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I saw the movie Moneyball over the weekend which I thoroughly enjoyed. The premise of the story was Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland A’s, attempts to assemble a competitive team amongst an unfavourable financial situation. Beane took a statistical approach towards scouting and analysing undervalued players and changed the way of thinking towards building a baseball team.
Spoiler Alert: Oakland never won a World Series but by the end of the season the they set a record breaking 20 game winning streak and had a successful season. The Oakland A’s had a $41 million dollar budget to work with in contrast to the New York Yankees’ $125 million. It was a wide gap to close, but they almost did it by playing a completely different game.
The next season Billy Beane declined an offer from the Boston Red Sox which would have made him the highest paid GM in baseball history. Ironically, the Red Sox won the World Series soon after based on the strategies that Beane pioneered.
What does this have to do with cycling?
This movie got me thinking about ProTeam budgets and how they stacked up against their final WorldTour rankings. There are a few ranking systems out there: The UCI WorldTour ranking, the popular Cycling Quotient (CQ), and the IG Markets Pro Cycling Index. All of them have their own methods of weighting results which makes for vastly different rankings. Cycling can be a precarious sport for rankings since there are climbers, sprinters, GC riders and Classics riders. It’s not accurate to say that Cadel is better than Cancellara, but these ranking systems attempt to put this into perspective.
I took a look at the 2011 team rankings based on the UCI WorldTour and Cycling Quotient. Unfortunately the IG Markets Index only does individual rider rankings and not complete teams (not that I could find anyway). I compared this later with the 2011 team budgets that I have at my disposal (budget source: RIDE Official Tour de France Guide).
UCI Final 2011 World Tour Rankings
|1||OMEGA PHARMA-LOTTO||1,099||€ 9,500,000|
|2||SKY PROCYCLING||1,059||€ 11,000,000|
|3||LEOPARD TREK||1,024||€ 15,000,000|
|6||LAMPRE – ISD||784||€ 7,000,000|
|9||SAXO BANK SUNGARD||696||€ 7,000,000|
|17||AG2R LA MONDIALE||372||€ 7,500,000|
Cycling Quotient Final 2011 Team Rankings
|1||SKY PROCYCLING||10540||€ 11,000,000|
|3||LEOPARD TREK||9693||€ 15,000,000|
|8||OMEGA PHARMA-LOTTO||8260||€ 9,500,000|
|13||LAMPRE – ISD||6994||€ 7,000,000|
|15||SAXO BANK SUNGARD||6621||€ 7,000,000|
|16||AG2R LA MONDIALE||6285||€ 7,500,000|
As you can see there’s not much consistancy between these two ranking systems and it’s difficult to make any generalisations. Vaconsoleil-DMC comes in dead last in the UCI rankings while they come in a respectable 6th in the CQ rankings. This is a whole other topic of debate, but at the end of the day the ProTeams report to the UCI and their fate lies with the Overlord.
Productivity Per Dollar
We can take a look at which teams got the best value for money against how they ranked from a sporting perspective. Looking at the sponsorship ROI is a completely different exercise that depends on media exposure, branding, activation, and ultimately sales (which I’m not going to attempt).
Team Budget Rankings (Using UCI Ranking system)
|RANK||TEAM||POINTS||BUDGET||Euro per point|
|5||BMC||877||€ 7,000,000||€ 7,982|
|7||GARMIN-CERVELO||808||€ 6,500,000||€ 8,045|
|1||OMEGA PHARMA-LOTTO||1,099||€ 9,500,000||€ 8,644|
|6||LAMPRE – ISD||784||€ 7,000,000||€ 8,929|
|9||SAXO BANK SUNGARD||696||€ 7,000,000||€ 10,057|
|2||SKY PROCYCLING||1,059||€ 11,000,000||€ 10,387|
|4||HTC-HIGHROAD||886||€ 10,000,000||€ 11,287|
|8||LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE||779||€ 9,000,000||€ 11,553|
|14||EUSKALTEL-EUSKADI||471||€ 6,500,000||€ 13,800|
|3||LEOPARD TREK||1,024||€ 15,000,000||€ 14,648|
|13||MOVISTAR||474||€ 8,000,000||€ 16,878|
|11||RADIOSHACK||639||€ 11,000,000||€ 17,214|
|17||AG2R LA MONDIALE||372||€ 7,500,000||€ 20,161|
|10||RABOBANK||673||€ 15,000,000||€ 22,288|
|18||VACANSOLEIL-DCM||369||€ 8,500,000||€ 23,035|
|15||ASTANA||422||€ 10,000,000||€ 23,697|
|12||KATUSHA||622||€ 15,000,000||€ 24,116|
|16||QUICKSTEP||379||€ 9,500,000||€ 25,066|
Team Budget Rankings (Using CQ Ranking system)
|RANK||TEAM||POINTS||BUDGET||Euro per point|
|4||GARMIN-CERVELO||9299||€ 6,500,000||€ 699|
|6||VACANSOLEIL-DCM||8632||€ 8,500,000||€ 985|
|12||BMC||7073||€ 7,000,000||€ 990|
|13||LAMPRE – ISD||6994||€ 7,000,000||€ 1,001|
|2||HTC-HIGHROAD||9694||€ 10,000,000||€ 1,032|
|1||SKY PROCYCLING||10540||€ 11,000,000||€ 1,044|
|15||SAXO BANK SUNGARD||6621||€ 7,000,000||€ 1,057|
|11||MOVISTAR||7166||€ 8,000,000||€ 1,116|
|9||LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE||7852||€ 9,000,000||€ 1,146|
|8||OMEGA PHARMA-LOTTO||8260||€ 9,500,000||€ 1,150|
|16||AG2R LA MONDIALE||6285||€ 7,500,000||€ 1,193|
|7||RADIOSHACK||8505||€ 11,000,000||€ 1,293|
|19||EUSKALTEL-EUSKADI||4874||€ 6,500,000||€ 1,334|
|3||LEOPARD TREK||9693||€ 15,000,000||€ 1,548|
|5||RABOBANK||8738||€ 15,000,000||€ 1,717|
|17||QUICKSTEP||5254||€ 9,500,000||€ 1,808|
|18||ASTANA||5099||€ 10,000,000||€ 1,961|
|10||KATUSHA||7571||€ 15,000,000||€ 1,981|
With the way the different rankings are calculated it’s difficult to come to a conclusion on who got the best value for money. You can see however that Garmin-Cervelo, BMC, Lampre-ISD, HTC-Highroad, SKY and Saxo were consistant amongst the top teams in the rankings versus budget. Katusha, Quickstep, Rabobank and Astana on the other hand had some of the highest budgets with relatively poor results.
Can Moneyball Be Played In Cycling?
I’d argue that BMC got tremendous value out of their single minded focus towards their Tour de France victory. I’m guessing that Cadel’s salary would have been almost as much as the rest of the team combined. Garmin-Cervelo also had an extremely low budget and managed a extraordinary season. Both these teams’ alleged budgets of only €7M and €6.5M were some of the lowest of the ProTeams and look at how brightly they’re shining. Compare this to a $41M or $125M baseball team budget.
I don’t think “Moneyball” can be played in pro cycling as in baseball. It’s possible to use statistics to uncover the true value of a rider, but you can’t use regression analysis to keep chipping away at the percentages for a team to work its way to the top. You don’t build up to the Tour of Flanders. It’s not a cumulative game towards one grand final. These races only come around once a season and every weekend is the World Series.
I’d be very interested to see an analysis of all the professional cyclist’s rankings versus their salary. Sadly it’s almost impossible to find official record of professional cyclists’ salaries to do this comparison. If you’re interested, I wrote previously about how much money pro cyclists make.