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Footy fans aren't worthy of access to stats? Give us a spell, AFL

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Roar Rookie
5th August, 2019
15

If, like most people, you’re not familiar with AFL analysis Twitter, there was something of a blow-up yesterday.

To tell a long story short, there are a few hard-working footy analysts on the web. Many of their statistics are painstakingly curated by amateurs to make up for the dearth provided by the AFL itself. These include individual players stats, team stats and long-term trends over the duration of a season.

Champion Data is the AFL’s official stats provider and a great deal of its stats are privately released only to clubs and broadcasters. Naturally, the AFL wants to keep a great deal of this a secret to benefit those parties, which is fine.

Unfortunately, many believe the degree of restriction is too great. This was highlighted on Friday when the AFL’s own website referred to statsinsider.com.au to frame an article around players shooting for goal outside 50 metres.

This was a glaring acknowledgement that other organisations, and sometimes just fans, are doing a better job of curating stats than the AFL’s official public records.

Yesterday, AFL journo Marc McGowan – whose podcast specifically relates to this area – chastised the amateur statisticians for thinking they were “as worthy” as the clubs when it came to accessing data.

If ever there was a glaring example of the disconnect between the AFL’s media and fans, this was it.

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McGowan’s tweet was misguided because it operated on the false presumption that a “small minority” are greedy for wanting more stats.

I’m not really sure what the unwashed swill seek to gain other than more numbers to enhance their enjoyment of the game.

There’s no secret agenda or conspiracy to undermine the clubs’ and media’s access to stats, just a pressing desire for more knowledge.

I get that most fans probably aren’t interested in detailed models to enhance their understanding of why some players are poorer at set shots, but the point is that some really are.

To suggest that anyone outside the AFL’s inner sanctum is unworthy of enhancing their understanding of the game with detailed stats is a giant middle finger to that part of its fan base.

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And we’re not talking about half a dozen nerds in their mums’ basements either. Max Barry of the excellent squiggle.com.au says his site receives 15,000 visitors a week. That’s more than a few fans interested in the deeper mechanics of Australian football.

These amateur footy statisticians aren’t seeking to usurp Champion Data or the AFL. Rather, they simply have a great love for the game and its numbers.

If you haven’t already, I can highly recommend purchasing the book Footballistics, with contributions from a range of these guys including The Roar’s own Ryan Buckland. It’s full of titbits that provide an extra insight into the common beliefs in AFL circles, like the amount of Victorian bias in the Hall of Fame and how travel really affects interstate teams.

Footy stats aren’t for everyone but for a nuffy like me, they can genuinely enhance my understanding of the game.

Opening up some more data for the public will increase engagement in the code, not weaken its foundations.

The AFL and its media would do well to show this subset of fans a bit more respect. That anyone would devote hours to curating stats for little tangible reward demonstrates the enormous appeal the game has.

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