MRKT Insights – the football fans turned industry shapers
MRKT Insights are one of recent partners of the Association of Sporting Directors and are an exciting new consultancy looking to impact all sides of football business. What started out as a group of like-minded contributors to the online footballing discussions, Matt Lawrence, Andy McGregor, Ram Srinivas, Kevin Elphick and Tim Keech managed to turn their passion into opportunity by applying their various skills to the sport that they love. Now in the third year of operation, the five partners and team of consultants are offering services and insights to help clubs ranging from the Premier League, SPFL, Serie A and everywhere in between to win more games.
Since partnering with MRKT, 90% of clubs have improved their league finishing position the following year. Eyes are firmly on continued growth with the MLS and Africa being explored, MRKT are determined to help clubs take their game to the next level.
Speaking to the Association of Sporting Directors, MRKT Insights partners Andy McGregor and Tim Keech gave an insight into their journey, services and plans for the future. First-up, Keech shared the unique story of their foundation.
‘We say the name ‘market’ but the origins of MRKT is not too complex – it was setup by Matt, Ram, Kevin and Tim. It sounded a bit like market and we thought ‘that’ll do’ as we really didn’t really anticipate it becoming a big thing.
‘The origin of MRKT is very much a case of people who had an interest in football and were communicating through Twitter and other places like blogs.
‘I was working in consultancy outside of football, some of us were working in IT and very much normal jobs. We all started being offered work on an individual basis within football or with for agencies and some club staff were reaching out to us for our opinions really at first.
‘As it continued, we thought it might be good if we collectively got together and offered a more legitimate service. We decided to put our heads together and come up with a case study of what we would do if we were working within football and we pitched it to Swansea City as an initial example of the type of work we could do. The work we pitched was a data analytics approach to running a recruitment department and we managed to get a meeting with Swansea as soon as we’d sent the piece of work across to them . Within a few days of that meeting, we were started working for them and after about a week of working with them, we met up with them again and we talked about expanding the work into actual scouting and player identification.
‘It’s taken off from there and suddenly we had a company and a client, Swansea were good enough to let us publicise the fact we were working with them. Once we had the website and all the legal side of a business, we started fielding incoming inquiries. We have grown from there through word of mouth really in the industry with recommendations from club to club, and as staff have moved between clubs, they’ve brought us into their new club as well.’ Keech noted.
With a wide range of professional backgrounds and skills, MRKT are keen to add value to their clients and operate across areas such as recruitment strategies, player identification and investor consultation.
‘In terms of what we actually do I’d say there’s probably two or three different sides to it. We’ve got the original piece which was data analytics. We have a subscription to various data services like Wyscout, API data and other places which we use to create back-office systems for football clubs.
‘We’ll create their scouting databases scouting workflow systems, player data information and then we use that as a kind of the back-office side of football.
‘We then have the front office side, which is the player recommendations, working with coaches and the heads of recruitment directly to say of the players we’ve identified whom we feel are the best fit for the club and why.
‘Then we also work with the Sporting Director on their summer transfer strategy for instance. So looking at where the club are now in terms of players, the way the club plays or the way they want to play, where they see there are gaps in the squad and then where we see the gaps in the squad. We are like a trusted third party to review what they are doing and to make alternative suggestions.’ Keech added.
With the continued interest in European football, Keech spoke about how they are now offering a ‘football due diligence’ service and our familiarity with clubs is proving a fantastic asset for investors seeking for opportunities.
‘The third thing we do is probably the fastest growing part of the business and it is working with investors and ownership groups to identify clubs for them to buy. Then to create strategies for those clubs when acquired. I think there’s a huge interest in football from investors, particularly from America and the Middle-East looking to buy clubs within Europe.
‘Our behind the scenes experience with clubs has helped us give good advice to those types of people. We know which clubs are running efficiently and effectively. and we’ve got systems we’ve developed in-house that help us see which clubs from the outside appear to be run efficiently and ones with high growth potential.
‘We do the football due diligence in a way. So for the budget the club is spending on players, we assess if it is being spent effectively, what the transfer success rate for their strategy is, their style of play, the contracts they have at the moment etc.
‘We work with clubs in Serie A, the Premier League, Championship and right down to League Two in England, the Scottish Premiership and clubs across Europe. This includes working with some club networks who have clubs in Portugal, Denmark and other places.’ said Keech.
MRKT have benefited from fluid nature of football staff with recommendations proving key to their growth. Once such move was Ryan Lowe who has worked with MRKT at Plymouth Argyle and now at Preston North End. McGregor works closely with Lowe while also maintaining their relationship with Argyle.
‘I’ve worked with Ryan for 18 months now and he’s been great. We have a trusted relationship and he understands the value we can add to his process in helping him build a side that can be more competitive. He’s done really well so far without our input but next season Preston as a team will be looking to kick on, we’re excited to be part of that process with them.
‘It’s a great really that he values our work and it shows with the other clubs who we are allowed to mention such as (Plymouth) Argyle and MK Dons, who also value what we do for them in terms of the success they’ve had in the market this year. It’s a really big compliment when a manager like Ryan decides to take us elsewhere with him.’ McGregor noted.
Both Keech and McGregor spoke of the close and trusted relationships they build up at each club and the level of service is also tailored to suit. Speaking on the recruitment front Keech explained the two ends of the scale.
‘It ranges very much from what I would say would be arm’s length – so for our biggest clients who have big in-house teams, we will be that trusted third party or a shadow department effectively, advising what we would do with their budget this summer. The club will look at that and sometimes disagree and other times agree and look into it our suggestions and potentially sign a player or players who we’ve put on the list.
‘For other clubs, we work more directly with them. We are very much part of their recruitment department along with some internal staff – there’ll be Head of Recruitment, an internal scout and us. Here we might have more of an influence on the day-to-day workings of the department. The club is always in charge and always makes the decisions, but we work with them as part of the team.’
On those relationships, McGregor has been working closely with both Preston and Plymouth over the past few weeks.
‘In terms of Plymouth Argyle, I’ve got a really great relationship with Matt Lawrence who I work with on the project We’ve a great relationship with Neil Dewsnip who’s the Director of Football, Andrew Parkinson the CEO and Simon Hallett the owner. We work more day to day with Neil Dewsnip but we also have input from other sides. Then the Manager, Steven Schumacher who has just taken over from Ryan and we’ve had some good meetings with Steven already which have been really valuable.
‘At the end of the day clubs make the final decision in terms of player acquisitions, we are just part of that process.’ McGregor added.
Keech stressed the point on support throughout the club in order to reap the rewards from their insights. ‘I think what Andy said is really key, support has got to come from the top. If the ownership wants to run the club efficiently and effectively, they will look for any way they can find that helps them do that.
‘I have to say the clubs we worked with have been successful and we always say that’s not down purely to working with us, it is because they’ve made that decision to look for the best way to run their clubs, and part of that is basing decisions on good data.
‘I think it is all about having good processes so if you have got one where you say – we’re going to bring in a player and what’s the way we’re going to do that. We look at every available option, we consider the eyes test, the data test – all part of the same package. At the end of it we get the best possible information about their salary demands and everything else and choose the best available option. There’s not really an argument against that approach. We’re not saying that our data is going to show you the best player, it’s all part of a group decision.’ Keech said.
With the notable shift towards making more informed decisions through data and analysis, both MRKT founders stressed the need for buy-in from all involved at the club.
‘People can sometimes box managers into certain roles and some who are seen to not want to use data. It really depends on how you interpret the data for them and convey the real message to them. If you hand them a spreadsheet with 500 players, it doesn’t really work. Or try to use a load of terms like xA, xG or whatever it maybe. You have to bring in terms they use in everyday coaching life. So things like this player gets into dangerous areas versus saying this is their expected threat. There’s dressing room language and boardroom language and we can do both.
‘We need have buy-in from both ends of the club to be our most effective, I think if you don’t have that backing, it will never work in the long run because you will have pressure from the Board on managers to use something they don’t want to use or trust.’ stated McGregor.
Association of Sporting Directors members were given first-hand insights from MRKT at a recent event at Chelsea’s training ground.
‘It was really well hosted by Chelsea. We had a meal in the first evening and they opened up the training ground and you’re sitting in a room with Petr Čech as host and you’re surrounded by leading Sporting Directors from around England and Europe.
‘The next day we presented a review with trends in the transfer market over the last year and posed questions for the Sporting Directors to give feedback on. We’d introduce something like how Bundesliga clubs were buying in lots of young American players in the last window. So we asked if the MLS is a market which is valued higher by German clubs, then English clubs? Are we missing a trick and should we be a little more aware of the American clubs as the German clubs are investing quite heavily in that market? So those type of questions.
‘On the Association of Sporting Director side, Dan Parnell and Mike Rigg were really excellent in helping us put our presentations together alongside Ed Sulley from Hudl. Then Scott Mclachlan, Peter Čech, Neil Bath and their staff hosting the day, made it an excellent event all around.’ they added.
Association of Sporting Directors members got fantastic value from the glimpse into the work MRKT Insights can do. While Keech and McGregor have found real value in the partnership.
‘From a partnership point of view, in terms of a football company looking to spend its marketing budget, I don’t think you can get a much better use of your money than getting directly in the room with the kind of industry leaders at the Association of Sporting Directors.
‘The reality is if you’re a consultant, a niche product, developer etc. working in the space, then you can’t get much better than direct contact with the club decision makers. It’s been a really good investment in that in terms of that.’ said Keech.
‘It’s also a validation in a way. The Association of Sporting Directors is such a reputable organisation and being involved has certainly helped our brand.’ McGregor added.
Looking ahead, Keech is hoping to spend more time investigating new markets as they continue to add clients and staff to their growing team.
‘Short to medium term, we want to keep on doing what we’re doing. We really enjoy the challenge of the work; the kind of variety has been great. I know internally we always talk about how we are the kind of people who have been outside the industry and who never really thought there was a possibility for people like us with no playing background or extensive experience in football. So to reach the custom base that we’ve managed to reach in terms of working with Premier League clubs and to be spoken to and taken seriously by the kind of industry figures has been great.
‘We are ambitious for the business and we want to work on as many exciting projects as we can within football. The focus of the business has become clearer and we really want to have an all-around offering that adds value to all sides of the football business. This will be by having a good solid offering to clubs that we can add capacity to them.
‘We hope to eventually have 10 to 20 people long-term working in the back office of our company, building up a really great scouted player database, manager database, and then consultancy service which would be offered to owners, investors and clubs. Then we would also look to the best Sporting Directors who are the people we would recommend that owners hire. We continue to meet all these great people in the industry and look to help them out by getting the best people that we come across working in the best jobs for them.
‘We hope to expand into the MLS in the next year and it’s a big target for us. I think there’s a lot that could be done in the MLS to really tie-in with the work we’ve done in terms of our European scouting. I think that’s a growth market for American Clubs looking to bring in undervalued European players into the league with the way that their young, designated players system works, there’s a big opportunity to find some good players.
‘We’re also doing a lot of work in Africa in terms of looking at the potential and finding African players for European clubs, but also potentially linking with existing clubs in Africa and developing some player pathways. Africa is probably the highest potential and underdeveloped market at the moment. Certainly we are investing some time and effort into researching where the best places for European clubs and investors to partner with would be.’ Keech said.
Exciting times lie ahead for McGregor and Keech with future events with the Association of Sporting Directors on the horizon.
Article wrote by Colm Hand, student on the Football Industries MBA at the University of Liverpool
Feature image photo credit: MRKT Insights
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