I would be lying if told you I didn’t feel a little nervous when I submitted my first piece of writing to Paste a few weeks ago. However, my goal was to give people on the outside of the sports ‘bubble’ an insight into our world, and it seems to have been a success.
I have also been pleasantly surprised by the response from fellow professionals, who confirmed some of my feelings and shared some of their own thoughts, whether in Twitter replies or links from other articles, a comment of support from a prominent figure at Manchester City and even ‘A Letter to the Secret Analyst’ by a very well respected leader in the industry. If nothing else, some great analysts with similar feelings about their work know they are not alone.
That said, please don’t think that working as an analyst in professional football is all doom and gloom. There are some very exciting and fulfilling times to be had as an employee of a football club, and it is my intention to speak about these too in the coming weeks.
Earlier I briefly mentioned great analysts and that is something I would like to write about further.
It’s a strange world, sports analytics, an industry in which the ‘best’ employees don’t always work for the best clubs. In fact, one of the better analysts I know deliberately chooses not to work for a club at all, preferring to provide consulting for little or no pay. This is before we touch on the true ‘pure’ statistical analysts, many of whom you see are very active on Twitter and who are undoubtedly (in my mind) better than many analysts currently employed at clubs.
For a couple of years now I’ve been thinking of the reasons for this imbalance, and every time I can only come to one logical conclusion…money.
If you scroll through the jobs page on a site like thevideoanalyst.com (a great website dedicated to all things performance analysis based) you’ll see a plethora of job openings, varying from volunteer work at local clubs, to unpaid internships, to full time paid positions. Despite the lack of remuneration, these openings are greeted with incredible enthusiasm.
For background for this piece, I scrolled through site owner Rob Carroll’s Twitter account for roughly a full calendar year and clicked on the employment ads. Though depressing, it’s an important exercise for anybody who wants an idea of how much analysts are expected to earn in the field.
I clicked on the first full-time paying role and here’s what I found:
•The Lead Academy Analyst will be employed on a full-time basis and will drive and manage the Academy Performance Analysis department.
•A qualification at Degree level in Sport Science or related discipline with a specialism in Performance Analysis is required.
•Need a minimum of 3 years experience working in an analysis environment within a professional football Club.
•Required to manage and organise all department staff
I should be very clear, this is in no way a dig at the club in question, and this is absolutely in line with every single job description I have seen, no matter the club. The expected pay for this position would be around £23,000 – £26,000.
I vividly remember a conversation I had once with a friend of mine who works in recruitment at a Premier League club. I was a little behind him in my career and was seeking advice. He informed me his salary at the time was £24,000. This was a guy who played a major role in buying and selling players for literally tens of millions of pounds. Getting it wrong can lose you the club millions of pounds in transfer fees and wages, but also millions in TV money.
It. Makes. No. Sense.
I spoke with an analyst the other day, who is at a Championship club. A few months ago, he was offered a role in the first team analysis department in the Premier League, which naturally you would consider a promotion. To take the role, however, he would have to break his lease on his 1 bedroom apartment, move around 200 miles from his home and start life in a new city. He was offered a £1,500 pay rise. He explained that the move alone would probably cost him £2,000 and was met with: “This is the Premier League mate, you’ll be working with players on the front page of the paper, don’t you want that?” I’m not kidding. He called me about an hour after the conversation.
Here lies the huge problem, some people do just want that. Until that changes—and I don’t see it changing any time soon—the salaries won’t.
For every analyst working in a club, there are five waiting in the wings who would take the role for less money or for free. This of course raises another question: how valuable is a good vs bad vs no analyst? But that’s for another time.
Please don’t think I’m on my high horse here. I’ve used unpaid interns, and I’ve used people who will do absolutely anything to get a break to complete tasks and relieve my workload. I’m not short of offers of free work in exchange for experience and guidance.
It’s something I often wrestle with and it definitely something which plays on my conscience. Now I reason that I if I don’t use these guys, then someone else will, and at least I know I’m not going to take the piss out of them with no intention of helping them out.
I also have a responsibility to my club. Free analysis from a different perspective, helping us to cover more bases and consider more things: how can you say no to that in a results-driven business?
Some clubs do refuse to accept unpaid internships or volunteers, but they are very few and far between. I think I can safely say from the 92 football league clubs, you could count them on one hand.
Having discussed this problem with many analysts on many occasions, I’ve only ever heard three solutions, only one of which I believe could work.
The first would be to strike. Refuse to work. Demand to be paid like any other member of staff who had a demonstrable impact on results. But who are we kidding? We have no union, no power, and as long there is a large pool of young aspiring analysts willing to work for pennies, we have absolutely no bargaining chips.
Second, clubs may begin to see the value of high quality analysis, and compete with pay to lure top quality analysts to join the team. It’s starting to happen, but it’s a very slow process. This is a more organic approach, but my feelings are that this will take so much time that I’ll be considering retirement before it positively impacts my paycheque.
The third solution, and maybe the most interesting of the three, is for football associations to mandate a minimum pay rate based on club turnover. Working for Chelsea? Great, get paid like you work for Chelsea. Working for a League Two club? Take League Two pay. Is it perfect? No. But it might help ensure elite analysts in elite jobs at elite clubs might earn elite pay.
It makes absolutely no sense at all that a recruitment analyst at West Brom, Southampton or Everton working with millions of pounds will only make 5% more than their colleagues working with thousands. I can’t think of another industry where the pay is so low in relation to the fruit of their labour.
Are the intangibles, like the glory of winning and the ability to work with famous footballers and coaches enough to make up for the low pay? I do get a 20% discount at the club shop and some nice tracksuits. Am I being selfish, and have I become entitled the longer I’ve been in the industry? Am I really worthy of £50,000 or more? Would someone better than me have my job if the pay were better? I honestly don’t know. Sometimes I feel lost, and like my life is controlled by my whirlwind job and not the other way around.
Trey Causey summed up the situation well in this Twitter thread:
Next time, I’ll talk more about what makes this job unique, and the moments of honest joy that can take your mind off the long hours and low pay.