Lee Mooney, or “the Data Ninja” as his fans have dubbed him, is a visual analytics manager for one of the world’s largest banks by day. By night, Lee dons another title: football ‘fanalyst.’
“I look for the gaps between the commercial sector and the people that work in football all the time, and I try to find clever ways to exploit freely available public data to create insight,” he explains.
A life-long fan of Liverpool Football Club, Lee’s fanalyst efforts began after the club brought in a director of football strategy whose mission was to offer data-driven strategy recommendations.
“I was so excited about the possibility of, effectively, a data scientist having his day in the hot seat with some power and influence...that didn’t play out as I wanted it to,” Lee says.
The financial and opportunity cost of that failed experiment spurred Lee to take data into his own hands.
“I wanted to try to do something different to see what could be done without the funds and the influence… just as a challenge, I guess,” he says. “I thought I could bring the skills and knowledge I’ve built in my day job and apply those to something that everyone can gauge, which is football.”
Taking Football Analysis Public
Lee specializes in using publicly-available, free data that he can review and combine in clever ways to derive value.
“I try to find things that have really wide coverage but that people aren't looking at; I can turn this into something valuable—weaving gold from lead,” he says.
Lee began using Tableau and Tableau Public to create and share his football analyses.
“I think that's what set me apart actually,” he says. “I don't think there were many people using Tableau Public to surface football data insights when I started doing it.”
“It Went Pretty Wild”
Lee’s analyses have begun to draw attention on social media, most notably Forbes.com
“We (Liverpool) had a problem scoring goals, and I did a piece that looked at public data to identify across Europe a whole range of insights about goal scores to see if I could find players that were perhaps undervalued but highly capable in that department.”
Lee was surprised at the amount of attention he gained on social media for his football analysis.
“It went pretty wild on social media. I got a mention on Forbes.com as one of the top grassroots football analytics writers of 2012,” he says. “It was cool; I didn’t expect that.”
And the attention didn’t stop online; Lee has been contacted by clubs and football organizations eager to discuss his work.
“Engaging with the football industry as a whole—the clubs and the data providers that work with them—has been really fun and really interesting. It's certainly added a lot of depth and context to the work that I'm doing,” Lee says.
“When you have scarce resources and limited budgets you have to be creative to make an impact,” Lee points out. “In my case I couldn’t afford to buy the kind of content that I would have probably gone to straightaway if I could have afforded it. Because I couldn't, I had to take a different path.”
“And what I found is that I can actually navigate between the gaps that these companies overlook, and when I put all the little pieces together I end up with something quite powerful. Each piece on its own isn't that important but when you synthesize it and you surface it effectively and simply, you get really, really good responses.”