Well, it’s the end of another week. I’ll save the bigger posts I have planned for next week and instead end with this little astronomy/geometry gem from xkcd. It takes a look at Saturn’s polar storm that takes the shape of a hexagon, not a circle or anything else.
Sunday night, news broke that a number of European football clubs were creating a rogue league, the European Super League. My British and European readers—and Americans who follow football—will know the names of Manchester United, Liverpool, AC Milan, Juventus, Real Madrid, and the others.
To put this in perspective for my American readers, imagine the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Astros, Padres, Mets, Cardinals, Phillies, Angels, and Nationals saying that they were leaving Major League Baseball to go and form their own new baseball league. That they were doing so to “save the sport”. But in so doing, they also guarantee they all make the playoffs every year.
My frequent readers and those who know me will know I’m a fan of the Boston Red Sox. I should point out that the owner of the Red Sox, John Henry, owns both the Red Sox and Liverpool through his company Fenway Sports Group.
Of course, the analogy doesn’t quite hold up, because there are some significant differences between American sports and European football. Relegation is a big one. Personally, I wish American sports had some way of using relegation to incentivise teams to not intentionally suck.
The basic premise of relegation. Take English football. You have four levels of play and in theory any team can exist in any level. Each year, the worst teams move from their current level down one whilst the best teams move up. And for the top level, the top teams get to compete in lucrative European-wide matches. That is a bit simplistic, but imagine that at the end of last year, the Pirates, Rangers, Tigers, and Red Sox became AAA minor league teams and the four best AAA minor league teams became MLB teams. MLB teams would theoretically try to do everything they could to stay in the MLB and not drop to AAA, because that would mean a loss of money. After all, the Yankees would no longer be heading to Fenway nor the White Sox to Detroit. Would seeing the Detroit Tigers play the Woo Sox really be worth the ticket prices you pay at Comerica Park?
But that’s not how American sports work. And so a few American owners, namely those of Manchester United, Arsenal, and Liverpool, want to ensure a steady stream of money. By creating their own league where their teams cannot be relegated, they guarantee that revenue stream.
In other words, this is all about the owners of these Super League teams making even more money.
Because, during the last year, teams have been hurting without fans in attendance. And that gets us to why I can write this up. Because the BBC in an article about this new league addressed the fact that most of these teams are heavily in debt.
This graphic, however, is a bit misleading. Look at Liverpool. There is no available data for how much financial debt the club holds. So why is it placed between Chelsea and Manchester City? It could well have more debt than Tottenham. Liverpool should really be left off this chart and included in the note, because its placement suggests that it has little debt, when that may well not be the case. This is a really misleading graphic when it comes to how Liverpool fits with the other 11 clubs.
From a design standpoint, I’m also not clear on why the x-axis line extends beyond the labels for £-200m and £600m.
I’m not going to touch all the data labels. That’s for another piece I’ve been working on off and on for a little while now.
At this point I should point out that I was going to post this article later, but in the last 18 hours or so the whole thing has fallen apart as the English teams, followed by the others, have been dropping out under immense pressure from the sport and their fans. To bring back my analogy above, imagine MLB retaliating and saying that if those teams created their own league, the players would not be allowed to play in any other matches and the teams would be locked out from all other competitive baseball games. It’s a mess.
Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.
Well, football is not coming home. But the World Cup continues. And should we get another final match tied at the end of extra time, that means penalty shoot outs. Thankfully, the Economist did a nice job detailing the success rates on goal by placement of the ball.
The only thing I am unsure about is whether the dots represent the actual placement or just positioning within the aggregate zone. The colours work well together and the graphic of the goal is not overpowering.
Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.
Today is the semifinal match between England and Croatia. I could have posted this yesterday, but the US Supreme Court selection seemed more important. But today’s post is a simple scatter plot from FiveThirtyEight. It is part of a broader article comparing the four semifinalists of the World Cup. (Spoiler alert, France won its match.)
In terms of design, we can contrast this to yesterday’s dot plot about Kavanaugh. There the highlighted dot was orange with a black outline. Here, same deal. But yesterday, the other justices were shown with black dots and an empty dot for retiring Justice Kennedy. Here all the other countries in the World Cup are orange dots.
I wonder, given the orangeness of the other countries, maybe a solid black dot would have worked a little better for the four semifinalists. Or to keep the orange with black outline dots, maybe a lighter orange or grey dots for the other World Cup teams. (I think black would probably be too strong in this case.)
Overall, it shows that today’s match between England and Croatia will be tough. And should England advance, a match against France will be even tougher.
Late last week I was explaining to someone in the pub why the World Cup matches are played beyond their 90 minute booking. For those among you that do not know, basically the referees add up all the stoppage time, i.e. when play stops for things like injuries or people dilly dallying, and then tack that on to the end of the match.
But it turns out that after I explained this, FiveThirtyEight published an article exploring just how accurate this stoppage time was compared to the amount of stopped time. Spoiler: not very.
In design terms, the big takeaway was the dataset of recorded minutes of actual play in all the matches theretofore. It captured everything but the activity totals where they broke down stoppage time into categories, e.g. injuries, video review, free kicks, &c. (How those broke out across an average game are a later graphic.)
The setup is straightforward: a table organises the data for every match. The little spark chart in the centre of the table is a nice touch that shows how much of the 90 minutes the ball was actually in play. The right side of the table might be a bit too crowded, and I probably would have given a bit more space particularly between the expected and actual stoppage times. On the whole, however, the table does its job in organising the data very well.
Now I just wonder how this would apply to a baseball or American football broadcast…
The World Cup continues. Well for a few teams. Some have already been eliminated from the Round of 16. But for those Americans rooting for Team America, well, if you have not yet figured it out, you got knocked out well before the World Cup even started by…Panama. And so you are stuck in the question of who’s next? Thankfully FiveThirtyEight, in addition to their fantastic live probabilities that we looked at the other day, put together a little quiz to help you find your new team.
You answer seven questions and you are told your new allegiance. Questions like this:
Naturally I took the quiz and discovered that in addition to England, I am cheering for…
Yep. Fantastic since I was just there in December and happened to love Stockholm. But what I love about this piece is how it uses data to create the newfound bond I have with Sweden. Often times you take a quiz and are given an answer without any sense of why the answer was correct. Here, FiveThirtyEight plots the seven different variables used to create your newfound personality and then shows you how you scored.
It’s Friday, it’s the World Cup. Have a great weekend. And in addition to England on Sunday, I’ll now be cheering for Sweden against Germany on Saturday.
Credit for the piece goes to Michael Caley, Rachael Dottle, Geoff Foster, Gus Wezerek, Daniel Levitt, Emily Scherer, and Jorge Lawerta.
The World Cup has had some impressive matches and some stunners. (And the two are not mutually exclusive.) But if you are like me and have to work during most of the broadcasts, how can you follow along? Well thankfully FiveThirtyEight put together a nice statistical model that provides the probability of a team winning—or drawing—in real time.
The design is fairly simple: a small table with the score and probability followed by a chart drawn as the match goes on. (Clearly I took this image at the half.)
I included a snippet of the table below to show the other work the FiveThirtyEight team put out there. You can explore the standings, the screenshot above, as well as the matches and then the brackets later in the competition.
The table makes nice use of the heat map approach to show is likely to make easy of the different stages of the competition. Like I said the other day, they are high on Brazil, because Brazil. But a little lower on Germany. But never count Germany out.
The only unclear thing to me in the table? The sorting mechanism. In Group B, at least whilst the Portugal match is ongoing, should probably have Iran at the top. After all, as of writing, it is the only team in the group to have won a match. The only thing I can guess is that it has to do with an overall likelihood to advance to the next round. I highly doubt that Iran will defeat either Spain or Portugal. But as with many knockout-style championships, anything can happen in a single match sample size.
Credit for the piece goes to Jay Boice, Rachael Dottle,Andrei Scheinkman, Gus Wezerek, and Julia Wolfe.
If you live under a rock or in America, the World Cup starts today. (Go England.) So what else to have but a chart-driven piece from the BBC from last week about the World Cup. It features seven charts encapsulating the competition. But the one I want to focus on? It’s all about the host nations, in this case Russia.
On its design, I could go without the football icons to represent points on the dot plot, but I get it. (Though to be fair, they work well as icons depicting the particular World Cup event in another set of graphics elsewhere in the article.) In particular, I really like the decision to include the average difference between a host nation’s points in non-hosting matches vs. hosting matches.
It does look like the host nation scores more points per match than when they are not hosting. And that—shameless plug—reminds me of some work I did a few years back now looking at the Olympics and the host nation advantage in that global competition.
This piece will make a ton of sense to my British and European readers, likely less so to those of you from the States. The English Premier League has been not so great at finishing well let alone winning in the Champions League.
Super briefly, English football—soccer—has a whole bunch of teams that play at different levels. Kind of like the US minor leagues, but without the affiliation of minor league teams to major league teams. That is, every team for itself. The Premier League is the top rung. (Every year, the worst teams in the Premier League are dropped into the minors and the very best from the minors move up into the Premier League.) This league includes the ones even Americans have heard of: Manchester, Arsenal, Chelsea. And maybe even Liverpool. Liverpool is playing today to make it into the Champions League finals.
(Full disclosure: I always say if I had to pick an English team to follow it would be Liverpool. Why? Because they are owned by Fenway Sports Group, the same group that owns the Boston Red Sox.)
The thing is that as well known as many of these teams are, they have been faring not well in the Champions League, which is like the Premier League but of all European football. That is, the best teams from every top league in all of Europe compete for a European trophy. FiveThirtyEight explored some reasons why, but also included a nice graphic to showcase the relative failures of the Premier League teams.
The chart makes nice use of grouped bar charts showing the number of teams from each league at each stage of the playoffs. The designers made good use of labelling, especially at the top to indicate to which country each league belongs. My only question would be is whether these make sense from the top down, as they presently are, or if they would work better bottom up, in that the winning team has to climb their way to victory.
To be honest, I am not really sure which approach would work best. I think it might be even odds. Either way, Liverpool plays Roma later today.
Whilst away, I came upon this piece in the following of my offseason baseball news. The New York Times published it between Christmas and New Years and the piece looks at the origins of sports persons in European football leagues compared to several American sports leagues, including American football, baseball, and basketball.
The piece features an opening set of small multiples comparing all the leagues. Maddeningly, I wanted details and mouseovers and annotations at the start. Fortunately, as the reader continues through the article, each small multiple becomes big and the reader can explore the details of the league.
Credit for the piece goes to Gregor Aisch, Kevin Quealy, and Rory Smith.