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How Analytics Is Changing Sports

Analytics has become immensely popular in the last decade, especially within the sport industry. Now with sport becoming more competitive and advanced, players and organizations are turning to sports analytics for answers and solutions to enhanced performance, understanding data and attracting fans and consumers more effectively.

Take for example the sport of baseball and the topic of the movie, Moneyball (2011) that depicts the concept of having numbers tell the story instead of a scout with 25 years’ experience. Within this movie, you’re constantly reminded of General Manager Billy Beane and Harvard-educated and numbers-cruncher assistant manager Paul DePodesta (portrayed as Peter Brand by Jonah Hill in the movie) which is based on sabermetrics data analysis by guru Bill James (Hanchett, 2012).

How can sports data and analytic measurements tell a story here, especially one that takes the team on an historic 20-game winning streak in 2002? This year proved to be a game-changer for other teams within Major League Baseball as well as other professional sport leagues. Fast-forward to 2017 and now most of the league is utilizing some form of data analytics to help measure player performance and in-game strategies (Hanchett, 2012).

From a viewing perspective, MLB now has an analytical approach called Statcast, which allows viewers to gain another vantage point of a player’s speed, accuracy, distance traveled, etc. It’s a revolutionary and innovative tool that allows fans to analyze and understand the “big data” approach in today’s different sporting events. In today’s sport, you also have what’s called predictive analytics, which was first researched and studied by John Dewan with his creation of STATS Inc. and now runs Info Baseball Solutions (Hanchett, 2012).

Aside from this is the notion of decision making and better performance on the field of play. It’s not just about pitching and hitting a baseball anymore. In today’s highly competitive analytic industry, it’s more about what the numbers and data tell managers, players, employees, clients, etc. Additionally, more sport organizations want to know a player’s longevity in the sport, heart rate, how fast an athlete is and how this can then impact what a player is signed to. Now, analytics can pinpoint if a player is really worth a $60 million dollar contract (Hanchett, 2012).

In the National Basketball Association (NBA), there is an innovative analytic player tracking camera system called SportVU that is changing the way the game is being scouted and played. It’s one aspect to appreciate how great a player is, but what SportVU can do is analyze how efficient and effective a player really is not just in the first quarter, but in the fourth quarter as well. It can track how far a player is running and how much energy is really expended during the duration of the game. Twenty years ago, you couldn’t measure this, but now with this camera tracking system, you can track how efficient players are from different areas of the court. Sports analytics in the NBA is definitely taking shape and all teams are jumping in to stay ahead of the competition to figure out who the next big star is going to be.

In the National Football League (NFL), teams and players are adapting to the innovative data analytic measurement tool called Catapult, which is considered wearable technology. Currently, it’s being used by some NFL teams as well as college football programs within the sport and this is a major analytic trend that’s not going to go away. Due to the new rules of the CBA agreement in the NFL, teams now can’t practice as much, so it’s essential for teams to be able to stay ahead of the competition and what better way to measure players’ performance and weaknesses than to utilize this wearable technology. Some of the data points it measures are fatigue, heart rate, player speed, etc.

The big sports analytics focus recently in the industry is the notion of how analytics is helping measure other elements during a sporting event such as ticket purchases, fan engagement, fan interaction and more importantly, fan retention rates. Getting fans back to the stadium is a key element and analytical methods are becoming a major trend to measure these perspectives. What’s helping this become a reality is the use and innovation of technology and the adaption and combination of both of these trends within the sport industry (Hanchett, 2012).

In the next 10 years, the sport industry will be for sure different and more advanced from an analytic perspective, but the question will be, how much? How will players, coaches and fans react to the different methods, approaches and analysis being thrown at them? As long as these methods, trends, measurements and approaches such as Statcast, Catapult, SportVU and other innovations enhance the viewing experience, or provide an athlete with an engaging and effective performance analysis, there won’t be any questions.

Resources

Hanchett, D. (2012). Playing Hardball With Big Data: How Analytics Is Changing The World of Sports. EMC, pp. 2. Retrieved from https://www.emc.com/collateral/article/137534-sports-analysis.pdf.

About the Author

Jason Becker has worked in the sport industry within sectors such as marketing, promotions, communication and public relations. He also researches ways in which sport organizations and brands utilize analytics to better performance, engagement, awareness and future trends that are occurring. He currently teaches within higher education in Sport Management and teaches courses such as Sport Analytics, Sport Communication, Technology in Sport, Facility Management, Research Methods in Sport, Sport in Society and Leadership in Sport. He has over 15 years of experience in the sport industry. Jason has a bachelor’s degree in Communication from SUNY Oswego and my Master’s degree in Sport Management from Canisius College.

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