2020 Panels

The 2020 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference includes a panel lineup distinguished by the expertise of its panelists across business and sports analytics.

2020 MIT SLOAN SPORTS ANALYTICS CONFERENCE Panels

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Friday, March 6 8:30 AM – 9:30 AM
Pat Summitt Room

Hot off his crowning as the greatest Jeopardy player of all time, Ken Jennings sits down with statistics guru and fellow author Nate Silver to discuss podcasts, comedy, maps, and how analytics has made arenas like game shows and politics a numbers game. What is “the next field to be transformed by analytics”? Tune in to hear the clue.

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Friday, March 6 8:30 AM – 9:30 AM
Bill James Room

50% of the leading companies in S&P 500 will be replaced in the next 10 years. Industry leaders in sports (ESPN and Ticketmaster), new entities spun out of leaders (On Location), and companies at the frontline of venue experience (Delaware North) are facing increasing competition. New entrants to the field, alternative entertainment options, and shifts in customer behavior require aggressive shifts. On this panel, leaders of some of the world’s most prominent companies driving the sports ecosystem discuss their proactive approach to understand customer needs, the changing business dynamics and the challenges keeping their businesses as industry leaders.

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Friday, March 6 9:45 AM – 10:45 AM
Bill Walsh Room

The use of analytics to support important decision-making in the NHL has increased significantly over the past few years, but the real revolution is still to come. With the addition of player tracking technology in the near future, teams will have access to far more information than ever before. This panel aims to tackle the key questions NHL teams will need to address to be successful in this rapidly changing environment. How must teams adapt their front office organizations to handle this influx of data effectively? Which widely accepted conventional hockey wisdoms could end up being disproved in the future? Will the introduction of player-tracking information lead to the same degree of stylistic changes in hockey, as seen recently in the NBA and MLB?

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Friday, March 6 9:45 AM – 10:45 AM
Pat Summitt Room

From headphones to tennis shoes, sponsorship influences buying decisions because of one simple reason: fans want to be like their sports idols. Though sponsorships improve sales, they have historically been difficult, if not impossible, to quantify. But with increasing ways to measure fan engagement, can we use data to truly understand and predict the value of sponsorship? This panel will examine how brands are utilizing machine learning, targeted advertising, and incentive-based sponsorships to predict successful athlete and league partnerships. Brands, leagues and sponsor tech will weigh in on how to succeed in this emerging and exciting space heading into the new decade.

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Friday, March 6 9:45 AM – 10:45 AM
Bill James Room

In recent years we’ve seen an undeniable increase in player influence with regards to what they make, where they play, and how they leverage their brand beyond the team. Players entering leagues often have millions of social followers and are using their voice to bring awareness to issues impacting their day-to-day life as professional athletes and society at large. With the increased influence of players, how are agents, team owners, and businesses tied to athletes ensuring an ongoing focus on the health of the sport? How are leagues balancing the focus on the team while protecting the individual? Hear how players’ voices are changing the game, impacting league economics, and affecting how organizations embrace the new norm. Panelists represent a wide range of perspectives, including athletes, owners, business partners, and media.

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Friday, March 6 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Bill Walsh Room

America’s pastime has seen attendance drop in recent years, yet the league set digital ticketing and consumption records in 2019. Learn how Major League Baseball and its teams are leaning into data analytics and machine learning to increase entertainment value and accessibility for fans around the world. This panel will dive deep into how technology is driving innovation across the league and the fan experience and helping grow the game for the next generation. Hear from Google Cloud’s Director for Sport, Major League Baseball’s CTO and VP of Baseball Data, and the Mets’ Chief Revenue Officer about how they are driving the game forward.

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Friday, March 6 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Pat Summitt Room

California’s passing of the Fair Pay to Play Act in late 2019 reignited the longstanding, nationwide debate over collegiate athlete compensation. Given the complexity of the issue, the vast number of stakeholders, material financial implications and multitude of potential resolutions, it is no surprise that this debate has captured the attention of the sports world and beyond. California’s groundbreaking legislation has also placed the spotlight firmly on the NCAA which is actively revisiting its related rules and policies. Hear from a varied group of stakeholders in the college space as they discuss and debate some of the most pressing issues surrounding this topic, including the potential ramifications for players, schools and athletic programs, the attractiveness of name, image and likeness opportunities, as well as ethical and regulatory challenges.

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Friday, March 6 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Bill James Room

Reddit, the Segway, Daily Fantasy Sports, and predicting presidential elections. Over the past decade, meet the inventors and entrepreneurs who have created lasting change affecting how consumers engage with information, data, and the world. How did they conceive of their ideas? What challenges did they face in their journey to create the product and build the business? How would today’s technology accelerate their original ideas? While some have made their mark in the sports industry by identifying changing consumer preferences and technological advances, others find inspiration from other industries. This panel will share learnings across industries, analyze how serial entrepreneurs build innovative ideas and ideate on where they see opportunities in sports.

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Friday, March 6 12:15 PM – 1:15 PM
Bill Walsh Room

Over the past decade, 85% of sports venues have invested in significant improvements to meet the changing needs of fans and enhancing the overall experience. With a focus on creating new experiences within the venue, including new premium locations, all- you-can-eat options, or simply entry into the game, venue owners and operators are rethinking and redefining the in-venue experience. Increased investments in upgrades include UltraHD video boards, escalators for aging populations, improved communication in apps, better wifi, and optimized traffic flow. This panel brings together industry leaders with diverse perspectives to discuss the current trends and best practices.

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Friday, March 6 12:15 PM – 1:15 PM
Pat Summitt Room

Not only has the popularity of sports investing increased in recent years, but the value of sports franchises has grown by 3-5x in the past decade. Learn how industry leaders, Josh Harris, Co-Founder of Apollo Global Management, and Steve Pagliuca, Co-Chairman of Bain Capital, successfully turned their financial investing expertise towards sports investing. With returns of 8-10x in their initial investments in the Sixers and Celtics, respectively, both will articulate their shared principles for success that translate across industries. In addition, they’ll touch on the rationale for acquiring a team, the unique opportunities in each league, the additional sports assets they maintain in their portfolio, and the new growth areas they’re interested in pursuing.

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Friday, March 6 12:15 PM – 1:15 PM
Bill James Room

A professional athlete’s lifepath after retiring can be as unpredictable as their career between the lines. So what brings an Olympic gold medalist, Super Bowl champion, NBA Finals winner, and world No. 1 tennis player to the same stage in Boston? Learn what makes these successful athletes tick and what excites them about their new arenas. Panelists will share how they think about business decisions and opportunities, and how their playing days have impacted their post-sports life.

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Friday, March 6 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Bill Walsh Room

Daily Fantasy captivated a generation of players that do not consider themselves sports bettors. As legalization continues to sweep across the country, what new game formats will attract the ever expanding pie of potential players? Industry trailblazers are working to create and enrich the gambling experience for fans through innovative stadium experiences, daily games, podcasts and television shows that can be consumed wherever you are. During this panel, leaders from across the gambling landscape will share their vision of fan experience that would excite anyone from the hardcore gambler to the newbie.

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Friday, March 6 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Pat Summitt Room

Technology has transformed how sports organizations engage with their fans and collect information. Investing in new tools, acquiring new companies, and taking a “test and learn” approach to understanding customer needs have been critical to the evolution of key industry players. Learn how organizations think about data creation when building new products, how they incorporate that information into their broader ecosystem, and how analyzing vast customer information supports the increasing demand for the instant gratification of a personalized digital experience. Additionally, panelists will discuss how the new data privacy laws are creating shifts to technology and creation of new processes. Executives from the leading ticketing, wearables, marketing, and merchandise organizations will share how they are leveraging technology to meet changing customers needs, regulations, and data capture.

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Friday, March 6 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Bill James Room

Today, Major League Soccer (MLS) is one of the most successful growth stories in American sports history. The average MLS team is valued at $313mm (30% growth from last year) and team valuation growth outpaces every major US league team valuation growth by at least 2x. During its evolution, MLS has used creative concepts to bring in talent (the Designated Player Rule adopted in 2007) and witnessed impressive surges in attendance across the league (Atlanta United averaged 70,000+/game last year). Having launched with 10 teams in 1996, the league plans to expand to 30 teams by 2022. Learn how Commissioner Don Garber has shepherded the growth of MLS and soccer in the United States and how the guidance and partnership with one of the founding MLS investors, Kraft Group President Jonathan Kraft, has helped shape the opportunities, overcome adversity, and align the US to host the World Cup in 2026.

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Friday, March 6 2:45 PM – 3:45 PM
Bill Walsh Room

In 2019, The Overwatch League was the only major sports league to show a rise in television viewers from the 18 to 34-year-old demographic. However, despite Esports’ exponential year-over-year growth, it has struggled with cultivating strong and lasting brands. In order to do so, Esports businesses must build solid and sustainable brands to endure rapid shifts in game popularity and determine how to leverage their platforms, both online and offline. As the industry is still evolving, there is no one right answer on how to go about creating, maintaining and growing a brand in the Esports industry. In this panel, industry thought leaders from a variety of Esports businesses will discuss how they have chosen their unique path for their brand, how they generate success, and how they attract and maintain fans and customers.

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Friday, March 6 2:45 PM – 3:45 PM
Pat Summitt Room

Analytics has revolutionized the modern game, but there are changes happening off the court that are unseen by the public. In the boardroom, data is used in contract negotiations, scouting, and player evaluation, to name a few. New data sources are also emerging from biometrics, wearables, and video footage, which may transform the next generation of the modern game and front office decision making. This panel will look to demystify how analytics is used behind the scenes with perspectives from coaches, analysts, and members of the front office.

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Friday, March 6 2:45 PM – 3:45 PM
Bill James Room

While wins and losses are paramount, learn how owners and team leaders of some of sports’ most beloved teams – Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, and the emerging celeb-favorite Los Angeles FC – are extending their sports property investments in creative and meaningful ways. From incubators to esports investments to the creation of funds around sports, this panel explores how owners are leveraging the brand to other business areas as well as to community impact. This panel will highlight the hidden challenges of an owner, how long-tenured executives drive an owner’s vision, and how the landscape of sports-business is evolving.

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Friday, March 6 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Pat Summitt Room

The arms race is on – more teams from FC Barcelona to Liverpool are using analytical tools to influence and inform their technical decisions, transfer market game plan, and scouting strategies. Learn how coaches, players, and executives are incorporating data and analytics into their decision-making process. This discussion will dive into the competitive advantages that can be unlocked through soccer analytics in the Manager’s office, on the pitch, and in the boardroom.

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Friday, March 6 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Bill James Room

In our first “Fanalytics” panel in 2013, we speculated the ways to collect and use data to improve the fan experience. Back then, we discussed opens and clicks, but now the nuances are much deeper. What has changed? Today customer insights are gained throughout the fan lifecycle and are informing improvements to the end product and customer experience. Learn how industry leaders such as Amazon, ESPN, DraftKings, and the many organizations KAGR works with are striving to better understand fan needs. Listen to business leaders across the sports landscape discuss how organizations are quantifying fan behavior, better understanding customers, and approaching the future.

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Friday, March 6 5:15 PM – 6:15 PM
Pat Summitt Room

Addiction is now the leading cause of death in America for those under 50. The opioid epidemic has touched all facets of society over the past two decades, with the sports world at greater risk due to heightened exposure to prescription painkillers. This recent public health crisis has broadened the discourse to explore the underlying mental health issues regarding substance abuse and addiction in general, while acknowledging how pervasive addiction is across all walks of life. This panel will shed more visibility into the prevalence of substance abuse and the lessons sports can learn from other industries, data analytics, and public policy leaders.

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Friday, March 6 5:15 PM – 6:15 PM
Bill James Room

For more than 50 years the NBA has operated with an 82-game regular season, but is this the optimal season structure? Questions around player health and injury prevention have led to scrutiny over season length for several years, but the subject has gained momentum recently as the conversation has shifted to considering how the league can better optimize its format for fans. Could a new season structure and competition format actually lead to a more healthy ecosystem for owners, players, broadcast partners, and sponsors? On this panel, league and team executives will examine the most pressing topics surrounding the NBA schedule conversation.

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Saturday, March 7 8:30 AM – 9:30 AM
Bill James Room

Arguably the two greatest baseball analytics minds of all time will meet on stage for the first time to discuss the Sabermetrics that Bill James created and Tom has revolutionized. Bill James needs no introduction (he has a room named after him!). Tom Tango is the creator of numerous sabermetrics including Leverage Index and FIP and currently runs the highly influential tangotiger.com website.

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Saturday, March 7 9:45 AM – 10:45 AM
Pat Summitt Room

Countless studies have shown that diverse teams outperform homogeneous counterparts. Yet in an environment where everyone is looking for a competitive edge, why is the sports industry so far behind? Today, champions of diversity are having significant impact in their organizations. In 2019, Adam Silver publicly wished for half of NBA coaches and referees to be women. The number of NBA female coaches has more than doubled since then. Scott Pioli has long been a supporter as shown by the creation of fellowships through the Women’s Sports Foundation and hiring one of the first female coaches in the NFL. Learn how organizations are removing hiring biases and what organizations must do to create success for underrepresented minorities. Panelists will lend their insights and experiences to how diversity has fostered an environment in which unheard voices can be heard and also led to better overall performance.

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Saturday, March 7 9:45 AM – 10:45 AM
Bill James Room

Information from player tracking to advanced metrics is shaping how rosters are constructed, players prepare, and coaches call games. Viewers can expect to see Next Gen Stats on every broadcast. Teams continue to pass more, RPOs are rampant, and defenses are loaded with hybrid positions. So if the analytics revolution finally arrived, how did the Tennessee Titans almost make the Super Bowl with an offense circa 1980? The true transformation may take longer than we think. An offensive mastermind, an analytics expert, and a front-office innovator share their insights on how teams are reacting to the newly available data and what it means for the future of the game.

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Saturday, March 7 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Pat Summitt Room

Ticketing and game attendance remains the cornerstone of sports organizations. With the push for an open ticketing environment in recent years, technology has increased transparency, improved insights into who is attending a game, and provided more customized ticketing options. Season ticket holders remain the key to sustained success, but the definition of what they get and how they engage with their team is shifting. Listen in as industry leaders from ticketing giants to beloved teams to marketing platforms discuss the strategies they are using to fill their stadium and extend season tickets, while using the secondary market to gain new customers and test pricing.

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Saturday, March 7 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Bill James Room

Let’s face it, despite decades of data and statistical analysis to lean on, players, coaches and GMs alike continue to fall into predictable behavioral traps when it comes to decision making – whether it’s wasting timeouts, being overly conservative on 4th down, or overpaying for a high draft pick. Hear from a Nobel Prize winning economist, a baseball historian and statistician, an NBA General Manager and a seasoned sports executive as they discuss and debate some of the most common decision making pitfalls made by teams and how they can be avoided.

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Saturday, March 7 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM
Bill Walsh Room

What happens in Chess will eventually happen in all sports. Chess was the first sport to incorporate a theoretically sound rating system, Elo, that has been the foundation of most rating systems in other sports such as soccer, tennis, esports ladders, and more. In addition, AI came to chess well before any other sport and it is now changing the foundation of nearly every sport. Chess has also been first with automated cheat detection which may have been useful in another hardball sport recently. Hear chess Grandmasters, athletes, and enthusiasts weigh in on these topics and discuss the lessons the sports industry will untap in the future from chess. Additionally, don’t miss out on attendees challenging a chess Grandmaster in a live chess simulation.

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Saturday, March 7 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM
Pat Summitt Room

In the 18 months since the Professional & Amateur Sports Protection Act was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, revenue generated across states offering legal gambling has reached an astounding $15 billion. This is just a drop in the bucket as the market for illegal sports gambling has been estimated upwards of $150 billion. As gambling comes closer to being completely legalized across the United States, businesses and leagues are taking innovative approaches to make betting interesting and more mainstream to maximize the seemingly limitless revenue pool. This panel will discuss the mechanics behind the legislation, technology, and implementation.

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Saturday, March 7 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM
Bill James Room

Sports are mythic, and a backdrop for life. What does it take to become the greatest of all time? What does it take to sustain it? How is this different based on individual and make-up? Join Religion of Sports CEO, Ameeth Sankaran, to learn how they uncover and bring to life this mythical goal. “The Path to Greatness” panel will highlight both brilliant athleticism and more importantly, share life lessons that come from sports – physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally. Sue Bird and Larry Fitzgerald will weigh in on their paths, learnings, and what remains to be done. Content from other Religion of Sports athletes’ stories will be woven in to uniquely share nuances by sport and subject.

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Saturday, March 7 1:45 PM – 2:45 PM
Pat Summitt Room

“You have to pass to set up the run.” A far cry from a generation ago, the NFL has experienced a notable trend towards passing over the past 40 years. The league is also collecting and using more detailed, granular data, such as player and ball location data, which has opened the door to countless new statistics, advanced metrics, and detailed analyses that can be leveraged to inform decisions at both the league and team level. This panel will focus on the intersection of these two trends, particularly how tracking data can be used to answer new questions about player performance and coaching strategies, and how they impact a team’s success at defending the pass.

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Saturday, March 7 1:45 PM – 2:45 PM
Bill James Room

Basketball is undeniably an evolving sport. From the run and gun in the ‘60s to the physical slugfest in the ‘90s to the “threes and frees” of today, the game has transformed and reinvented itself over and over again. On the court, the adoption of big data and advanced analytics have changed the game forever – a change debated for better or for worse. Off the court, the globalization of the game and the emphasis on load management have altered how fans view the league. On this panel, NBA executives, front office insiders, coaches and players will discuss these themes and explore what’s next in this ever-evolving game.

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Saturday, March 7 3:15 PM – 4:15 PM
Pat Summitt Room

Athletes, coaches, analysts, and executives have remained siloed in their respective sports for decades. However, there are advantages that can be gained by understanding and adopting best practices from other sports, which has been manifested in non-traditional hires and new ways of operating. This panel brings together experienced leaders with multi-faceted backgrounds to share how they applied learnings from one sport to another and how this type of thinking will evolve moving forward.

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Saturday, March 7 3:15 PM – 4:15 PM
Bill James Room

Executive produced by Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman, The Boardroom brings fans inside the business of sports, featuring real-time conversations with athletes and executives about what’s really changing the game. The Making of a Superstar panel will feature Rich with host Jay Williams, Twitter’s head of US Sports Partnerships TJ Adeshola and a special guest discussing the modern game, and the making of a superstar brand.

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Saturday, March 7 4:30 PM – 5:30 PM
Pat Summitt Room

Howard Beck sits down with Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter for a wide-ranging conversation on his unique basketball career and his stance on expressing his beliefs and freedom of speech. Kanter will discuss various ways in which he has used his platform as an NBA star on and off the court. Topics will include Kanter’s basketball successes, challenges he’s faced as an international player, and the initiative he is taking to promote gender equality in sports and educational equality in the United States.

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Saturday, March 7 4:30 PM – 5:30 PM
Bill James Room

In 2040, the NBA has a 5-point line, NFL stadiums seat 40,000 as fans watch via VR, Amazon will own MLS, and MLB games finish in less than an hour. This panel will make bold predictions on what’s to come. Sports have radically changed over the last 20 years, from how teams manage their players to how sports media delivers content to how fans watch games. As we look toward the future, the only thing that is certain is that change will continue at a rapid pace. With that in mind, our brave panelists will predict the future landscape of sports and attempt to defend their wild speculations.

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