Football fans will welcome the English Premier League’s return tomorrow and, with it, the opportunity to create their own fantasy football teams and compete with friends (and foes). But, with a new app coming from Invent, DCU, they can now pit themselves against their favourite club’s manager and see if their team selection would have made for a more favourable result.
Beat Your Manager! comes from Beat Your Manager Fantasy Games and Scraggly Dog Games. The free app is available now for Android users on Google Play – just in time for the first kick-off in the 2013/2014 season tomorrow afternoon – and an iOS version is currently awaiting App Store approval.
Beat Your Manager! offers a second-screen football viewing experience with a mix of Championship Manager and fantasy football-style gameplay. Users can pick their club, select their starting 11 and substitutes from the roster ahead of the game and then, even as the game takes place in real-time, they can make their own substitutes and see how their decisions fare against the club’s actual manager.
Prove your football manager skills
Go to any pub on a match day and you’ll hear many a shouted instruction from the ‘expert’ spectators. Beat Your Manager! gives them the opportunity to prove they know better and uses cutting-edge analytics to do so.
Biostatistician Dr Padraig Doolan, the brains behind the app, explains how this works. “There are key performance metrics that are more important than others in determining whether a player is performing well or performing poorly. A lot of the time, the wrong metrics are looked at,” he tells me.
For the Beat Your Manager! app, Dr Doolan employed ‘moneyball’ principles, a strategy recently made famous by a film of the same name starring Brad Pitt as Oakland Athletics baseball team’s general manager Billy Beane. “In baseball, batting average was always the thing that people valued players on,” Dr Doolan explains. Players with good batting averages were over-valued, he says, when, in fact, if the game was observed from a statistical point of view, other criteria became much more important.
The same is true for football and, seeing the game as he does through the eyes of a statistician, Dr Doolan can remove any bias or emotion and not only rate past achievements, but also predict future performance.
People may have cherished memories placing key players in their hearts and minds forever as worthy stars, but, while these memories can be deceiving, the numbers don’t lie. “The distance run by players, the passes that were completed, the shots that they had on goal, the shots that hit the bar – when you just look at [a game of football] from the numbers, a lot of those kind of human biases fall away and what you’re left with then is the real gold; the really important metrics that a lot of the time nobody pays any attention to,” says Dr Doolan.
How the data dictates the game
Dr Doolan has 16 years’ experience as a researcher in DCU and has used his skills as a statistician to build predictive models for biopharma and for cancer. He has now applied these skills to analysing one of his passions: the beautiful game.
He acquired two years’ worth of player performance data from Opta, one of the biggest sports data companies in the world. Opta collects over 100 pieces of information on every player in every game in the Premier League, giving Dr Doolan millions of data points to look at. This data and any new information garnered from Opta from the upcoming season is used by Beat Your Manager! to score each player based on their performance and thus predict an outcome for the game if different players were in the starting line-up or substituted at the right moment.
Different criteria are taken into account for different players and these are weighted differently according to their position.
Dr Padraig Doolan
Dr Doolan has confidence of the system’s ability to judge the hypothetical scenarios created by its users. Having compared predicted performance scores with ratings achieved for players’ real-life performance on the pitch, Beat Your Manager! has shown itself to be accurate to about a 4pc margin. So, if the app predicts that Wayne Rooney will score a rating of 85 in a match, he will likely score somewhere between 81 and 89 when the match is actually played out.
“There is a little bit of uncertainty there but that exists for managers anyway,” he adds. “You put a team of players out on the pitch, but you don’t know if any one of them is going to have a stinger of a day or not, you just have to go with your gut. And if players do play in real life, then we don’t use the predictive score, that’s wiped out and replaced with the score that they actually record on the day.”
Free to the fans
Dr Doolan remembers the days when fantasy football meant signing up for a fee with a league from a newspaper and calling in your selected team. Not only does Beat Your Manager! have a whole new take on how the game can be played, he also has a more fan-friendly way of monetising the action.
“I’m not looking to make money from the users, at least not initially. I’m looking to sell the consumer data,” he says. Broadcasters could use the data to generate greater engagement with fans before, during and after a game. Betting companies could set up their own fantasy football leagues and competitions. Drinks and sports companies could use it to further promote their brands to a target market. There’s even the chance of in-app purchases for jerseys or other additional features in the long run.
There are many avenues for the app to make money, and there’s also the possibility for it to be adapted for other football leagues worldwide, and other sports. But, for now, Beat Your Manager! is free to play and promises an added bit of fun for the 2013/2014 English football season.
Main football image by Rissy Story via Shutterstock