Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Sport Geek #86: animals, abominations, and aesthetics

Well, that was fun. Enjoy the glow while it lasts – I think that will be the last good World Cup. Why? First, Qatar can’t ever live up to that. It will be too hot, at the wrong time of year. Ethically, this might be the last time we turn a blind eye to authoritarian corruption (Putin was fairly absent from coverage). Plus, at some stage (2026?) it’s going to be the clusterfk of 48 teams, which makes no sense at all. Russia was peak World Cup. It’s downhill from here.

WC ROUND UP

The prediction game: Goldman were pretty useless; some South African data scientists were pretty good; and the animals were, well, animals.

Anyone buying a player on the strength of the World Cup is pretty stupid.

If you thought added time seemed a bit off, you’d be right.

Neymar and the art of the dive. Tip – don’t oversell it.

TROPHIES

The World Cup is awful. Wimbledon is perfect. An aesthetic look at the actual cup (orb?)

CYCLING

Why is there no women’s equivalent Tour de France?

BASEBALL

Don’t sugar-coat it: The New York Yankees are a moral abomination.

BASKETBALL

What’s happened to the salary cap?

TENNIS

I’m not going to bother you with the pros and cons of 5th set tie breaks as I think it’s so blindingly obvious (at 12-all perhaps). Instead…

Careers are getting longer. The wait for a male grand slam champion born in the 1990s goes on.

10 years ago the greatest match was played. Here’s a graphical version.

John McEnroe is always worth listening to.

Sport Geek #85: 46 boks, Chinese fans, the 48-team puzzle

TALKING POINTS

Should Serena Williams be seeded at Wimbledon? 
I’d say yes. Wimbledon uses your grass court points for the last two years. And Williams won in 2016, so give her a break. While the player who misses out on seeding can feel a bit aggrieved, they should be positive about mothers returning to the game. And also – it’s up to you to get your seeding higher so this doesn’t happen. When did the 32nd seed last win a major?

Is VAR good or bad for football?
I LOVE all the moaning from the old-school pundits. VAR is definitely a good thing, it just needs to be applied with a bit more speed and certainty. The weird thing is that in cricket and tennis teams/players get a set number of challenges where they can refer to video. Why doesn’t football just use that, and if you use up your chances, it’s back to the ref’s eye? That would be better, surely.

READING

WORLD CUP

I like this – How do countries participating in the World Cup compare with clubs? See also – The Ringer argues: Why International Soccer Is More Fun Than the Premier League. I’d agree.

China has more fans at the World Cup than England – and they’re not even playing

NYT readers tackle the puzzle of how to devise a fair tournament with 48 teams

Odd fact: The infamous Sochi drug-testing lab is now a gastro pub

I do love the Economist for answering these kinds of questions: “How much better would Iceland be with Lionel Messi?

ELSEWHERE

Women and the decathlon.

Great headline: “Eddie Jonestown Massacre“. And good analysis of the state of England Rugby.

How one school has produced 46 South Africa internationals (plus Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk, Olympic swimming champion Ryk Neethling, and former South Africa cricket captain Hansie Cronje).

Awesome, thanks, bye.

Sport Geek #84: dynasties, nationalism vs globalism, and clay

WORLD CUP

Is it starting? I hadn’t noticed… Sifting through the trillions of WC pieces, here are a few worth your time.

I like this – is it nationalism or globalism? Or both? via the NYT.

Forget the pundits! A quick round up of what economists think will happen at the World Cup, from the FT

The decline of the World Cup manager: why talented international coaches have become a dying breed. (via the Indy)

What makes a country good at football? Various things, says the Economist.

Why isn’t the US there? The inside story of how they screwed up.  From the Ringer.

MONEY MONEY MONEY

Me, on the Forbes rich list and what it tells us about sport.

BASKETBALL

What does LeBron James do next? (NYT) And how great is he anyway? (Guardian)

The curious case of Bryan Colangelo and the secret Twitter account. From the Ringer again. A good story.TENNIS

TENNIS

Why is Nadal SOOOOO good on clay? CNN takes a look.

CYCLING

How Chris Froome won Giro d’Italia thanks to ‘spectacular’ stage 19 victory. (BBC)

ICE HOCKEY

From a while ago, but worth a read. Is the Vegas Golden Knights’ run as amazing as Leicester City’s? (538)

LASTLY

We want sport to be competitive, don’t we? Or not – an interesting essay on why we demand sports dynasties, not parity.

Parsing the Forbes sports rich list

I always enjoy the Forbes Sports Rich list. It formed the basis for a chapter in my book, and tells you a lot about sport once you dig into the figures.

For instance, looking at this year’s list, here are a few observations.

  • Roger Federer is a sponsorship machine. $65m in endorsements puts him $13m higher than LeBron James in second place.
  • American football players don’t get marketing dollars. The highest-sponsored is Drew Brees, and he’s on $13m in endorsements, which is less than his salary.
  • Boxer Floyd Mayweather still rakes it in – his $275m in pay is three times more than any one else. It pays to punch, with Conor McGregor fourth in the overall list.
  • Basketball pays overall – 40 of the top 100 represent that sport.
  • There are zero women on the list. That’s not good. In previous years, at least a few female tennis players made it. We seem to be regressing, either in who we value in terms of marketing or how we pay sports stars.

The most interesting way of ordering the list, in my view, is by the ratio of endorsements to pay.

This naturally shows up individual sports where some players have had poor seasons but are trading on reputation – Tiger Woods, Novak Djokovic. There are sports people where the sport pays (relatively) poorly, but profile is high – Usain Bolt, Virat Kohli.

But it also shows how some stars are not making the most of their winning seasons. For instance, golfer Justin Thomas won $21m in prize money, but netted just $5m in sponsorship. Surely he’s going up? And if Lewis Hamilton can get $9m in sponsorship, how is Sebastian Vettel getting only $300k? They get the same pay, according to Forbes.

Here’s my Endorsements / Salary list – for those where Endorsements are higher than Salary.

Overall Rank Name Pay $m Salary/Winnings $m Endorsements $m Sport E/S
16 Tiger Woods 43.3 1.3 42 Golf 32.3
45 Usain Bolt 31 1 30 Track 30.0
35 Kei Nishikori 34.6 1.6 33 Tennis 20.6
86 Novak Djokovic 23.5 1.5 22 Tennis 14.7
26 Rory McIlroy 37.7 3.7 34 Golf 9.2
22 Phil Mickelson 41.3 4.3 37 Golf 8.6
7 Roger Federer 77.2 12.2 65 Tennis 5.3
83 Virat Kohli 24 4 20 Cricket 5.0
23 Jordan Spieth 41.2 11.2 30 Golf 2.7
20 Rafael Nadal 41.4 14.4 27 Tennis 1.9
6 LeBron James 85.5 33.5 52 Basketball 1.6
11 Kevin Durant 57.3 25.3 32 Basketball 1.3
8 Stephen Curry 76.9 34.9 42 Basketball 1.2

And here’s the sports list.

Basketball 40
American Football 18
Baseball 14
Soccer 9
Golf 5
Boxing 4
Tennis 4
Auto Racing 3
Cricket 1
Mixed Martial Arts 1
Track 1

Lastly, here’s the forbes rich sports list as an Excel file.

Sport Geek #83: back again…

I’ve not done this newsletter for a while, due to work and stuff; but let’s not worry, here are some things to think about while thinking sport.

TENNIS

Nadal was nowhere a few years ago. Now? He’s arguably better than ever on clay.  Here’s a good archivey piece on Roger and Rafa’s simultaneous revivals.

There are some great nuggets in here. I know she’s very wealthy etc, but It’s quite hard being Serena Williams, I think.

How do you measure aggressive returning? Here’s how.

This is insane. The story of a tennis rally of 642 shots. That’s not a typo.

BASEBALL

HELLO LONDON!

GOLF

Rory McIlroy said it’s all about the Masters. So here’s a decent case for the Open.

FOOTBALL

A great summary of the tactical tide of football, esp looking at Klopp’s Liverpool. Talking of which, are their opponents in the CL final Read Madrid ruthless or just lucky?

I love this from Sean Ingle – why not just make World Cup / Olympic hosting bids done by auction? At least put the money front and centre.

I can’t see why everyone was worked up about selling Wembley. Seems like a good idea to me – get an asset that is costly to maintain off your hands, making back a pretty good amount of the total build cost, and get money for grassroots. What’s not to like? Few have been in favour though. Here’s one.

This is such a mismatch it’s boggling. The cup final of PSG vs Les Herbiers – a budget of €2m vs €540m.

A nicely Economist-ey piece on goalkeepers being undervalued. Great pun headline too.

CRICKET

It’s all about 6s.

BASKETBALL

Who is Luka Doncic?

How ‘idiots’ created the NBA’s best team and revolutionised the game.

That’s it.

You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be.

How long do Home Secretaries last?

So farewell, Amber Rudd etc.

Quick quiz – how long do Home Secretaries last? The BBC notes that “During one period under Labour, there were six home secretaries in eight years.”

That makes the job sound precarious. While it’s true that it’s pretty easy to trip up, the idea that the Home Sec doesn’t last that long is nothing new. In fact, Theresa May was in the job for over 2,200 days, the second longest holder of the office since 1900. Many of the shortest holders were in the early C20.

Amber Rudd? She had a fairly brief stint of 655 days – but certainly longer than half of her 10 predecessors. The average of the last 10 Home Secretaries has been 951 days – omit Theresa May, and it’s 755.

On these averages, Sajid Javed will last until mid-2020. The next General Election isn’t due till 2022, so that would mean him slipping up in the meantime.

Source: Wikipedia | Click for full size image

 

Jordan Peterson bandwagon: a media product

I don’t write to praise Jordan Peterson, nor to bury him. In fact, I don’t care about him at all. What I’m interested in is why everyone else is interested in him.

Lots of articles have been written about Jordan Peterson. If you haven’t heard of him yet, consider yourself lucky: he’s a one-man Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. You’ll see him everywhere now. Outside of the usual suspects of Trump and Megan Markle, he’s possibly the most-profiled figure of the last year, certainly of 2018.

His opinions aren’t important here. Sure, he’s got stuff to say that seems highly relevant in the current cultural climate. He opines on transgenderism, gender pay gaps, free speech, feckless male youth. He’s like a human Rorschach test – you can see whatever you want in Peterson. He’s a feisty Canadian professor fighting battles on campus, a self-help guru, a fraud, a clinical psychologist, an intellectual, an alt-right darling, a free-speech muscle-for-hire. Take your pick.

(The other thing to note is that Peterson has one key skill. Like Malcolm Gladwell, he makes the reader or listener feel cleverer, as if they are in on a secret. It’s the opposite of patronising. It might be superficial, or bogus – or insightful and brilliant. I don’t care. It’s very effective. )

He isn’t necessarily the “Intellectual we deserve“, as Current Affairs put it – he’s the intellectual we currently want.

Or he’s the intellectual we think we want. Or, perhaps, the intellectual the media think we want. I’ll show you how.

How curious about Jordan Peterson are we, and how has it changed? Let’s see what Google has to say:

Source: Google Trends

Worldwide, there’s been a big late January / early February Peterson interest spike. I’ll discuss why later.

And how many Twitter followers has Peterson had over time?

Source: Socialblade

Same again – late January he gains a lot of followers.

Is our interested piqued by the media, or do the media follow what we search? Here’s how many times he’s been mentioned in the press over the last year.

Source: Factiva

Again, 2018 is a big leap in articles mentioning Peterson. Crucially though, the spike here predates the online interest. There were 300+ mentions in November, way more than any other month, although January and March are second and third (with 225 and 198).

It all adds up for Peterson. Here are his book sales for 12 Rules for Life.

Source: Novelrank

Book sales in March catch up after the interest online and articles. (That’s not a surprise.)

In the charts above there is a clear spike. And that is one of the key moments of 2018, in late January. This is the date of the (in)famous Channel 4 interview with Cathy Newman. It’s been watched 9 million times. That’s a lot for a head-to-head.

The interview has been described in very unfavourable terms for Newman. Her questioning was, I agree, poor. But it has become more than an interview: it is now a rallying cry for those who see the media as biased; it gained Newman horrendous criticism and attacks; and it has been dissected to the nth degree, far further than it merited.

It also is a catalyst for Peterson interest. Without that interview, would we have had the flurry of articles, the profiles in the Telegraph, BBC and Guardian among so many others? The key thing to note here is that although the bigger profile pieces have come recently, the highest point in terms of article mentions was in November.

Peterson’s popularity has been talked of in viral terms. The data would suggest otherwise – the media articles came first, and the online spike in interest is clearly after the C4 Newman interview. He is a product of a traditional media bandwagon, not an online phenomenon.

I believe this is a case of filling a vacuum. Politics has become ever more polarised, distrust of media is high and rising, and there is a dearth of public intellectuals. We are crying out for this stuff. It’s intoxicating. But the media spotted it first, not the other way around.

 

Titles make great players, not the other way round

Blip?

I was at the ATP Finals at the O2 on Sunday, for the excellent Goffin – Dimitrov final. As good as the match was, there was a feeling that the understudies were taking centre stage. No Rafa, no Roger. No Murray or Djokovic.

The lack of “Big 4” players at the end of year finale was acute, made real by their selling power. Djokovic was omnipresent at North Greenwich tube, fronting a Lacoste ad. Inside the 02, the merchandise stall was selling flags – but only the Swiss and Spanish. No Belgium or Bulgaria, the nationalities of the finalists.


Men’s tennis has become complacent. In the year-end tour finals, six of the last 10 years have been exclusively between the Big 4. Their dominance in the Grand Slams is well documented, but as a reminder, since 2006, it’s been only Wawrinka (x3), Cilic and Del Potro that have broken through the hegemony.

Perhaps complacency is harsh – the men’s game has been lucky, blessed even. So when injury and upset take out the big guns, it’s hardly the fault of the men left that they lack gravitas. As several people pointed out, it was the first ATP tour final between two non-grand slam winners.


Ironically, that had become more likely by the dominance of a few players in the slams. What did we expect? Federer and Nadal to go on for ever?

We have entered an unprecedented stage in tennis. With Federer and Nadal on 19 and 16 majors respectively, and Djokovic on 12, they have transcended the prestige of the events themselves. A final without any of the big 4 (or 5 if you want to count Wawrinka) is somehow diminished. It’s easy to be dismissive. The 2014 US Open final between Cilic and Nishikori? A blip. The ATP Finals with Goffin and Dimitrov? Interesting, but so what?

If Dimitrov lands a major or two in the next few years, it will be tempting to post-rationalise the final just gone as a watershed moment; equally, if he doesn’t, it’s just another of the occasional outliers.

As fans and writers, we need to remind ourselves that it is the title that confers greatness on the players, not the other way around. We do get one-off winners of major titles, and it is legitimate to say that they are not a truly great player until they deliver on the big stage again. But we should be careful not to diminish the achievements of yet-to-be-great players along the way. As much fun as 2017’s greatest hits has been with Federer and Nadal ruling the roost, I would love to see the majors go to a few new winners.

Sport Geek #82: punting, kickoffs and pomnishambles

 

No tennis for now – I’m going to the O2 tennis later this week and might share a few thoughts. For now, some great reading.

NFL

The brain damage story just gets scarier

Colin, GQs person of the year.

Also – could the best player in the league be a punter?

RUGBY

Georgia – stuck in rugby’s equivalent of the middle income trap.

FOOTBALL

Iceland – how did a country of only 330,000 people get to the World Cup?

Why are kickoffs so predictable and poorly executed?

Why sacking the manager is pointless (again).

Plus – an unknown English manager working miracles in Sweden

CRICKET

Ellyse Perry is no ordinary cricketer

Afghanistan – Test status, but now what?

Plus the inside story of the Ashes pomnishambles.

BASEBALL

How the Astros tanked their way to the top.

And the strange tale of how a girl posed as a disgusting man to get ahead in baseball journalism.

 

Cheers

Sport Geek #81: booze, Bills, and the curse of brilliance

Been a few weeks, so here’s a focus on less-timely-but-nontheless-interesting things you should/could read about sport. Crack on.

FOOTBALL

No Russia trip for you! What’s gone wrong with US football? The Economist puts it well – the sporting equivalent of the Middle Income Trap.

The most exciting football team on the planet.

NBA

Quartz on how data analytics have transformed the NBA – and not necessarily for the better.

How LeBron James gets punished for being too brilliant.

CRICKET

Does cricket have a drinking problem? Or is it just simply, nearly, utterly dead?

TRUMP & NFL

Perhaps my favourite headline of the moment: “Inside Donald Trump’s Shady Scheme to Keep Jon Bon Jovi from Buying the Buffalo Bills

F1

A piece full of stats about Lewis Hamilton to prove that he’s more than just statistically great? OK then.

WORLD SERIES

How do you possibly describe everything that happened in the Astro’s 7-6 win over the Dodgers? The NYTimes takes on the near-impossible task.

TENNIS

I love this stat – Nadal is the only player on tour who wins more games than he loses from serving at 15-40.

LASTLY / FFS

Pole dancing: could it one day become an Olympic sport?

Cheerio

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