Brentford FC Pays Off Big For Betting-Minded Owner in Premier League Promotion Match vs. Swansea

Brentford FC Pays Off Big For Betting-Minded Owner in Premier League Promotion Match vs. Swansea article feature image
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Photo by George Wood/Getty Images. Brentford FC

On Saturday, Brentford FC beat Swansea in the most valuable soccer game of the year. To the winner went the spoils — the promotion to the Premier League and roughly $330 million in guaranteed money.

For decades, businessmen have bought lower-tier English football teams on the cheap, hoping to rise up through the ranks to earn the big prize of playing in the Premier League. But it’s not often that the person behind a team on the cusp of doing it actually a gambler.

In 2012, Brentford — a team that had spent most of its life deep in England’s third and fourth tiers — was in financial straits when a mystery investor pumped about $700,000 into the coffers.

It turned out to be Matthew Benham.

Benham founded two sports betting companies: a betting exchange called Matchbook and another company called Smartodds, a statistically based concierge that provides an edge to gamblers based on rich data.

The idea for Benham: Buy the Brentford Bees, a team he had loved since he was a child, and use analytics and non-traditional thinking to get them to the top.

He’s gotten close before. Last year, the team lost this exact game to Fulham. Even though they lost all nine EPL play-in games in which they appeared since 1990, they were favored to advance on Saturday and cashed in.

Benham doesn’t talk much about his strategy. In fact, he almost never does interviews. 

In a rare interview with a publication called At The Match, Benham said the wrong biases start in recruiting.

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“If I want to know how good a player is I want to speak to the person who has seen that player play 100 times in all conditions,” Benham said. “What tends to happen is so many people in football will see that player for 40 minutes and decide they are the oracle.”

He also maintains that statistics that are given more importance are often meaningless, including the amount of time devoted to a team’s record.

“One of the best examples is over halfway through the season in Germany, Dortmund were bottom of the league,” Benham told SI in 2015. “We actually still made them the second best team in Germany. They were just horrifically unlucky.”

In order to evaluate in a non-traditional style, Benham – who has his degree in physics from Oxford – also hired non-traditional people. There are two directors of football operations.

One is Rasmus Ankersen, a former soccer player who became a high performance expert. His books include “A Winner’s DNA” and “The Gold Mine Effect.” The other is Phil Giles, a man who has his PhD in statistics and was head of quantitative research for Smartodds, Benham’s gambling data company.

What Benham’s front office teams attempts to do is to rid stats of the noise. 

“I want to look at the number and quality of chances they created. If I am looking at a striker, I absolutely do not care about his goalscoring record,” Benham said. “For me, the only thing that is interesting is how the team do(es) collectively, offensively and defensively within the context of an individual’s performance.”

Their moves have paid off. Not only have they gotten to the top of the second tier of English soccer after toiling in the third and fourth tiers for ages, they’ve also sold off their “Moneyball” wins for huge dollars.

In recent years, they’ve sold off three different players, who they brought in for a total of less than $10 million and sold them for combined transfer fees of $100 million – Neal Maupay (Brighton & Hove Albion), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa) and Said Benrahma (West Ham).

Matthew Benham reportedly has never made an actual bet on the team he owns, but a win Saturday was the manifestation of his philosophy ringing true and a load of money coming with it.

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