Data In Sports: The 2013 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

This past weekend marked a LOT of firsts for me. My first time flying to a city on my own. My first time in Boston. My first time eating authentic New England Seafood Chowder.

It was also my first time at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, an annual conference held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Run thanks to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and ESPN, SSAC is a place where people who want to get involved in the sports world further come to learn form those who have already succeeded in making an impact. Those range from CEOs to sports reporters to professionals in marketing, finance, management, or the like. There were a number of 1-hour sessions on a number of different topics.

The main topic that was touched on at some point during every session I attended was the rise of the amount of big data those in sports can collect. This data ranges from statistics on players to analysis on ticket sales in the front office. New information is being collected on players that could never be acquired before, from WHIP in baseball to significant strikes in MMA. In the front office, data can be collected, such as time of ticket sale, location of ticket sale, and how close to the day of the event the purchase is made. All of this data can be used in the future to enhance the quality of the sport as well as the quality of the business, tailoring to the fans.

On that note, another big topic is to enhance the fan experience. With the rise in today’s newest technology, the fans demand the best experience possible, before, during, and after the game. Points noted during the sessions:

  • When ordering tickets, having a physical person there to work with the customer and get them their ticket(s) in the most efficient way possible
  • Reformatting the “captcha” section to something that the fans can better interpret
  • Stadiums with FULL WIFI access
  • Tailoring ads and ticket prices to meet customer  demands

Without the fans, the team is not successful. They would purchase tickets from outside vendors or not even attend the game thanks to such an upgrade in the home viewing experience.

Finally, the fast major point that was a constant all throughout the two days was that you need to be able to successfully INTERPRET the data to the point where something can be done with it. As Brian Burke of the Toronto Maple Leafs said, “Statistics are like lightposts for a drunk: Useful for support, NOT for illumination.” Without the right interpretation, you are not able to stick out amongst your numbers and will not be able to make a lasting impact for the franchise. Interpret the data incorrectly and a franchise can be affected for years to come. In sports, results are based on results, not on intelligence.

As far as my opinions of the panels:

  • BEST panel: Breaking Down The Fight: MMA Analytics
  • MOST ENTERTAINING panel: Monday Morning QB: Coaching & In-Game Decision Analysis
  • Panel that BEST SUITED my career path: eMarketing: Sports Marketing In A Digital Age

This was a BRIEF overview of what was talked about over an intense and action-packed two days. If you care to read the list of tweets I made from the conference from newest to oldest, please feel free to download the PDF version here.

This was such an INCREDIBLE experience. I now know that working in sports  is now what I want to do for a living. I was able to meet so many amazing people that were able to teach me some things that I will definitely be able to take with me to school as well as to the professional world.

It may have been my first time in Boston BUT it won’t be my last! Until next year! 🙂

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