Internships: The Current Hot Topic In Analytics

Nobody wants to do them, but are they necessary in today's sports climate?


Being an intern is unfortunately part and package of getting a job today. I myself worked for a year as an unpaid intern, working full time over weekends in order to make sure that I could work towards my long-term career goals during the week.

Ask anybody working within finance, law and especially journalism whether or not they had to intern before they had their first fully paid job and the vast majority will have done some sort of unpaid work to make sure that they get the experience on their CV.

Football analysts have been rocked this past month by the media's interpretation of sports analysts requiring interns. There have been claims that this is exploitative and unfair to the interns, however I wanted to investigate whether or not this was the case.

The issue that the press has with this is that football clubs have a perceived wealth as they can afford to pay their players extraordinary wages well beyond what many would consider to be justified.

However, the wages paid to players are within a separate bubble that has been created not through justification, but through competition. Added to this is the fact that many clubs currently operate at a loss or close to the break even point. Clearly saving money where possible is important.

At the Sports Analytics Innovation Summit, London, in March, I heard from several sports analysts who are working in similar positions across youth teams for clubs in similar situations as those currently being targeted by the press. One of the main aspects that they discussed is that analytics is not just about creating players for the first team, but maximising the value of players that could be sold.

This means that unlike what many would perceive many football teams to be i.e. the squad and those who will be in the squad in x amount of years, it is almost a fully functional separate business.

This means that there is clearly an ROI for analytics departments throughout the football world, lower division clubs especially benefit hugely when one of their youth players, such as Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace, is brought for large fees.

The fact that they have this ROI does not necessarily justify an unpaid internship as it is, but justifies a push for the best that they can possibly get to have maximum rewards.

A recent graduate with no experience is going to be a risk. Having no prior experience in any industry is dangerous when appointing somebody new and as such, if people are unwilling to take that kind of risk we would find ourselves in a situation where the only people who are getting the jobs are the ones already in the industry, creating a vicious skills circle.

In order to create a system where the industry can become inclusive and available to all, there needs to be a system whereby young people have the opportunity to learn and gain experience whilst companies do not have the risk associated with financial investment.

We can look at individuals during their internship and realize that this is a hardship, that earning money is necessary to create an easier life and without adequate financial backing (through either additional work or benefactors) that for many this would be impossible. However, I would argue that we should be looking at the overall picture and how this kind of work placement benefits the industry as a whole and will allow those currently at the bottom of the pile to rise to the top in the future. 

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