A Player Performance Index for English football

Professor Phil Scarf and Dr Ian McHale of Salford Business School were commissioned by PA Sport, (the sports division of the Press Association) the Football Association Premier League (FA), and FootballDataCo, which handles the rights to football data for the FA, to develop the quantitative analysis and models for an objective index of football player performance. The official player ratings system of the English Premiership, Championship and the Scottish Premiership and first of its kind: The EA Sports Player Performance Index (previously ACTIM) analyses player contributions to match outcomes.

Analysing player performance

The Centre for Sports Business at the University of Salford promotes research and consultancy in sports analytics, sport finance, sport law and the economics of sport. Globally there are few academics specialising in research focused on sports analytics. Researchers at the Centre build quantitative models for the prediction and explanation of match outcomes, analysis of sports strategies, and the management of player and team performance at the interface between business, statistics and economics.

Phil and Ian were commissioned as consultants in 2004. The clients required the new index to be based on rigorous quantitative reasoning and to be used by PA to raise the profile of the (then) ACTIM brand. The index would: 

  • Have an objective, quantitative basis so that subjective opinions are not used when ranking players, or judging which player activity is more valuable than another; 
  • Compare players from different positions; 
  • Be transparent so that “lay-analysts” can understand how points are awarded; 
  • Use a scale familiar to the general public, and;
  • Include goals scored (and later, at an update in 2006, assists and clean-sheets) as a direct component of the final index.   

The most challenging aspects of the development process for the Salford team were: managing expectations; deciding on desirable properties of the developing index, and communicating the statistical nuances of the index (e.g. short term variation). The final index would be a combination of individual component indices each with its own properties, construction method, and emphasis, including: winning performance; match contributions (e.g. passes, tackles, dribbles, blocks); match appearances; goals scored; assists, and; clean-sheets.

The component indices were built using two seasons of PL data (2002/3 and 2003/4). PA collected these data using the Football Live system, real-time information on actions and match events that provided “ball-by-ball” or “kick-by-kick” match reports on internet and mobile platforms, supplemented by post-match video analysis that captured events too fast to log in real time. The data-capture process describes match events and associates these with a named player, so that the data contain information on match histories of player contributions. The Index only includes actions that can be measured objectively, with the intention of removing opinion bias and only working with proven statistical metrics that become more precise as the season progresses. The Index forms part of a wider package of sports news information that is sold commercially around the world by PA acting as an agent for Football DataCo (FDC). 

The EA Sports Player Performance Index informs squad selection, supports the refinement of team performance and Index statistics are presented worldwide, in print, online and on television. The index is used in football gaming software and the English Premiership’s official application for the Fantasy Football League, engaging fans across the world with quantitative analysis and generating statistics driven debate through connecting with their passion.

Partner perspectives

"The Index was adopted by the Premier League and Football League as the Official Player Rating System." Press Association Sport

"What the project delivered and continues to deliver is the concept of using data to generate public interest. From this interest comes commercial application via the creation of a new sponsorship category relating to performance." Football Data Co