Ugh…first posts, introductions, hellos…pardon me while I avoid a dreamy, wistful preamble and just dive right in…
What is this, and who are you?
This is Front Office Report, and I’m Richard Whittall. Welcome!
This is a site where, at least for now, I will write a weekly column covering recent developments in football analytics, and from time to time other stuff on sports media, governance (ie FIFA shenanigans), and finance (FFP and more), generally stuff similar to this, and this, and this, but written in an a slightly more didactic style—think subheaders, bullet points, helpful images.
There will be a lot of (hopefully) informed bloviating but—I promise—as little hot-takery as possible. That said, perhaps the better question would be…
What is this going to be?
So this is the important part that I’m kind of excited about.
If all goes well, I’d like this site to be a community where analysts, journalists, governance wonks, key decision makers at football clubs, bettors and everyday football fans will converge and connect. That may include you, reading this right now!
Based on Ben Thompson’s Stratechery model, I envision one day offering readers a subscription package for a very reasonable monthly fee, which would include daily newsletter emails covering the latest developments in soccer analytics, but with a view to help you (and me) better understand their practical application, and how they might impact areas in sports finance, law, governance etc.
For readers who know me, this will be a little like what I did in the past at theScore and, more recently, for Betting Expert and 21st Club.
I may also one day expand into covering other sports, too.
It would also provide members access to a forum where they can discuss posts or share ideas on other related matters, which would in turn help me improve the site and give you more bang for their buck.
Why would this service be worth paying for?
Maybe I should first tell you why you shouldn’t pay for FRO, at least not right away.
First, I am still tinkering with some design ideas for the site, and I haven’t even written a proper post yet (this doesn’t count).
Second, I’ve been out of the public analytics writing game for a bit, doing other work that I either can’t talk about yet or can’t ever talk about. It will take a little bit of time for me to get into the rhythm of timely writing again.
Third, I’m not an analyst, but a journalist, and even then I’m not sure that label quite fits. I don’t have an advanced degree in statistical math, but I am fascinated by this field and want to learn as much about it as I can, both as a writer and as a football fan. I’m not here as Mr. Expert to tell you THIS MEANS THAT, but instead to try to ask the most useful questions. I will get things wrong sometimes.
Fourth, there is seemingly less public work to discuss compared to, say, two or three years ago. Many analysts, without the opportunity to have their voices heard, have gone silent. Others have been hired by clubs or firms and have disappeared.
But all of is this is where you, the very first readers of this site, come in. My aim with this site is to help form a community, and for that to work, I need your feedback—what do you want to see on this site, both in terms of content and design? What is useful to you to read about? What isn’t? Whose work needs highlighting? Which voices need to be included?
I think Thompson put it best when he first launched his pay model back in 2014:
At Stratechery, I want to build a site that enables me to focus on writing in a way benefits not just myself but my readers as well. To do that I’ve focused on building a freemium model that will allow me to focus on writing, grow my audience, and reward those who want to join the conversation, get more content, or create a community.
Despite increased interest in recent years, soccer analytics is still a very niche topic. Though it has garnered regular coverage from the likes of veteran journalists like Jonathan Liew, Sean Ingle and Gabriele Marcotti, there is not, as far as I know, a site that not only discusses what’s going on in the analyst community from a journalistic perspective, but also someone interested in taking a wider, critical view. Someone who sees potential in the state of football analytics, but who is neither a booster nor an ideologue. Someone who is not an expert, but an inquisitor.
I want to write in a way that both helps me better understand this subject and, in turn, my readers. I want Front Office Report to be the place where people go first to get an idea of what is happening in the wider football analytics community, where analysts and clubs and journalists and sports lawyers and WHOEVER to connect.
Why are you the one to do this and not someone else?
I’ve been writing about football for the past nine years. In that time, my soccer writing has appeared in the New Yorker, The New York Times, the Atlantic, Foreign Policy, the Guardian, ESPNFC, and many other places. I’m currently the part time editor of Paste Magazine’s Soccer page.
Outside of the publishing world, I’ve done work for Prozone Sports, 21st Club, and James Easton’s Rethink Management, with whom I did some research for a report which led to the foundation of a development league in Ontario (which, to this day, is probably the thing I’m most proud to have been a part of).
Before that, I was a staff writer at the digital startup theScore. It was there where I wrote a weekly column titled “the State of Analytics” which covered weekly developments in football data analysis.
I started that column late in 2011, around when public football analytics blogs began to move quickly from “counting stats” into more proper analysis, taking their cues from the betting world. In that time I’ve made countless connections within and without the football analytics universe, in data companies and at football clubs in both North America and Europe.
With the publishing industry in what seems like near-constant disarray and freelance rates descending into hell, I’ve recently flirted with moving into copywriting work on this subject full-time. However, I think there is still a demand to have more in-depth, regular coverage on this stuff from an informed outsider who isn’t selling anything but their own two cents.
It’s now or never, basically.
Okay! When will you roll out the newsletter subscription?
That all depends on how quickly things progress, if at all. This is, as I said, is where you come in. If you want to receive updates from the site, please subscribe. If you want to drop me a line, you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org (yes I’m working to set up a domain email address) or on my Twitter feed, @rwhittall.
That’s it for now…my first post proper should go up a week this Friday, and will no doubt focus on the Sloan MIT Sports Analytics Conference.