I need to see the movie Moneyball…

I’m not huge on baseball anything.  Going to a game is fun, but I like the speed of hockey better.  I think the last baseball movie I really liked was Field of Dreams, and I was 7 when that came out.

But I think I’d like Moneyball.

It’s based on a true story.  About the Oakland Athletics.

The A’s general manager, Billy Beane, came up with a theory about baseball statistics.

Beane thought the player statistics everybody else was using in recruiting and building a team was wrong.  (I have an affinity for story lines — real or fiction — that start with the assumption that everybody is wrong!)

While the rest of the baseball world used stats such as stolen bases, RBIs, and batting average to determine a player’s value…  Beane looked to stats such as on-base percentage and slugging percentage as better indicators of a player’s value to the team.  These were his magic numbers.

Here’s where this gets really important.

Under Beane, the A’s talent budget was roughly 1/3 that of other teams they competed against.  Which meant he couldn’t just buy all the talent that everybody knew to be the best.  He had to find undervalued talent.

Beane had to have a different model for identifying that talent, if he wanted a hope of competing.

…  And it worked.

The A’s became known as one of the most cost-effective teams in baseball — maintaining consistently-high winning records with one of the lowest talent budgets in the league.

They’re not perfect.  They haven’t won a ton of championships under Beane.  (Though they were the first in 100+ years of American League history to have a 20-game win streak.)

And yet, Beane’s Moneyball approach proved itself well enough that it made just about every team re-evaluate its approach to valuing talent.

I think this has applications all over the place…

Magic numbers everywhere…

When I played adult hockey in Oregon, it was the first time I had anybody keeping really good stats on team performance.  There was someone hanging out at the rink during every game, tracking shots on goal and a bunch of different stats.

The first year I played, we won the league championship.  After that happened, I was really looking at the stats.  I was trying to figure out what made the difference.

Almost all of our stats were the same as the other teams.  Except one.  Shots against for our goalie.

Now, I love this stat, because I played defense.  And it was my job to stop the other team from getting a shot off.  So a low number in the shots against column meant I was doing my job, keeping the other team from shooting.

Well, our team’s shots against stat was roughly 20% below any other team in the league.  Which meant that for every 10 shots every other team’s goalie had to face, ours only had to face 8.  As long as our goalie’s save percentage was good — and it was — this one stat meant we would have roughly 20% less goals scored against us during the season.

That didn’t mean we won every game.  But we did win a lot.  And we ended up winning the games that mattered to take home the championship.

I came up with a theory for the magic numbers in hockey.  The numbers that if you get them right, everything else falls into place.  And if you focus on improving them, your win percentage will increase.

The numbers?  Shots on goal, and shots against.  Namely, if you’re getting a lot of good shots on goal, and preventing the other team from getting as many good shots, everything will work itself out.

Now, I know that sounds simplistic and even obvious.  But if you use that to guide your play, I’m certain you’ll come out ahead.

Testing my magic number…

I wrote a few weeks back that I ended up as coach of my oldest son’s basketball team.

Well, I don’t intend to update you on their weekly performance, but I have had the opportunity to test my “magic number” theory applied to basketball.

Considering there’s no goalie, it’s all about good shots — which makes this an even more pure environment for the same stats.

If you can average more good shots than you let the other team take, you should score more.

Starting with the first game, I taught this to the kids.  I told them it was my guiding principle.  When we practice and when we play, I emphasize trying to get off good shots quickly, and making it hard for the other team to take good shots.

Again, I know how simple this sounds, but I think that makes it even easier for a bunch of 2nd grade kids to remember and apply as they play.

We just focus on taking as many good shots as possible, and not letting them take good shots.  As long as we’re doing this, we should be happy with our play.

And so far, it’s working.

The kids have been taking a lot of shots, quickly.  And forcing longer shots by the opposing teams.  We lost the first game by a point, and won the next one by three.

I’m convinced with this as our guiding principle, we’ll continue to do well.

(I think all sports have similar magic numbers.  For example, I think football is all about offensive versus defensive yards per down.  It’s probably not a coincidence that the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots are ranked 1 and 4 respectively for this season’s yards-per-down differential, and they’re both in the Super Bowl this weekend.  It’s not perfect, and one game can make a difference, but these numbers are great indicators for long-term success.)

And now for the moment we’ve all been waiting for — what the heck does this have to do with business and marketing?

So I’ve spent nearly 1,000 words talking about sports statistics.  In an essay that’s presumptively supposed to be about marketing and business.

What gives?

Well, I think business has a magic number, too.

If you get this one thing right, you’re able to dominate your market completely.  Even if you fall short of your competition in all kinds of other areas that others might think important, and focus on.

Do you know what that number is?

I fear I’d do it an injustice by revealing it today when I’m already running long on words and minutes spent on this issue — so I’ll let you know tomorrow!

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

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