As most of you probably don’t know, I spend part of my free time blogging about Philadelphia sports teams, primarily centered around the current worst team in the NBA, the 76ers.
Another fact most of you probably don’t know is that the Philadelphia 76ers were ranked as the number one analytical franchise within the four major sports leagues (MLB, NHL, NBA, NFL) last year in ESPN the Magazine’s Analytics Issue. My number one passion in life is sports, so when I was tasked to write an analytics blog post, combining the two topics was the easy choice.
By now we’ve all seen, or at least heard of the movie Moneyball, which is a story about how current general manager of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane, used sabermetrics in the MLB to win 103 games en route the best record in the league during the 2002 season. Since 2002, the use of analytics has burst onto the scene in all professional sports and is continuing to grow at a tremendous rate.
Along with analytics departments growing in number and size throughout sports, so are the uses of new analytical technologies within sports. While the MLB may have been the first to adopt the use of analytics, the NBA has caught up, or maybe even surpassed the MLB in terms of their implementation of analytics to change the game. NBA teams are now using a software called SportsVu which takes data from six different cameras set up around NBA arenas and tracks the movements of players throughout games to give NBA teams an insight into how efficiently their team is functioning. This technique, unexcitingly named “Player Tracking” has opened up an entire realm of basketball statistics and insights that would have never have been thought possible even just 15 years ago.
However, the use of analytics in sports is not just limited to the player side of the business. Nowadays, many professional sports teams have adopted two separate analytics departments, one on the player side and one of the business and tickets side. When I visited Tampa, FL this past November, I had the chance to meet with executives from the Tampa Bay Lightning who told us about their new analytics technology designed to optimize the in-game experience for fans. Similar to “Player Tracking” in the NBA, the Lightning utilize cameras set up around their arena to track the facial expressions of fans throughout the game. They then use this data to gain insight as to how effective their in-game “Jumbotron” videos are at achieving their desired emotions. This technology also allows the team to track how the emotions of fans change as a whole throughout the game.
The use of analytics in sports, as in most businesses, is a brand new concept. But the impact it has made is truly remarkable. One thing is for certain, analytics in sports is not going away any time soon, and its current achievements have only just scratched the surface of its full potential.