In the movie “Moneyball” (based on the Michael Lewis bestseller), Billy Beane, general manager of the ailing Oakland A’s, has an epiphany: Baseball’s conventional wisdom is all wrong. Beane reinvents his team by recruiting Ivy League graduate Peter Brand and prepares to challenge old-school traditions. Faced with a tight budget, he beats bigger, better-financed clubs by using analytics to identify and recruit bargain-bin players with game-winning potential. As author Michael Lewis wrote about players and owners, “People in both fields operate with beliefs and biases. To the extent you can eliminate both and replace them with data, you gain a clear advantage.”
That clear advantage is turning the business of sports into the business of Big Data. Whether you’re currently following baseball, the Olympic trials, or Wimbledon, the difference between winning and losing, the difference between making the team and staying home, is based on microseconds, inches, and fractions. The use of Big Data to supplement human intuition and marketing research is changing the game for many businesses. From CIO.com, here are seven ways Big Data analytics will change the business of sports:
1. And speaking of baseball…
All 30 MLB stadiums have installed state-of-the-art technology to track pitches during games. In addition to tracking pitching speed and accuracy, the technology can be used to supplement umpire judgment in making calls. For now, we’re still relying on the naked eye to call a ball or strike, but it won’t be long before there are no more colorful manager ejections due to questionable umpire calls.
2. Increased Fan Engagement
If you thought your fantasy sports league friends were over the top before, Big Data promises to give them even more slices and dices of specific players, teams, and plays. “We can see how pitchers’ performance has changed in a certain game. Or pull up a map of what an umpire’s strike/ball calls are and see the strike zone’s shape and size,” said Dan Brooks, founder and lead developer of BrooksBaseball.net, a website that makes sports statistics understandable for sports fans. And while that site focuses on baseball, there is no shortage of online resources for just about any sport you can think of. (Curling, anyone? Check out curling.ca or curlit.com.)
3. Data from Wearables
Weekend warriors aren’t the only ones getting into the wearables craze. While most professional sports leagues do not allow wearables to be used during games, they are widely used during practices. Adidas has a device that attaches to players’ jersey that shows coaches real-time stats on each player, such as speed, heart rate, acceleration – making it easier to see who is performing at peak, and who needs to rest. That information could also help trainers and MDs make better decisions about training, nutrition, and even sleep. And by combining physical and performance data with behavior (e.g., hydrations or hits) we could even make sports safer.
4. In-the-Moment Data Collection
Currently, a lot of data is tracked manually on the field, or after-the-fact using video. But due to the relative slowness of human observation, a lot of valuable data is lost. Tracking data using RFID technology is much faster for recording the movement of objects (think balls, rackets, bats, helmets, swim goggles) through a physical space (like a field, court, or pool). Consider that RFID devices can transmit information 25 times per second. That’s a lot of data!
5. Improving the Fan Experience
Of course, the better teams know their fans, the better they can create compelling experiences, whether in-stadium or at-home. Knowing whether a fan is interested in a particular opposing team, whether they just like afternoon games or special game-day promotions can be gold. The goal is to communicate what the fans want to hear – to keep them coming and spending money.
6. Coaching Decisions
Perhaps one of the most profound changes Big Data will make will be coaching decision making. No longer dependent on intuition and the tried-and-true, the way coaches direct athletes and competition may be entirely different. “Things like punting on 4th and one used to make sense but maybe not anymore,” says Brian Burke of Advanced Football Analytics. “Offenses are better, and it’s easier to get two-point conversions.” More Big Data leading to more informed coaching decisions may actually change the way coaches win or lose.
7. Show Me The Money
Big Data and resulting insights can support contract negotiations for players and coaches. Of course, both sides are trying to justify their offer or demand, so analytics are key. In fact, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver credited analytics with an important role in ending the player lockout negotiations in 2012.
Needless to say, many teams and leagues are beefing up their data analytics capabilities, creating career opportunities for the sports fan data geek. And the influence of Big Data on the business of sports seems destined to increase into the future. The key will be making information actionable and available at the split-second it is needed for decisions – on the field or in the boardroom. Additionally, as in any other industry, integrating Big Data, traditional marketing research, and other information sources to create meaningful insight for coaches and managers will be the new competitive advantage. As Billy Beane said, “I made one decision in my life based on money, and I swore, I would never do it again.”