How Analytics is Growing the Game
If you’ve ever seen “Moneyball,” you know the value of sports analytics. If you haven’t, the film deals with the analysis of statistics by Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane. By studying the statistics of top players, he deduced a winning formula to form a roster. The result was the first 20-game winning streak in Major League Baseball in 100 years, a first-place finish in the American League West, and dozens of other general managers following his lead.
However, that was just the beginning. Today, analytics have become an integral part of professional sports, growing the game to new heights in the process. As you pursue your online Master of Science in Sport Management and begin your career, analytics will likely become essential to your success.
The Analytics Department
Before Billy Beane, stats were just a way of evaluating a player’s performance. It enabled them to become all-stars, win MVP, or garner other recognition. Today, every professional sports team has an analytics department or an analytic professional on their staff. These employees take scouting reports and other data, crunch the numbers, and report their findings to the general manager. This has led to a new way of finding talent that has raised the bar for every other team.
In baseball, the analysis of statistical data is known as sabermetrics. Although the study has been around since 1971, it didn’t become a key rubric of sports teams until the early 2000s. The result is a bevy of new statistics that provide even more in-depth analysis of a particular player. By utilizing batting, fielding, and pitching statistics, players now have stats such as “Wins Above Replacement,” which sums up a player’s contribution to his team. This is just one of many new stats that are changing the baseball world, affecting how teams scout, who they draft, and what trades they make.
Fans and Analytics
According to Forbes, fans are consuming more analytical data than ever. Their desire to pinpoint key athletes for the purposes of fantasy drafts, gambling, or pure curiosity are the key factors fueling the interest. The popularity of analytics has become so rampant that websites solely dedicated to statistics are creeping up across the web.
For example, FiveThirtyEight.com has become a profitable enterprise for owner Nate Silver in less than 10 years. Using a small team of data-crunchers, the website has become one of the most trusted sources of top-notch statistics. Focused primarily (but not solely) on baseball, this site is proof that there’s a fan-based value for providing statistics.
Branching Out to All Sports
Although baseball is at the center of the analytics boom, other leagues have found value in using this data. According to Bleacher Report, NHL, NFL, and NBA teams are also enjoying better seasons, top-notch players, and more fans thanks to their analytics department.
Take into account the Chicago Blackhawks. While they remained a perennial contender for much of the late 1990s and early 2000s, they never found an edge to win a Stanley Cup. In 2009, the Blackhawks hired Stan Bowman as general manager. His analytics-based philosophy became the centerpiece of a franchise that would eventually win three Stanley Cups over seven seasons.
By finding certain skill sets within players, Bowman built a roster that worked well with each other while also fostering a group of NHL superstars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Corey Crawford. Without analytics research, there’s no telling whether the Blackhawks would have become the dynasty of the decade.
In the NBA, a similar process of analytics applies. Although they have yet to win a championship in recent years, the Houston Rockets have become the envy of nearly every other NBA team due to their statistical approach to the game. The brainchild of general manager Daryl Morey, the analytics department of the Rockets has transformed a struggling franchise into one that’s competitive every year. In 2006, he even formed the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. This is more proof that the value of statistics can transform a franchise from pretender to contender.
Beyond Pro Sports
Because of the success of analytics in professional sports, the practice has branched out to amateur sports. In 2015, the University of Nebraska became the first college to hire a full-time sports analytics director. Tucker Zelaney heads the department and has been the source of a turnaround in the school’s storied college football program. According to ESPN, Zelaney started his program by analyzing scouting practices, recruiting, nutrition, injury prevention, and other stats. This helped turn a team that finished the 2015 season with a 6-7 record into one that earned a 9-3 record and a trip to the Music City Bowl in 2016.
There’s no way to know if this trend will continue at other universities, but the strong showing by Nebraska proves that an analytical method works for amateur sports as well as pro sports. Whether it translates to club teams or high school sports isn’t yet clear. Variables in maturation and physical ability could make statistical analysis less useful, but that probably won’t stop coaches from trying.
Current Trends in Sports Analytics
Trends are emerging in the sports analytics realm that are changing the way that websites and pro teams collect and apply their data. Crowdsourcing has become a major benefit in these areas. Instead of gathering data on their own, companies now entrust internet users with data collection. Unlike some information on the web, these statistics are usually accurate and relatively inexpensive to acquire.
Another interesting trend is a wearable data collector. Using these devices to obtain data such as distance run, speed, and velocity, television stations, analytics companies, and other organizations can provide real-time data to users. This provides a more comprehensive fan experience that’s both interesting and exciting. Baseball and soccer are currently at the forefront of this technology, but others are slowly gaining traction. There’s no question that having access to information about a hockey goalie’s hand speed, an outfielder’s sprint speed, or the distance run by a soccer player makes the game more enjoyable for fans.
Learning sports analytics requires the right tools, education, and training. If you’re interested in advancing your education, learn more about Adelphi University’s online sport management degree.