

Bestseller: Moneyball author Michael Lewis

The Blooms were family acquaintances. I bought my first car from Ronnie’s (Tony’s father) used dealer.

His brother Ray was a few years above me when I was at Brighton, Hove & Sussex Grammar School.

As a student, the Blooms were kind enough to get me a summer job as a room service waiter at the Metropole Hotel in Brighton, which they then owned.

As a resident of South West London I have been a Chelsea season ticket holder for the last 30 years, attracted by the enthusiasm of my two sons. It’s been a great ride and I never imagined that the destinies of two clubs would be closely intertwined.

As the fortunes of the two teams have changed over the course of the current season, with low-budget Brighton progressing to the top half of the league table and the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, I’ve become convinced that the performance difference is about property.

Undoubtedly, the newly installed Boehly team believes strongly in “Moneyball” – the hidden value in sports franchises that can be unearthed through advanced analytics, as first told in Michael Lewis’ bestselling 2003 book of the same name, which was also a 2011 book . movie.

Initially there was frustration as the digital approach to players and winning sputtered.

It eventually proved to work, most famously with the Oakland Athletics baseball team. It was also independently embraced by the Boston Red Sox (owned by Liverpool FC’s main owners, the Fenway Sports Group) and Boehly’s LA Dodgers. Each of these teams created a better future using the magic of data.

When Chelsea’s new £4.25bn owners chose Potter as their manager, they were almost certainly guided by analytics. Data had aided Brighton’s rise from near-extinction to the footballing elite, most recently under the leadership of Potter.

The real story of Potter and De Zerbi’s brilliance at Brighton is not only the inspiration of the head coach, player management and tactical inspiration, but also the owner’s inspiration.

As founder of Starlizard, a world leader in specialist online sports betting analytics, Tony Bloom is one street ahead of fellow Premier League owners when it comes to embracing data and what it tells you about players, managers, the opposition and the expected results of games.

It employs 160 data engineers and number crunchers at its posh headquarters in North London’s Camden Town.

It uses the most advanced math, data, AI and statistical models to predict the outcome of sporting events for Asian and American clients.

Starlizard’s main purpose is to provide advice on online sports betting. A by-product is the most comprehensive football database analysis available.

It’s been a long learning curve, but leading clubs have increasingly endorsed or invested in their own teams of data analysts, experts and services, as documented in Rory Smith’s recent book ‘Expected Goals’.

Traditional scouting operations have been supported or sometimes supplanted by number crunchers and analysts from Prozone, Opta, Scisports and many others.

The technology support transforms coaches standing on the sidelines going over tactics on their ipads or taking their own extensive notes to digest in the machine.

Brighton and Brentford, two newcomers to the Premier League, are teams that have exceeded all expectations by making smart use of data.

Teams are built by putting together underrated players – those who have yet to make it and those who are at risk of injury or past their best. Managers, coaches and employees are identified in the same way.

There will always be a football genius on the pitch and sideline defying data on passing and tackling skills, set pieces, speed of delivery and shooting ability.

Tony Bloom built his empire by outsmarting sports betting odds.

He has shown that building the highest quality and most comprehensive database is a great business model and dramatically changes the chances of success.

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