Thoughts on Euro 2012

As we approach Euro 2012, there are a few things that I’m curious about. Mainly…

What’s up with England?

It almost seems like the FA waited to hire Redknapp so that there would be a built-in excuse for Euro 2012. Now, with injuries to Lampard and Barry, along with Rooney being suspended for the first two games, England is going to face a serious uphill battle. In spite of all this, I think England has some ‘Ewing Theory’ potential. With no clear tournament favorite, and a plucky English spirit that led Chelsea all the way to the UEFA title, it wouldn’t surprise me if England makes it out of the group. After that, if they’re lucky enough to avoid Spain or Italy, there could even be a semi-final run. No matter what happens, just don’t expect pretty soccer.

Is Spain out of gas?

If Barcelona or Madrid had won the Champions League, there would be no doubt that Spain was the epicenter of soccer. But lately it seems like the national team, and the individuals, may be worn out from taking everyone’s best shot over the last 4 years. If you don’t think that means anything, read Jonathan Wilson’s great post about Pep Guardiola and the pressure that goes with being great http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2012/may/02/the-question-great-teams-end . Also, not too far in the rear view mirror are all of the times Spain flamed out of major tournaments, so don’t be surprised if the top players (who by the way, just played together for the first time on Sunday) come in on auto-pilot.

What does the future hold for Italy?

It’s never a good thing when a week before the tournament, your coach comes out and publicly wonders if the team should just sit this one out. So far there have been at least twelve arrests in the Italian match-fixing probe, and the investigation is just getting started. Meanwhile, the team itself is going into the tournament with 3 straight losses and not a single goal scored. The last time there was a scandal this big in Italy, the team rallied around the negativity and ended up winning the 2006 World Cup. That doesn’t seem likely this time, especially since the accused match-fixers include captain Gianluigi Buffon. A descent showing could lift the depressing cloud hanging over Italian soccer right now, and if the team can’t provide that we could see some sweeping changes that could set the country back years on a domestic and international level.

Racism in Poland-Ukraine

Recently the BBC released ‘Stadiums of Hate’, an investigative report on the rampant racism inside and outside of the eastern European stadiums. The report was so damning that I can’t even attach a youtube link, because they’ve all been taken down. Although I don’t think there will be any major incidents, the suspicion that there will be one is already a black eye to the host countries. Let’s hope the excitement stays on the field, and we see some great soccer over the next month.

Thoughts on USA-Canada

After three friendlies, does anybody really understand the US attack?

It was hard to see any cohesion in the US offense. The trio of Bradley/Jones/Torres was solid as always, but their offensive inefficiencies tend to show when they are playing a team that sits back on them. Michael Bradley never crossed midfield, while Jones and Torres struggled to connect with the two playmakers (Donovan and Dempsey). As a consequence, Donovan and Dempsey did not really have opportunities to get the ball in dangerous spots. Bradley kept everything organized in front of the backs, so even though he pushed up a little towards the end I’m pretty much leaving him out of this. The other 5 attackers all seemed like they were on 5 different pages.

I really don’t mean to bash the team. I’m just confused. When Jozy came in for Torres, it looked like he was playing the same outside mid role (not target forward?) At one five minute stretch, I saw the deepest man up the field be Dempsey, then Jones, then Altidore. All for a role that I thought was for Gomez.

Defensively, everything looked fairly solid. I mean, this was not Brazil, so there weren’t really any complexities to solve for the back four. I can’t tell what this means for Onyewu in WC qualifying. Its unlikely that there will be a team that can exploit him the way Brazil did, but his tendency to ball watch and be out of position is becoming a point of real concern. Canada should have scored their secon…um, I mean first goal in the 89th minute, when Onyewu was caught ball-watching again and should have been punished.

Other Thoughts:

-I liked Canada’s centennial jersey(and warmup jackets). Always a fan of Umbro’s retro style.

-What happened to Klinnsman numbering 1-11 for the friendlies? I kinda liked that.

– 15,247 for the centennial game? The new Canadian officials have their work cut out for them, but I think Canada will surprise some people in WC qualifying.

 

 

Checks and Balances for FIFA

Last week, representatives from five major soccer leagues around the world gathered in Manchester and announced the beginning of the World League Association. This was labeled as “a historic day” by new WLA officials, and the new alliance promised to focus on “protecting the game’s positive values, enhancing football’s standards and promoting the further development of Professional Football around the world.”

The timing of the WLA’s formation is interesting. Days before the WLA announcement, investigator Mark Pieth finished his probe on corruption allegations at FIFA. Pieth’s report condemned FIFA’s handling of the numerous bribery allegations that that have emerged since the controversial 2018/2022 World Cup announcement. Pieth’s committee concluded that FIFA’s management of the multiple corruption allegations was “insufficient to meet the challenges of a major global sport governing body. This has led to unsatisfactory reactions to persistent allegations.”

On the surface, it looks like the WLA could compete with FIFA down the road. At the very least, it presents the threat of an alternative, and so far the threat has been big enough to change the tone of FIFA President Sepp Blatter. As Pieth’s report started to leak out, Blatter forcefully came out and released improvements to FIFA’s ethics committee. The move was clearly intended to steer reporting away from some of the stinging criticism aimed at FIFA, and it is becoming increasingly clear that world football will not tolerate the monopolistic style that FIFA once held.

However, if FIFA goes down, it will go down slowly. The governing body recently extended it’s partnership with UEFA, and seemingly came to a compromise on a number of issues that have caused tension over the years. In particular, FIFA allowed provisions that insure player’s club teams in case they are injured on national team duty, along with making the international calendar more manageable for players. This compromise is fairly new to FIFA, as they have been known for making the rules without considering outside opinions. But the continual formation of new alliances like the WLA will make sure that they follow through on their promises.

Follow me on Twitter @adrianmelville

Is La Liga on the decline?

Remember when England was regarded as a rough and tumble, clutch and grab league? Even though the salaries were high, and there were some of the most creative players in the world, the EPL was always known for having more looked like there were more ‘soldiers’ than ‘artists’. Meanwhile, Spain was always perceived as the glamour league. The place where beautiful soccer was played. This perception was enhanced a couple of years ago when Fernando Torres proclaimed that the physicality of England was destined to take years off of his career (he was right, kind of).

On the surface, that perception seems to hold true. Barcelona and Real Madrid are in the top 5 in pass completion percentage across Europe, and they are also ranked 1 and 2 respectively when it comes to shots per game. But a glimpse past these two teams shows a decline in the beautiful, quick-passing game that Spain has become renowned for.

A glaring statistic in La Liga is that 11 of its teams are among the top 12 in cards acquired (yellow and red) across Europe. Only Cesena, a recently promoted club from Italy, breaks into the rankings at number 7. Perhaps worse is that the top 14 European teams in interceptions per game are from Spain. Of course, neither Real Madrid nor Barcelona fit into either of these rankings. So this means that when Real Madrid and Barcelona are not on the field, you are guaranteed to see a lot of cards and a lot of intercepted passes. Fantastic. *

Why is this happening? Part of the reason is money. As I mentioned in my Forbes article http://www.forbes.com/sites/sportsmoney/2011/11/09/should-feats-of-messi-ronaldo-get-an-asterisk-due-to-la-ligas-economic-disparities/ , the financial disparity between Barcelona/Madrid and the rest is growing on a continual basis. Unlike the EPL, the also-rans in La Liga are struggling, and the need to get results in order to earn more bonus money has infected the league. Meanwhile, Barcelona and Madrid are still contenders in the Champions League, and are poised to top the Deloitte Money League as well.

Time will tell what happens with La Liga. The EPL is a juggernaut, and with broadcast rights in over 200 countries it is becoming the NFL of domestic leagues. Meanwhile other leagues like the Bundesliga show great parity and financial stability from top to bottom. Barcelona and Madrid will always be there, but if things continue this way they might just focus on European dominance, and make La Liga a secondary priority. If they do, the rest of the world will follow.

* All data from http://www.whoscored.com

Major League Soccer: the Summer months

Major League Soccer has gone to great lengths to enhance the quality of play this season. In addition to new teams and sponsorships, the league has invested in enhancing the analytical content for fans. As we head into the summer months, which should represent some of the best soccer of the season, here is a synopsis of how Major League Soccer has fared statistically from 2002-2010.

June

June has consistently been a particularly strong month for goals per game. This is not surprising because June is also consistently above the season average in shots per game. Although June is slightly less consistent with the shots being on target, the difference is negligible.

June is not only strong in attacking statistics, but also attacking efficiency. June has also been the most efficient summer month for getting shots off in the penalty area. This means a team needs less touches in the attacking half before getting a shot off. This efficiency is what leads to positive attacking statistics. For example, because June is the most efficient for getting shots off in the penalty area, it is not too surprising that June is consistently above the season average in penalty kicks per game from 2004. This shows urgency in attack, and is a factor in June being a strong attacking month.

June is also consistently above the season average in completed passes, including 2008 when it was significantly better. The statistics also show that June had a low amount of lost passes. When this information is combined with the attacking numbers, it shows that teams are not just keeping more possession in June, they are making sure that the possession is getting them somewhere.

So what we’re seeing in June are more completed passes throughout the field, and less touches in the attacking half before a goal is scored. Perhaps this is due to familiarity within a team and the uncovering of their identity as they are now 6-10 games through a season. Part of the reason could also be the momentum from May, which has stayed above the season average in goals per game since 2006. May and June are also consistently above the season average in corner kicks per game, meaning that there is more of an attacking mentality.

One factor that does not seem to have as much of an effect on teams is travel. The statistics show that travel does not have a major effect on either the attacking efficiency or the ability to keep possession. For example, In June 2008, teams traveled an average of 1427 miles per game, yet were still efficient with their attacking play, and their overall possession. In contrast, In July 2002 teams only travelled 985 miles per game, but were inefficient when in attacking touches per goal, and significantly inefficient when it came to getting into the opponent’s penalty box.

July

The momentum from June does carry into July, although things get a little less consistent. July has been below the season average in goals per game since 2004. However, in 5 of the last 7 seasons, July was simultaneously above the season average in shots per game, and below in goals per game. This suggests teams are seemingly getting less quality chances in July, and is a less efficient month for attacking play.

However, this trend seems to be shifting. Since 2008, July has been above the season average in corners. In that 2008 season, teams only needed 55 touches in the attacking half to get a shot on goal (lowest July total since 2002). In July 2009, teams only needed 112 attacking touches to get a shot on in the penalty area, 18 touches less than the season average, and the lowest July total ever. This is despite the fact that teams travelled 1302 miles in July 2008, and 1559 miles in July 2009, showing again that the amount of travel did not have a large impact.

Although July is less consistent in attacking, the speed of the game has not been compromised. Fouls per game in July have been below the season average every year since 2002, and there are not as many lost passes as there are in other months of the season. In fact, since 2008 July has the lowest amount of lost passes per month. This proves July is on its way to becoming a more consistent month in both attacking efficiency and possession.

August

Similar to July, August is not as consistent with attacking statistics as June. However, August is interesting because although the attacking is very efficient, it has not always translated to more goals per game.

An example of this is shots/shots on goal. August was below the season average in shots per game in 5 of the last 8 seasons, but at the same time it was above the season average in shots on goal per game in 5 of the last 8 seasons. This has not always lead to more goals per game in August, but it does indicate there are more quality chances than there are in July.

August is also the most efficient attacking month for statistics that lead to goals. Teams consistently have the least amount of attacking touches per goal, and the least amount of touches per shot in the penalty area. It is interesting that these trends do not lead to more goals per game. For example, in August 2009 teams needed 40 less touches (than the season average) in the attacking half to score a goal, yet only managed 1.17 goals per game.

Outside of attacking, teams are doing a good job of keeping possession in August. There are not as many lost passes in August as other months in the season, and lost dribbles are also below the season average. Neither statistic has been above the season average since pre-2002, meaning that teams are keeping possession as they move into the attack.

The main point here is that the games in August are high in quality and urgent in attacking, but teams are simply not finishing opportunities. It is difficult to find an explanation for this trend, but nevertheless it does show that August is an exciting month, and it would be interesting to compare the ratings and attendance between June and August and see what fans think.

NBC and their Olympic Rights

 

 

 

 

 

 

NBC made another major investment in the Olympics on Tuesday, as it extended its Olympic rights until 2020. Comcast, the parent company of NBC, agreed to acquire the rights to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia; the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro; and the next two Olympics, in unspecified cities. NBC bid $4.38 billion for United States broadcast rights for the four Olympics.

With exclusive broadcast rights, NBC Sports retains a marquee event in its war chest, and can now boast longevity and familiarity with the Olympics. They have exclusively broadcast every Summer Olympics from 1988, every Winter Games from 2002, and will continue that tradition for another eight years. More importantly, Comcast confirmed the network’s commitment to the Olympics, which was in doubt after the shocking retirement of Dick Ebersol less than two weeks ago.

Adding to the fact that NBC offered the most money for the rights, there were some other factors that had to play into the decision. The major factor that the IOC must have taken a hard look at was the impact of an increasingly voracious 24/7 news cycle on live events. The internet and the explosion of media news in general make it nearly impossible to keep the public in the dark between the time that tape-delay programs are recorded, and when they air. The IOC clearly prefers the tape delay strategy, as NBC was the only bidder proposing to save the biggest programs for primetime audiences. Both Fox and ESPN planned to run the events live, as they believe the constant 24 hour news cycle is too demanding to even attempt putting events on tape delay. For ESPN specifically, they have precedent with their World Cup soccer coverage that live coverage is a viable option, and must have pointed to that as it made its pitch.  

The outcome of the bid also tipped the priorities of each network’s sports department right now. According to the Associated Press, ESPN only bid on the two Olympic games in 2014 and 2016, and offered $1.4 billion. Perhaps this shows that they are already comfortably invested in their current global reach. This global reach mainly comes from soccer, where ESPN has rights to Euro 2012 and Euro 2016, along with World Cup 2014 in Brazil. ESPN is also aligned with an increasingly global NBA, and has recently enjoyed success with ESPN Deportes. Fox, on the other hand, put in two separate bids—one for the 2014/2016 games worth $1.5 billion, and one for the Olympics through 2020 for $3.4 billion. Judging by the relative positions of NBC and ESPN in the marketplace right now, it would seem about right that Fox would fall somewhere between these two bids.  

For NBC, there is certainly risk involved with acquiring these rights. After reportedly losing $223 million in Vancouver 2010, and projections that they could lose at least that much for the 2012 Summer Games, the IOC certainly feels like a winner for acquiring a record $4.38 billion. The deal shows that Comcast is planning on making the Olympics a major player in the re-shaping of NBC Sports, and are focused on becoming a global brand. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the deal lies in the two future Olympic cities for 2018 and 2020. The 2018 games are particularly enticing, with Pyeongchang, China making a major push after narrowly losing the 2010 and 2014 games. The Chinese bid is currently up against Munich, Germany (already hosted Summer ‘72), and Annency, France (bid’s CEO recently resigned), so NBC certainly sees opportunity there.  In addition, the new 10 year, $2 billion deal with the NHL and the current $3.6 billion deal with the NFL are showing that NBC is looking to make a big push in the sports market.

The issue now is how Comcast will do things differently to avoid the previous Olympic losses. The presumption is that the family of Comcast/NBC networks will consolidate in order to assist in live coverage, and partnerships with various telecom and social media platforms will take care of the tape delay concern. How NBC leverages these rights is crucial, as a Summer Olympics can equal multiple Super Bowls over the course of two weeks. Although many of the broadcast technicalities have already been set in motion for the London 2012 Games, we should see fairly quickly if the Olympics are worth another round of investment from NBC.

 

 

 

The impact of the new Serie A TV deal

Many eyes in European soccer are fixated on the Italian courts, and are anxious to learn the outcome of the new television deal for the Serie A. This is not only a domestic issue, but an international one, as teams are eager to determine their budgets for signing players this summer.

Currently, all but four teams (Lazio, Napoli, Siena, Genoa) generate over 50% of their total revenue from television contracts. The bigger teams, like Milan, Inter, and Juventus, favor a system that allocates revenue based on how many supporters a team has. They argue that this will force teams to create a stronger following within their fan base, and earn the right to be seen on the brightest stages. On the other side, the smaller teams propose a TV deal that involves a complicated distribution formula, which will still favor the bigger teams, though there is likely to be a reduction at the top end. Under the new regulations, 40% will be divided equally among the 20 Serie A teams; 30% is based on past results (5% last season, 15% last 5 years, 10% from 1946 to the sixth season before last); and 30% is based on the population of the team’s city (5%).

The last 25% is based on the number of fans, and highlights a common thread in revenue sharing for all sports. The big teams – Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Roma and Napoli – favor a system which takes into consideration only one team per supporter. This means that a team like AC Milan can take advantage of its large domestic and international fan base, and receive extra revenue based on casual fans who are not invested enough to follow the smaller teams. The smaller clubs favor a more complex system, which takes into account the fact that many fans, especially in the center and south side of Italy, support one of the big teams but also support their local team.

If the big teams get their way, and the revenue is split based on a survey of fans across Italy, then the top five clubs stand to receive $268 of the $323 million (83%) of this piece of the TV deal. This is obviously troubling for the smaller teams, however the big teams argue that they need this revenue to stay competitive with the rest of Europe. The smaller teams believe that the overall history of unbalanced distribution of revenue is the reason for the big teams being so big in the first place. The smaller teams also argue that the big teams do not effectively manage their resources, and point to the fact that Milan, Juventus, and Inter currently hold 76% of the total bank debt of the Serie A (268 million).

Regardless of how the revenue is split, it indicates that there should be more parity in the Serie A going forward. Time will tell whether or not this will bring Italian soccer back to its glory days, but many believe that it will steer it away from the perception of corruption and irresponsible spending that it has earned over the last decade.