Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Tag: Premier League

Sport Geek #88: cash, cuts and cheats

Brexit be damned. It’s been a while, but here are several sports pieces that I think are worth a read.

FOOTBALL

We think of the Premier League as a money machine. But a great look-back by the Guardian shows how it was nearly destroyed by all that cash.

A bit of a dense read, but some great insights in this Reuters piece into how players are traded. Murky.

BOXING

Is there a weirder job in sports than the cuts-man? A guy who literally has a minute to patch up a face before it gets pummelled again? This BBC article has some great quotes, if you’re not feeling too squeamish…

BASKETBALL

Great charts, non-hysterical analysis of LeBron vs Mike. I’ve read so many GOAT pieces in so many sports that they can get a bit much. But if (IF) you are going to do a greatest of all time piece, this is a fantastic way to do it. Kudos to the WaPo.

NFL

And now for something a bit lighter from the NYT – player rituals. Fun. And some downright strange: “he would then lie on a bed of towels he constructed in front of his locker, where he would always read People Magazine cover to cover”

CHESS

The Indy on how chess and cheating reads like something out of a spy novel. Also fun.

Ta

Chelsea’s lack of penalties is completely normal – here’s why

466393940Chelsea took the unusual step of publishing an official moan about their lack of penalties this season. It has been widely reported (Guardian, BBC), but without anyone really taking them to task on the data. But a little statistical digging might have shown that they have nothing to complain about.

The Chelsea article said:

It is in our 28 Premier League games this season where we have been awarded just two penalties. Both were for infringements on the league’s most-fouled player, Eden Hazard, and both were in home London derbies, against Arsenal and QPR respectively. The most recent was four-and-a-half months ago.

Historically, this figure seems abnormally low.

In the Double-winning 2009/10 campaign, when we were the country’s outstanding attacking team, we were awarded 12 league penalties.

So let’s look at the evidence. The numbers that Chelsea point to only look at their own penalties awarded. Statistically, it’s known as sampling bias, but you don’t need to know that to see that it is a bunch of numbers out of context.

What we really care about is a few things: how many penalties should a team expect over a season? Are better teams given more penalties? And how do the league winners compare? The only way to know this is to (with apologies to Peter Moores) look at the data.

Chelsea did indeed get 12 penalties in 2009-10. But this is an outlier – in fact, for all the penalties data I could get from the 1998-99 season onwards, it is the highest number given to one team in a single season.

Two other teams have also been awarded 12 penalties in one campaign. Can you guess which teams they are? Have a go. Other league winners? Nope. In fact, it was Liverpool, in 2013-14 when they finished second; and Crystal Palace, in 2004-05, finishing in 18th place!

That might give a clue as to whether league position and penalties are connected. Basically, they are not. They are very weakly correlated, by a score of -0.28. *

Over a season, the average penalties per team per season has varied between two and six. And in the 16 years of available data, the Premier League winners have had a lower penalty count than the average team five times. That leaves 11 times when it has been higher (see chart below). Yes, you would expect the league winners to play attacking football and get a more penalties than the league average, as Chelsea suggest – but for Chelsea to get less than the average this season is hardly unprecedented.

EPL penalties

Put another way: only four times in the sixteen years of data have the team winning the league also been awarded the most penalties (Arsenal 2001-02, Manchester United 2002-03, 2007-08 and Chelsea 2009-10). Penalties are not some divine right of the best team. History shows that a team can be given a lot of penalties and still finish low down the league. Just ask Palace. Or Sunderland (6 penalties, 14th place last year). Or Blackpool (8 penalties, 19th place in 2010-11). Or West Ham (9 penalties, 17th place in 2009-10).

In other words: Chelsea’s current lack of penalties is nothing strange. It’s just… football.

* A negative number should be expected here, as a better league position is a lower number. For penalties and league position to be correlated, a score closer to -1 would be needed. For those wondering, it is very weakly positively correlated to the points a team gets over a season, with a score of 0.32.

A Qatar winter World Cup is no bad thing

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Isn’t Fifa simply awful? Having awarded Qatar the 2022 World Cup in less-than-savoury circumstances, now it has the brass neck to move the event to Winter to avoid the scorching heat! Shame.

A quick read of most opinion pages suggests that this is a terrible idea for a clutch of reasons: Europe’s football leagues are thrown into disarray; outdoor screenings won’t work; it will ruin Christmas; the NFL(!) will compete with US attention; it’s a summer event, dammit.

Let’s quickly dismiss a few of the frothier objections: pubs will do fine; it won’t ruin Christmas; do we seriously think the US can only watch one sport at a time? So it is supposed to be a summer event. But having given Qatar the tournament in such a dodgy way, this is hardly the biggest thing to get worked up about.

But how about those European leagues being messed about? Surely there’s something in that?

Well, there are two options. One is to suspend matches while the World Cup is on. The other is to keep playing.

For some reason, only option 1 seems to be the course of action. In which case, La Liga and the Premier League and others will have to start a few weeks early and finish a few weeks late. Hardly the end of the world, is it? The Guardian has put together how the season might look, and, to me, it doesn’t seem too bad.

But what about option 2: play on? That’s what the leagues do during the African Cup of Nations, after all. It is also what county cricket teams do when England play Tests, T20, and One-day Internationals. It’s what the rugby clubs do when the 6 Nations and Autumn internationals are on.

What would the impact be on the leagues? Well, if we take the 2014 World Cup as any guide, the breakdown of players from each league went like this:

League World Cup players
England 119
Italy 81
Germany 78
Spain 64
France 46
Russia 34
Mexico 26
Turkey 26
Portugal 23
Netherlands 20

At first glance, it’s pretty obvious that the leagues that will be most hampered in 2022 are those of England, Italy, Germany and Spain. However, In terms of the overall players, Germany’s World Cup burden is slightly higher than Italy’s, as the league has 18 teams compared to the 20 in the others. If we use the current squad sizes of all the teams in those four leagues, around 21 per cent of the Premiership’s 550-plus players would be off to the World Cup, over 15 per cent of the Bundesliga’s players, just under 15 per cent of Serie A would go, and 12 per cent of La Liga. It’s hardly an entire league – the Premiership would lose one in five players.

But of course, the burden isn’t spread equally around. In 2014 the Premiership had five clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United) with 10 or more players going to the World Cup. All the other teams had 6 or fewer. In other leagues there was a similar skewing: Bayern Munich had 15 World Cup representatives, Barcelona had 13 and Real Madrid had 12. Juventus and Napoli had 12 players in Brazil 2014.

What would the solution be? If the leagues insisted in playing during the World Cup, their biggest clubs would suffer disproportionately. In the era of vastly unequal resources, that might be a rather positive outcome: in the run up to 2022, the bigger clubs would have to expand their squads with home-grown and non-international players; it might mean they become reluctant to sign a World Cup-bound player. However, this isn’t for the entire season – it’s probably for six or seven matches. It would make the league more uncertain, that’s for sure. Smaller teams such as Southampton and West Ham might well vote for it. In fact, put to an equal vote, the majority of Premiership clubs should be in favour of continuing to play during the World Cup.

However, the big clubs are never going to go along with this. For example, Chelsea, with a first team squad of 24 including 12 World Cup players, would struggle to field a team without calling up a host of reserves.

The bigger issue would be gate receipts and advertising. Shorn of the bigger star names, bar the odd exception (such as Gareth Bale), the big European clubs would face a temporary tail-off of interest. It would be a “downgraded product”. And that would never do. Competing head-on with the World Cup would only have one winner: fans want to see the best players in action.

Given that the Premiership seems utterly focused on squeezing every commercial drop it can, the idea of playing on is a non-starter. Which is a shame, as football in England and Spain could do with a rebalancing of power, however temporary.

The only other scenario in which the European leagues would play on is if they force their players to boycott the World Cup. The ramifications of that would be huge. In fact, it would be the most divisive moment in football history, and possibly spell the end of international football in its current form.

Somehow, I don’t think Fifa will let that happen.

3 reasons why the Premier League deal should be no surprise

It looks huge – a $5.1 deal, 70 per cent up on the previous one. The English Premier League certainly knows how to sell itself.

But amid all the mutterings of how the money won’t filter down to the grass roots and smaller clubs, or Alan Sugar’s lovely image of “prune juice”, here are three reasons why we shouldn’t be surprised.

1) Sky

Sky paid £4.2bn for their match packages. Sounds a lot, until you realise that in 2014, Sky made £7.6bn in revenue, and a profit before tax of £1.1bn. Also, this is a three-year deal, so for Sky it works out as £1.4bn per year. In short – the company can clearly afford it. Assuming that the advertisers are still keen, and the public keep subscribing, it could be a great deal.

Of course, the extra money won’t be squandered, from Sky’s point of view. Every big money transfer to the Premier League adds to the allure, so they aren’t just spending money on a fixed asset – they are spending on future improvements too. If English clubs can outspend Spanish rivals, it’s basically free marketing for Sky.

2) BT

BT have become a serious football broadcast player. They snapped up the Champion’s League TV rights, and have again bid up for the Premier League. Increased competition over a fixed supply means higher prices, as any economist will tell you.

3) Lessons of the NFL

It has a bigger domestic audience, obviously, but the NFL has done a very good job of squeezing the broadcasters for cash, with an annualised $5bn-plus deal with several broadcasters over eight years. While this is about double what the British broadcasters are paying (after converting dollars into sterling), there is a remarkable similarity in the increase from the previous deal.

The NFL secured a total $3.1bn TV rights deal for the 2006-13 seasons. That then went up to over $5bn for 2014-21. The Premier League had a £3bn deal for 2013-16, and now £5.1bn for 2016-19. It’s a highly similar increase: 62-plus per cent for the NFL, 70 per cent for the Premier League.

Is it such a surprise that sports broadcasters (albeit in different countries for different sports) have upped their valuation of TV rights by the same amount at a similar time?

It would be nice to see more money going to places other than players’ salaries and agents. But in a commercial world, the Premier League deal is less surprising than the wide-eyed coverage from the media who run every news snippet about football that they possibly can.

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