What’s the R number in your sports organisation? Part II

June 25, 2020
Ben Wackett

Rasmus Ankersen and I recently discussed how the concept of an R number – used by governments during the coronavirus crisis to predict the number of future cases – is applicable to businesses. Every organisation knows that what we achieve in June is not just the outcome of what we did in June, and sports organisations are no different. Having a business-wide ‘R number’, which tells us the likely future direction of travel of our results, can help leadership teams get ahead of problems before they escalate.

As a business that specialises in football and golf – the world’s most unpredictable team and individual major sports, respectively – we are familiar with the problem of today’s leaderboards and league tables not necessarily being an indication of tomorrow’s results. Even football clubs and golfers who perform well can be beaten by much weaker opponents on any given day – much more regularly than in sports like basketball and tennis.

That’s why in football, we provide partners with pre-, half time, and post-match updates* of their team’s underlying performance, looking at the quality and quantity of chances created and allowed. Our model, which we call Performance League, provides a view on how likely it was that we would have won or lost that game, based on these chances. In the long run we know that teams will gravitate towards their Performance League table position.

In golf our Performance Index provides the same function. Event winners are disproportionately rewarded over individuals who have a near-miss, meaning the Official World Golf Rankings are not always a fair reflection of the golfers who are performing well and will likely lead the rankings in the future. Our models account for this, meaning a golfer can get an accurate sense of where they truly sit in the global rankings. 

Having this R number informs whether or not to make an intervention. When the number is bad but results look ok – think of many countries before cases and deaths escalated – it is worth proactively making changes; in December 2018 we wrote about how some relatively simple metrics predicted a decline in results for teams across Europe. When the inverse is true – think of many countries around the peak in the crisis, but where lockdown measures had suppressed the R number – it is worth persisting with current processes. This was the case for Shane Lowry in 2018; he was much closer to being a world’s top 25 golfer than the rankings suggested, and therefore much more likely to win a major – which he duly achieved at the Open the following year. 

While recent income and trophies will earn plaudits, as leadership teams concerned with the long-term health of our business, it is vital to get ahead of where results are likely to trend. The R number provides a template for this; every sports organisation should have their own.

*Get in touch if you’d like to receive these updates for your club


You can read Part I to this series here, where Rasmus Ankersen (21st Club Co-Founder, Brentford FC Director of Football, FC Midtjylland Chairman) discussed how the concept of an R number – used by governments during the coronavirus crisis to predict the number of future cases – is applicable to businesses industry-wide.