September 22, 2016

AFL industry veterans combine to shake up player scouting network

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A pair of Australian Football League talent scouting professionals with nearly 40 years combined experience have joined together to launch an independent, nationalised recruiting network of current and budding Australian rules footballers.

Together, they have launched The STAR Network and it aims to make it simpler for clubs in the elite AFL, semi-elite state leagues and AFL Women’s to identify talented players.

The STAR Network is the brainchild of Chris Pelchen, the former Hawthorn list manager and St Kilda football department boss and former Perth-based AFL scout for Port Adelaide and St Kilda, Paul Prior.

“We want individual players to be fairly represented, we want clubs to be able to make the most efficient decisions with the best information and therefore the players, the clubs and the wider industry are better served,” Prior told Sports Business Insider.

With a notable reduction in youngsters being drafted into the AFL between 2010-2015, Prior spoke to Sports Business Insider to explain how the STAR Network fits into the player scouting ecosystem of the AFL, how they can help remedy problems with youngsters dropping out of an elite sporting pathway and tackling the issue of ballooning recruitment costs by AFL clubs.

Can you briefly describe what is the STAR Network?

“The STAR Network is a network of scouts across Australia reporting on, to start with AFL football, but it will become broader than that.

“For Australian Rules football, we’ll be at every state league game across the country to avoid the cost duplication AFL clubs currently have where they each send their own people to as many games as possible to report on players who are in consideration for being recruited. We will have specialist people in place at every game so our coverage will be more comprehensive than any one club but the costs for doing that, because it’s shared across the competition, will be substantially cheaper.

“Our argument to clubs is, from an intellectual property point-of-view, is what you do with the information not the gathering of it that should be the important part. Every club has their own identified needs that they need to address with their squad and all we are doing is accurately reporting on the talent so they can make the best decisions.”

Can you describe the software in a bit more depth? Such as, how does it aggregate scouting data or the process of aggregating data from sources.

“It’s called the STAR Tracker Software, built with our software partner Redrock Software. It’s basic principles of information management: we collect the information, store it, we interrogate it and present it.

“So the collection will be, in Australian Rules football, certain things you would assess as a scout, kicking, running, decision making, physical attributes (height, weight), the conditions of the ground on the day and then the overall scout comment on a player’s performance.”

“The reporting will be sophisticated and will involve any combination of the data collected. Our reports will also include heat maps showing where the best ruckmen/key forwards are or what is the strength of the talent pool for running or kicking. Finally it will show a state-by-state and club by club breakdown of the available talent and where they fit in comparison to the rest of the national talent pool.”

Explain the importance of being an independent player data provider? 

The STAR Network is the brainchild of Chris Pelchen, the former Hawthorn list manager and St Kilda football department boss and former Perth-based AFL scout for Port Adelaide and St Kilda, Paul Prior.

The STAR Network is the brainchild of Chris Pelchen, the former Hawthorn list manager and St Kilda football department boss and former Perth-based AFL scout for Port Adelaide and St Kilda, Paul Prior.

“Independence is such a vital pillar for us. At the moment you’ve got AFL clubs that can’t be at every state league game around the country, it’s too resource intensive. For games that they miss, they often contact football managers or state league clubs to ask how a certain player has gone and those managers do their best to provide the information but it’s not their job for a start, and secondly, on game day they’ve got other things to worry about but they’ve also an interest in positively reflecting their players. So even if their information is spot on, they are conflicted whereas we do not care where the players come from, all we care about is accurately assessing and comparing their performance.”

How strong is the interest from the AFL itself and the 18 league clubs?

“We’ve had very supportive conversations with all of the leading administrators at the AFL. They like the concept, they can see the benefits for the competition in terms of streamlining the costs and helping to promote equalisation. But they want this to be club driven. They’re not going to push this onto clubs.

“The feedback from an overwhelming majority of AFL clubs themselves has been very positive but again we haven’t asked any club to make a formal commitment yet because we’re aware of the industry and financial constraints of the player’s collective bargaining agreement.

“The feedback on the concept and the suggestions for improvement has been outstanding, furthermore, the feedback will help us as we move into other sports as well.”

Has there been any discussions or interest from other sporting leagues and governing bodies?

“Other sporting bodies absolutely see the potential and yes there has been a little bit of interest. A scouting network can work for governing bodies, like the AFL, Australian Rugby Union, but it can potentially work for something like a large football club, like an English Premier League club.”

Is your marketing of the STAR network multi-layered? Such as marketing to elite clubs, semi-elite clubs and the governing bodies.

“Primarily the AFL clubs are our potential clients but they’re not our only clients for this information.

“Other likely clients that could use this information is state league clubs. The way it works in the state league is that you’ve got the draft and then the rookie draft and whoever just misses out on the rookie draft, those clubs are on the phone trying to recruit them.

“We’ll have players that have missed out in the draft ranked in order in roles, key forward, ruck, defender and so forth. We can offer that information to state league clubs to assist them in identifying gaps in their playing lists and recruiting.

“Other potential clients for the same information is the media themselves, because they do a lot of work especially around the draft and profiling kids that are contenders and they do it without being able to do the analysis that scouts would do.”

Do you think the data you collect will evolve over time as well?

“Absolutely. Especially as we meet with our advisory board, clubs and monthly meetings with clients as they communicate new requirements.

“The reporting software that we use will be highly specialist which means the reporting data produced will be quite sophisticated compared to what clubs produce at the moment. It will have heat maps, trends, I’ll be looking to employ a data analyst to use predictive analytics.”

Can you describe how you may be able to help future draftees carve out chances to play at the highest level?

“Firstly, we want to bridge the gap so if you’re good enough you will be identified accurately.

“Secondly, if you’re just on the cusp there’s a couple ways: One is a player welfare component which is free of charge, so if you’re a player that’s just missed out on selection in the draft there’s been a relatively high drop off of those kids that just miss out on getting picked. We’re offering to meet with those people individually and offer them feedback on where they need to improve if they are still keen to make it.

“Where we rank him, and why, and where he needs to improve. We’ll also give (him) a commitment if he undertakes to remain in the state league system that we will continue watching their progress in the following year and report on him to our AFL clients but we will report on the performance he produces without favour.

“Therefore it hopefully keeps young men engaged in the sport for longer. The industry has very high expectations on young men and our concept, I’d like to think, keeps those kids engaged and gives them a shot when they‘re a little bit more mature.”


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