Moneyball Mariners in A-League first

Central Coast Mariners chief Mike Charlesworth has turned to a computer scientist he has dubbed “the professor” to mastermind an algorithm-based Moneyball-style operation which he believes can transform the club’s bottom line in the years ahead.


It’s all about metrics, stats, ratings in the data-driven world of analytics expert John Young, who is at the heart of a business model Charlesworth hopes will help lure back lost fans and save him bleeding over $1 million each season.

Young - in the midst of masters of high performance sport with a major in science and analytics at the University of Canberra - is melding minds with US big data company Search Technologies to follow Charlesworth’s lead as the Mariners seek to harness the stunningly successful methods pioneered by Oakland A's baseball team in 2002, where the club turned bargain bin players into heroes.

Made famous by the Hollywood blockbuster four years ago, the Moneyball mantra was seized upon by British businessman Matthew Benham - who made his millions as a professional gambler before ploughing money into Brentford and Danish champion FC Midtjylland with almost instant results.

Charlesworth believes Young’s computer programs can eventually deliver the data which can help the cash-starved Mariners make the percentages pay.

“We're following an analytical pathway along with a coaching template based on entertaining fans.  We want to punch above our weight also," he explained.

"So much is based on analytics, from recruiting and selling players to their performance and ultimate value.

"We're building our own systems with the professor at the helm. His last project was with ice hockey in the States and we are very fortunate to work with him in the Central Coast.

“Acquiring and selling players is not just subjective anymore, it's analytical. You put the relevant information into your programmes and find a balance with what the management team recommend, that being said statistics don’t lie.

“In addition to the manager saying 'I recommend that player', we will have the data which can back that up.

"Arsenal, for example, have a team of analytic professionals; although I believe we're probably the first in the A-League to start developing our own IP."

Young, who is not from a football background, charts the effectiveness of players across the competition with his ratings programs and is also heavily involved in providing fans with an inter-active experience no other clubs have yet embraced, like flashing up messages LED lighting system along the side-line asking fans which player should be substituted or bought on during matches.

His in-put can make or break players futures and fast-track others.

"We look for rough diamonds and try and polish them and that’s where coaching staff come in of course," he adds.

"They will bring a player to me; we do the analysis on him and see how effective they might be for us in a statistical sense.

"You can look at a player on $200,000, someone on $80,000 and someone on a youth team contract of $5000. But dollar value doesn't matter, it’s the player effectiveness rating that matters.

"The club is well known for grooming and selling on good players. These new tools help us decide when to keep a player and when to sell.

"So it's a matter if marrying the numbers with the football brains of Tony Walmsley and John Hutchinson and there’s a great synergy there.

"We also have a duty to our fans  ... yes we want to be self-sustaining but we also want to be a winning club.

"But you want to entertain first, according to our research, that’s the main reason people come to the game.

"I am writing formulas also on fan engagement. We want them to become interested in everything we are doing trying to do to make their experience at the game better.

"We want fans to become part of the entertainment themselves. There was a good reaction to the ‘who Tony should substitute’ question at the weekend, people interacted on Twitter … it’s a bit of theatre."

Though the Mariners won their opening A-League game of the season with a cavalier attacking display against Perth Glory on Saturday, Charlesworth is more interested in entertaining than purely the pursuit of points.

“Fan engagement and entertainment are frankly more important for this club right now, it’s not simply a results or points driven business," he said.

"Losing one to two million dollars a year isn't a sustainable model, however successful we are on the pitch, so we need to do things differently. 

"We need extra fans both at the stadium, on TV and online and I'm confident over the course of the season we'll deliver on this objective."