Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, left, with James Harden. Morey, along with Jessica Gelman (CEO of Kraft Analytics Group) have been the long-standing co-chairs of MIT’s annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Though the feeling in my toes hasn’t come back after a blistery cold weekend in Boston, the 2017 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference – unlike the weather – certainly did not disappoint.

First, I would encourage any Sports Business/Management program in the country to send your students and academic coordinators to this event. The combination of knowledge, presentations, and networking opportunities is off-the-charts, and a must for programs who wish to be taken seriously in the Sports Business space.

Second, I would encourage any Sports Business/Management program in the country to start incorporating programming/coding classes into your curriculum. The importance and frequency with which R is used in analytics is such that schools do a disservice to their students if they don’t equip them with programming skills. Furthermore, after hosting several Sports Analytics practitioners at my Sports Analytics class at Washington University in St. Louis this semester, the consistent feedback from industry insiders is to learn R.

The conference really has something for everybody. You want to see panels with large name recognition and brand appeal, you got it. You prefer shorter presentations which offer visual insights as to how analytics is being applied across the sports landscape, you got it. You prefer workshops or watching student paper presentations, well, you got that too.

Given my role as an educator, I’ve gravitated more towards the shorter presentations in recent years…in part because these presentations make for good classroom material, they are more applied, and they easily fit more neatly into a typical 60-90 minute class lecture.

That said, the presentations/discussions I attended and appreciated included:

(1) An eSports panel including Christina Alejandre (GM of ELEAGUE and VP of eSport), Neil Duffy (VP of Collegiate StarLeague), Travis Gafford (Head of Yahoo eSports Media), and Nathan Lindberg (Director of Global eSports Sponsorships for Twitch)

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Given the growth of this sector and some personal industry connections in this space, this was a must. With traditional sports media stalwarts diving into the eSports investment space, with world-renown sports architecture firms (e.g. Populous) itching to expand this niche of their business, and with the momentum with which this segment is growing, this was a must see.

Some key points made by this panel which resonated included:

  • eSports is the first digitally native sport
  • eSports is the most inclusive sport in the World
  • eSports participants and fans tend to be very responsive to sponsors.

(2) Given the importance of R within the sports industry, I attended Jared Lander’s workshop on scraping and analyzing NFL data. While some of the coding he discussed went far above my bald dome, it was clear Lander is an expert in this space. He has which helps the beginner, and is likely a book I’d recommend to those wanting to take the initiative to learn more about sports analytics programming with the most used statistical tool being applied by industry practitioners.

(3) Probably my favorite presentation of the weekend was by Adam Grossman of , in which he used a recently Dallas Cowboys project in conjunction with their Pepsi sponsorship to demonstrate how computer vision technology enables machines to recognize images, logos, and people in videos or images. This greatly enhances are ability as a community to valuate sport sponsorships…which, arguably, is the one area within the sports industry where analytics still has considerable advances to make to improve the accuracy of measuring ROO and ROI.

(4) Another great application-based presentation was by Adam Grow (Director of Customer Success, ) and Karlis Kezbers (Director of Business Intelligence with the Oklahoma City Thunder). Grow started by demonstrating the value of building a strong CRM and data warehouse foundation, and then Kezbers illustrated how the KORE software improved business operations for the Thunder.

(5) My second favorite presentation of the weekend was by Bill Chapin, SVP of Business Operations for the Kansas City Chiefs. Using a case study from the Chiefs 2015 season, Chapin showed how the use of a paid social media plan helped the Chiefs more efficiently sell and track ticket sales throughout the season, as well as assess fan engagement levels.

Experiencing these presentations certainly whet my appetite for more, and as a Sports Business educator, I look forward to presenting highlights from these and other discussions with my students going forward.

Dr. Rishe is the Founder and President of , and the Director of the Business of Sports Program within the at Washington University in St. Louis.

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