Evolution of analytics in sports: What’s next?

About Aaron LeValley

Senior Director, Business Operations - AEG Sports Director, CRM - AEG Sports Manager, Database Marketing - LA Kings Manager, Database Marketing - Oakland Raiders Adjunct Professor, CRM - San Diego State Sports Business MBA

There has always been the adage that professional sports teams are 5-10 years behind the ‘normal’ business world in terms of technology, business practices, and strategy. Are we starting to see the sports industry close that gap? After seeing some of the topics discussed at the 7th annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference, it seems we’re heading in the right direction.

Money got the ball rolling

The movement began in the early 2000’s with the evolution of “Moneyball” on the personnel side. Baseball led the way in utilizing complex statistical analyses to determine personnel and in-game decisions.

On the business side, teams and leagues explored the database marketing and CRM frontier by hiring individuals to help sales teams manage clients and prospects. We then saw the evolution of the database marketing role into deeper, more complex analyses with lead scoring models, retention models, and more.

Russell Scibetti, Director of Relationship Marketing for the New York Jets said, “From when I first began over three years ago to where we are today, the Jets have seen the benefits of taking a deeper look at our season ticket holders and fans.”

Recently, we’ve seen organizations create roles extending beyond database marketing into business analytics. Aggressive teams are hiring individuals who:

  • can help price tickets to maximize revenue,
  • build complex reporting and marketing queries, and
  • dive into sponsorship valuation.

Catching up

Which brings me back to this year’s Sports Analytics Conference. Rather than just focusing on sales and marketing, we saw research on topics like

  • multi-model neuroimaging to analyze the batter’s recognition of a baseball pitch,
  • an NFL presentation explaining how the time of day and gender affect the way sales teams should approach a sales call, and
  • great panels on how analytics influence social media, sponsorship, and customer loyalty.

All of these demonstrate how the sports industry is putting a greater emphasis on being more business savvy, using analytics to catch up to the ‘normal’ business standard.

Vincent Ircandia, Vice President of Business Operations for the Portland Trail Blazers, “We are using analytics within all aspects of our organization from finance to sponsorship, to broadcasting and beyond, and have buy-in from the top on down.”

Ideas for analytics projects

As your organization moves forward in this area, here are three projects implemented at various teams that can help:

1)      Sales & Service: Build a model that predicts a season ticket holder’s likelihood to renew

2)      Ticket Operations:  Create a new reporting structure with tools like EXCEL and advanced SQL reporting services

3)      Finance: Work with management and finance to build 5-10 yr pro forma financial models forecasting  revenues and expenses

What types of analytics projects are your organization working on?  What’s next? We would greatly appreciate your feedback in the comments below.