Reviewing recent sports news, the Bloomberg Quicktake documentary The American Invasion of English Football Has Begun strikes me as one of the best explorations of data’s transformative power on and off the pitch. If you haven’t watched it yet (you absolutely should), the basic idea goes like this: While investors need billions to buy into American sports teams, accessing the English Premier League (EPL) is much more affordable and potentially far more lucrative. These opportunities have attracted rich and famous investors, from managing partners of major investment groups like ALK Capital’s Alan Pace to actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.
But these investors are viewed with suspicion by fans fearful that a private equity mindset may load beloved clubs with debt, hurting their ability to recover from poor performance on the pitch. If relegated out of the EPL, they’ll have no money to claw their way back in.
Looking at this phenomenon through a lens of analytics, I think this is a data invasion as much as anything else. The power of data to identify hidden opportunities and unlock greater financial returns is what brought these investors to England to begin with. But data is also the reason fans can feel confident in their club’s future – if these organizations embrace data in the right way. Let’s dig a bit deeper.
How data brought U.S. investors to European football
In March, I commented how the number of U.S.-owned football clubs in Europe’s top two divisions has grown 37% since January 2020. Data’s promise of significant financial returns paved this pathway: savvy, sophisticated investor groups saw how data-driven decision-making added value to their businesses; they replicated that approach in a high-performance elite sport environment. And this data invasion is working in the EPL – just look at Liverpool’s transformation since Fenway Sports Group took over.
But what’s really driving England’s American data invasion now is what Burnley chairman Alan Pace points out in the documentary: a billion people worldwide interact with the EPL – far more than engage with any single U.S. sports league. England’s clubs have by no means monetized all of these viewers, but leveraging data for better on-field performance and smarter, off-field processes – from superior talent economics to more focused fan engagement – can help them access greater segments of that market. Deploying data-driven insights in this way adds value for owners, certainly, but it can also offer reassurance for fans.
Because clubs that embrace data will be all the better positioned to perform and make the possibility of relegation less and less likely.
Why fans can feel confident
Let’s go back to fan fears of relegation. This is one of the greatest differences between U.S. sports and the EPL – no matter how poorly any given U.S. franchise fares, they can’t fall out of the league.
They can in England, and fans know how far the once-mighty can fall. This means the stakes are high – really high, all the time. This in turn sparks incredible competition, with clubs pushing the limits of creativity and innovation to be the best.
Data gives the edge. As I’ve written previously, analytics are driving a performance intelligence arms race in elite sport, with teams wielding analytics for more consistent performance on the pitch, greater anticipation of injuries, faster recovery times, better talent economics, greater fan engagement, and more.
Clubs that seize this advantage during the data invasion stand the best shot at higher performance on and off the pitch. Investors have rightly recognized data’s symbiotic power here, but fans can feel confident in it too, so long as their clubs embrace data in the right way.
And what way is that? Using data and analytics to seize objective insights and align the organization around a common vision. Leveraging analytics to support the instincts and experience of coaches and players – and never seeking to replace it.
It shouldn’t be any surprise teams taken over by American owners are spending significantly more resources on data, tech, and analytics to gain the edge. And this just tells us where these investors think the opportunities hide.
My prediction is this will continue – whether a club has U.S. ownership or not. Because the same approach that U.S. investors have used can work for others, the elite sporting world should expect more non-traditional sports ownership actors to emerge. These will be people willing to spend more on smart, well-reasoned, objective investments in areas other than player transfers.