Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What Happens Next?

The 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is over, and it’s time to get down to work. So what comes next? While this post is more for people looking to break in or break out in sports, it could prompt ideas for insiders as well.

The best way to reach your dreams and goals is to help somebody else reach theirs. So here’s how to take concepts from the conference and use them to build value for others.

Choose. Sports analytics can do much more than people realize, not less. There are many organizations, companies, and individuals in the sports industry who can gain a competitive advantage with quantitative information. Focus on areas where you can show indisputable proof of its value.  They may not be at the highest level of sports, but they certainly exist.

Think beyond the playing surface. The best opportunities may lie in sports business, where innovation can move as slowly as on the field. Identify things that don’t make sense. For example, why do teams spend millions on a gigantic new video board, and then fill it with per game stats, batting averages, and videos of two hands clapping together?

Create. One way to mine innovative – and valuable – research is to merge two or more different types of data. Combining park effect statistics and weather data is one example, and this impressive study is another.

Compel. Some sports insiders will ignore hard data and evidence no matter what. Will anybody ever convince Jim Boeheim to play his bench more? Fortunately, there are college teams led by coaches that think like Brad Stevens, who are more likely to consider new concepts and welcome analysis from outside sources. The level of acceptance will vary widely at all levels, so find the best targets and demonstrate how analytics will make an impact, either in the win column or bottom line.

Sports may take time to embrace change. But once a team or organization succeeds with a fresh approach, others rush to follow.

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