This past weekend, 2,700 sports fans and analytics geeks congregated at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center for the 7th annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
The two-day event featured numerous panels featuring headlining names from the sports industry like Mark Cuban, Nate Silver, Brian Burke, Michael Lewis, Stan Van Gundy, and dozens of others. The panels focused on how analytics have shaped the sports world over the past decade not just on the field for scouting, player development, and in-game strategy, but off the field for ticketing, gambling, and sponsorships.
There were also several research papers being displayed on posters about innovative and highly analytical ways to break down sports. One paper used SportVU’s new spatial tracking data for the NBA to explain which players are the best and worst at interior distance using new metrics. Another used regression analysis to determine which environmental and psychological factors effect the probability that a field goal in the NFL is successful or not.
This was the second time I had attended the conference and I had a great sense of what to expect. Last year when I went, I fell in love with the event and decided to make this an annual journey. It was the research papers that motivated me the most. I have a degree from the University of Southern California in Mathematical Economics and have a strong passion for sports. These research papers (and the whole conference) essentially combined my two loves and kindled a desire inside of me to present at this year’s Sloan Conference.
I developed a metric which quantified quarterback consistency and it passed the first round of judging, but failed to advance the second round. Unfortunately, I wasn’t going to present this year, but I decided to go to Sloan anyway for three reasons: 1) to network, 2) to see the new research papers, 3) to experience the highly entertaining panels and learn where analytics is going in sports.
What I came with was something stronger: a motivation to dig deeper and continue to do analytical research for sports. Once again, I want to present next year at Sloan. Not only that, I want to continue to differentiate myself from others in the sports industry with my analytical background. I am convinced that after attending this conference for the second consecutive year that if you want a relevant position in the sports industry, you need to be quantitative and analytical. The game has changed. More and more teams are hiring geeks and nerds to evaluate players and make in-game decisions. With technology growing by the day, it’s only necessary to have a strong math background. Even if you’re an aspiring journalist, you need to know how to read and interpret this information and incorporate it in the media.
Sports analytics is a growing field and I am lucky enough to have the right timing to be a part of its growth. I have decided to learn more computer programming this year and learn languages like R, STATA, and SQL. These are important tools which facilitate research and data analysis. They’re also strong weapons to have when applying for positions. I’m sorry communications, journalism, and sports management majors. Those degrees may not cut it anymore. You’re going up against people who can write and have analytical minds. If you want to get far these days, it’s vital to have at least some stats background. That’s not my advice. That’s what I learned at Sloan.
This past year I’ve been wondering if a graduate degree in Statistics would be worth it. I am now convinced that it will be. It will give the opportunity to improve and sharpen my data analytics skills and learn new statistical programming languages. Even if I do decide to get my masters in Broadcast Journalism, electives in computer science will help bolster my skills and give me an edge.
Along with going to graduate school, I am desirous of doing independent research on numerous sports topics. There are many unanswered questions in sports that can be solved through analytics. I will help solve those questions on this blog throughout the coming year. No, the blog won’t be updated every day because I’m a busy guy. It might not even be updated every week. But when it is updated, it will be extensive, robust, and you will learn something that you didn’t know because of sports analytics.
Hopefully my hard work throughout the next year will lead to a presentation at SSAC 2014. Let the journey begin now…