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Matthew Benham
BornMay 1968 (age 54)
Education University of Oxford
OccupationFootball club owner
Organizations

Matthew Alexander Benham (born May 1968) [1] is a British businessman who is the owner of English Premier League club Brentford FC and FC Midtjylland in Denmark. [2] [3] He is also the founder and owner of Smartodds, a statistical research company for professional gamblers, and owner of Matchbook betting exchange. [4] A graduate of Oxford University in physics who worked in finance in the City of London, he is widely known for his unorthodox data analytics-driven approach to decision-making in football. [4] [3] [5]

Early life and education

Benham grew up in a family of cricket supporters in Eton, where his parents were teachers. [6] A longtime fan of Brentford Football Club, Benham attended his first match in 1979 at the age of eleven. [7] [8] He attended Slough Grammar School, [9] [6] and enjoyed mathematics. [4] In December 1982, at the age of 14, he skipped school with a friend to watch Brentford play an away game against Nottingham Forest FC. [10] In 1989, he graduated from the University of Oxford with a degree in physics. [11] [12]

Career

Banking and finance

In the 1990s, Benham worked for twelve years in the financial sector in the City of London, with stints as a hedge fund manager, [13] a derivatives trader for Deutsche Bank, [14] and as a vice president at the Bank of America. [15]

Gambling

He entered the gambling industry in 2001, when Tony Bloom, who later became the owner of Brighton & Hove Albion FC, hired him to work at Premier Bet. [16] [15] Benham made a significant sum of money in the Asian betting market, using a statistical model developed by Stuart Coles and Mark Dixon at Lancaster University, which was able to predict the probabilities of football scores more accurately than the bookies. [16] After falling out with Bloom, he founded Smartodds in 2004, and hired Stuart Coles. [16] [5] Based in Kentish Town in London, Smartodds focuses on statistical research and sports modeling, [4] which it sells to professional gamblers. [13] In 2011, he was part of group of investors called Triplebet Limited, who became owners of sports betting exchange Matchbook. [17] [4]

Football

Investor in Brentford FC

Benham first made contact with his boyhood football club when he read a 2005 article in The Independent saying that supporters' trust Bees United, which had taken over running Brentford FC, were "desperately seeking a few wealthy supporters to invest", so they could buy out previous owner Ron Noades. [6] [18] He initially participated as an anonymous "mystery investor". [6]

As Brentford continued to struggle financially, in 2007, Benham took the unusual move of paying out nearly £3 million to take over its loans, agreeing to hold them interest-free for five years. [19] In 2009, Benham agreed to invest an additional £1 million a year for five years, in return for preference shares in the club. [20] Bees United would then have the option to repay the loans to Benham and buy back his shares, while Benham held the option to take over the club as a majority owner. [20]

Owner of Brentford FC

In June 2012, Bees United voted to transfer full control of Brentford FC to Benham, when the club was in the English third tier. [20] [21] Ten days after becoming the club's new owner, Benham purchased a parcel of land near Kew Bridge railway station, where he pledged to build a new stadium, close to its existing stadium at Griffin Park. [22] [10] In 2013, Benham promoted Mark Warburton, another former City trader, as manager. [23] By the 2014–2015 season, Brentford FC had been promoted to the EFL Championship, for the first time in 21 years. [8]

Majority shareholder of FC Midtjylland

In July 2014, Benham became the majority shareholder of FC Midtjylland, a club in the top-flight Danish Superliga, [24] investing £6.2 million. [25] From the start, FCM fully embraced Benham's mandate for an analytics-driven approach to decision-making, using data analytics to identify promising yet undervalued transfers, improve team performance in set pieces, and optimize individual player fitness. [3] According to FCM chairman Rasmus Ankersen, Midtjylland also used analytics to understand "dangerous situations", and to inform coaches about performance against key performance indicators (KPIs), so they could speak more effectively to the players at half-time and to the media after matches. [26] Benham first became interested in Ankersen after reading his book, The Gold Mine Effect, in which he admitted having failed to predict the success of Simon Kjær, when he was a young footballer at the academy Ankersen had helped to set up. [11] FCM went on to win their first league title in 2015, largely attributed to Benham's influence. [25] [27] [28]

Road to Premier League

Meanwhile, Brentford FC announced in February 2015 that it would part ways with Warburton at the end of the season. [29] At the time, it was widely reported in the media that Warburton was unhappy with the fact that Benham wanted to run Brentford based on "mathematical modelling", [30] and with his elimination of the manager's veto on new signings, [31] [30] with some reports suggesting that Benham went as far as insisting on long-ball tactics [29] and hiring a set-piece coach. [30] Brentford subsequently appointed two co-directors of football – Phil Giles, a former quantitative analyst at Smartodds, and Rasmus Ankersen from FCM – when most clubs had none. [32]

Ahead of the 2015–2016 season, Brentford FC began identifying undervalued talent by applying mathematics and statistics, using its limited budget to sign them, developing players with high potential, and selling them on to other clubs for a sizeable profit on transfers. [31] This led to many comparisons with the statistically driven recruiting strategy pursued by the Oakland Athletics baseball team during its 2002 season, [32] documented in the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis; [31] Benham was compared to the Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, portrayed by Brad Pitt in the 2011 film Moneyball. [33] However, Benham dislikes the term and has stated, "The Moneyball label can be confusing because people think it is using any stats rather than trying to use them in a scientific way.” [27]

There were a few bumps along the way, including the hiring of Dutch manager Marinus Dijkhuizen as head coach, which Benham openly admitted was "a mistake" after Dijkhuizen was sacked after just nine games. [32] [34] Brentford fans were also initially apprehensive about the club's best players constantly being sold. [32] [31] In 2018, former Danish youth team coach Thomas Frank was promoted to head coach at Brentford, after Dean Smith left for Aston Villa; [33] the team appeared to be on course for promotion to the Premier League in 2020, but lost to Fulham FC in the EFL Championship play-off final. [32]

When season tickets went on sale for the new Brentford stadium, Benham instructed the club's commercial department not to "fleece the fans", and keep pricing affordable. [11] In August 2020, the new 17,000-seat Brentford Community Stadium finally opened, but had to host its first matches there behind closed doors, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. [35]

In 2021, Brentford FC won promotion to the Premier League, its first time in the top flight of English football in 74 years. [31] Brentford's success, and the success of FC Midtjylland in winning three domestic championships, are widely viewed as validation of Benham's philosophy. [32] [36] Benham has rejected at least one offer to buy Brentford. [37] Although he ranked as the least wealthy club owner in the Premier League, [38] in March 2022, Benham had the highest approval rating in a survey of 10,500 Premier League fans conducted by Nick Harris. [39]

References

  1. ^ "Matthew Alexander BENHAM". Companies House. Retrieved 1 November 2022.
  2. ^ Schmeckel, Maximilian (25 April 2016). "Moneyball im Fußball: Benhams Zahlen-Imperium". Goal (in German). Integrated Media Company. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  3. ^ a b c Wahl, Grant (15 May 2015). "Soccer analytics revolution underway at Benham's Brentford, Midtjylland". si.com. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 10 October 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d e Hellier, David (28 May 2021). "Big Data Model Helps Local London Team Win Soccer's Richest Game". Bloomberg. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  5. ^ a b "Moneyball, Matthew Benham, and Brentford FC's Unorthodox Quest For Success". Pundit Arena. Ireland. 2 March 2015. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  6. ^ a b c d "'It's turned out pretty good' – Ten years owning Brentford by Matthew Benham". Bees United. 27 May 2022. Retrieved 25 October 2022.
  7. ^ O'Brien, Sean (24 January 2020). "How Brentford flipped the script and staged a data revolution to become England's smartest club". TalkSport. News Corp. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  8. ^ a b Robinson, Neal (8 May 2014). "Brentford owner Matthew Benham: Every Championship club wants to get into the Premier League and we are no different". Evening Standard. Retrieved 25 October 2022.
  9. ^ Duggan, Keith (2 October 2021). "Keith Duggan: Brentford's fairytale rise one of great stories in English football". The Irish Times. Retrieved 25 October 2022.
  10. ^ a b Street, Tim (13 July 2012). "Benham speaks exclusively on Brentford ground move". MyLondon. Retrieved 30 October 2022.
  11. ^ a b c Walsh, David (8 August 2021). "Brentford, a club owned by a gambler, will be sticking to same principles in top flight even if the stakes are higher". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  12. ^ Blohm, Mathias (28 May 2022). "FCM-ejer: Klubben var formentlig gået konkurs uden mig". Campo.dk (in Danish). Sports Content ApS. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  13. ^ a b Lewis, Tim (27 December 2014). "Brentford's new buzz makes it great days to be a Bee at last". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  14. ^ Biermann, Christoph (4 August 2020). "Der beste Profi-wetter der Welt". 11Freunde (in German). Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  15. ^ a b Adhikari, Somak (3 June 2021). "Matthew Benham, Brentford And The Premier League – A Story Like No Other". India Times. Times of India. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  16. ^ a b c Naylor, Andy; Harris, Jay (24 December 2021). "'A Cold War': The rivalry between Brighton's Tony Bloom and Matthew Benham at Brentford". The Athletic. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  17. ^ Scargill, Peter (18 February 2020). "Matchbook's journey to become a player in the exchange arena". The Racing Post. Retrieved 26 October 2022 – via Gale OneFile.
  18. ^ Conn, David (26 February 2005). "FOOTBALL: Spirit of the Beehive offers shining example to football's many drones". The Independent. ProQuest  310766656. Retrieved 26 October 2022 – via ProQuest.
  19. ^ "Brentford fan takes on club debts". BBC Sport. 22 January 2007. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  20. ^ a b c "Bees United agree to sell Brentford shareholding". BBC Sport. 20 June 2012. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  21. ^ "Matthew Benham's 2012 Letter to Bees United Members". Bees United. 25 May 2022. Retrieved 1 November 2022.
  22. ^ "Brentford plan new stadium after buying Lionel Road land". BBC Sport. 29 June 2012. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  23. ^ "Brentford manager Mark Warburton to leave in summer". BBC Sport. 17 February 2015. Retrieved 25 October 2022.
  24. ^ "FC Midtjylland: Brentford owner Benham invests in Danish club". BBC Sport. 2 July 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2022.
  25. ^ a b Ingle, Sean (27 July 2015). "How Midtjylland took the analytical route towards the Champions League". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 October 2022.
  26. ^ Ingle, Sean (22 February 2015). "Brentford's brave new world is already working in Denmark". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 October 2022.
  27. ^ a b Ingle, Sean (15 October 2015). "Brentford owner Matthew Benham says he hates the term Moneyball". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  28. ^ "Der FC Midtjylland ist Vorreiter, wenn es um Datenanalyse geht". Kleine Zeitung (in German). Austria. 7 September 2022. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  29. ^ a b Hytner, David (13 May 2015). "Brentford's Mark Warburton bites his tongue and aims for Wembley". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 May 2022.
  30. ^ a b c Moore, Tom (22 June 2017). "What happened between Nottingham Forest boss Mark Warburton and Brentford owner Matthew Benham ahead of August reunion". MyLondon News. Retrieved 25 October 2022.
  31. ^ a b c d e Long, Dan (13 August 2021). "Brentford: How Thomas Frank's Bees completed a remarkable rise to the Premier League". Sky Sports. Retrieved 25 October 2022.
  32. ^ a b c d e f Flanagan, Chris (17 September 2021). "Brentford back in the Premier League: how the Bees' Moneyball philosophy overcame play-off heartbreak to make it back to the promised land". FourFourTwo. Future plc. Retrieved 30 October 2022.
  33. ^ a b Herman, Martyn (12 February 2021). "Brentford's faith in formula puts promised land in sight". Reuters. Retrieved 31 October 2022.
  34. ^ Moore, Tom (15 October 2015). "Matthew Benham lifts the lid on mistakes over Dijkhuizen and Moneyball frustrations". MyLondon. Retrieved 30 October 2022.
  35. ^ Ouzia, Malik (30 August 2020). "Brentford stadium: Bees get green light to start 2020/21 season in new ground". Evening Standard. London. Retrieved 31 October 2022.
  36. ^ Church, Ben; Thomas, Alex (27 October 2020). "Innovator FC Midtjylland shakes up status quo with revolutionary approach". CNN Sports. Retrieved 31 October 2022.
  37. ^ Evans, Tony (28 May 2021). "Brentford on verge of making history after sticking to maverick principles". Independent. Retrieved 31 October 2022.
  38. ^ "Who are the richest Premier League owners in 2022?". Goal. Retrieved 31 October 2022.
  39. ^ Bince, Alan (27 March 2022). "Manchester United Owners Glazer Family Voted the Worst Owners in the Premier League". FanNation. Sports Illustrated Media Group. Retrieved 31 October 2022.

External links