April 24, 2019

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From a Church in Philadelphia, Sports Reference Informs the World

From a Church in Philadelphia, Sports Reference Informs the World
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Forman, who has contributed to The New York Times’s baseball coverage in the past, expanded his endeavor by creating Sports Reference in 2004. Three years later he formalized loose affiliations with Pro-Football-Reference (founded by Doug Drinen in 2000) and Basketball-Reference (founded by Justin Kubatko in 2004). Kubatko left Sports Reference in 2013 because of what he called “creative differences.”

In 2007, Forman still fit the stats nerd stereotype, working out of the basement of his home and staying up until 1 a.m. updating or improving the website. The year before, he had left his full-time job of six years — professor of mathematics and computer science at St. Joseph’s University — because it was too hard to juggle both. He also needed a better place to work.

So Forman turned to his church, which had space to rent.

Sports Reference’s seven websites are usually updated automatically, mostly from official feeds of statistics that the company pays for. Some data, such as roster transactions or salary information, is input manually, and there are always bugs to fix.

Once you get beyond the basics, however, the information on the sites runs the gamut of sources.

They include a collection of old college media guides acquired from a single collector and a professor in Britain who supplies statistics of independent baseball leagues. The sites also add some things just for fun, such as Oddibe McDowell’s page listing his utility bills from 2011 and part of 2012, in reference to a series of articles by Deadspin.

Sports Reference’s goal is to become more comprehensive, even as sports leagues increasingly privatize their data. Eventually, the company hopes to charge for advanced features and to become less dependent on advertising, which currently generates 95 percent of the sites’ revenue. As of now, the only advanced tool that requires a paid subscription is Baseball-Reference’s Play Index. (Don’t worry: The page for the former Met Keith Hernandez’s mustache will live forever.)

That the little company in her church has become so important, with leading sports websites, earned a laugh from Pyrch. She had been to the sites once or twice, including the time she did sermon research.

“I think that both myself and most of the congregation would not realize what kind of a powerhouse Sports Reference is,” she said. “I don’t really know a lot about numbers or computers, but one billion is a lot.”

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