“We had 175 folks at that first conference…this year we have more speakers than we had attendees [at that first conference]” said conference chair Jessica Gelman in her opening remarks of the 2016 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. As the conference celebrated its 10th year—-its #DecadeOfData—-Gelman and fellow co-chair Daryl Morey reflected on the roots of the preeminent sports industry conference—fondly referred to as the “Super Bowl of Analytics” and “Dork-a-Palooza”—and the massive growth of both the conference and the sports analytics industry as a whole in those ten short years.
The much anticipated 10th anniversary conference brought together leaders from across the sports community—from teams to players, innovators and influencers—at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on March 11-12. The 2016 conference, presented by ESPN, grew to new heights in both size and content with nearly 4,000 attendees (20% growth from 2015), over 1,500 students from over 320 academic institutions, 130 teams and leagues and 300 industries attending more content than ever before. The conference featured 6 more panels, double the number of Competitive Advantage talks, the introduction of workshops, and the first ever Facebook live stream of a panel, which reached over 312,000 viewers. Attendees contributed record-breaking conference interactions over the course of the weekend, with over 15,000 posts utilizing the hashtag #SSAC16, over 60 million impressions and over 13,000 accounts viewing the conference snapchat filter. The conference opened with a reference to its earliest inspiration: a Moneyball reunion panel with Bill James, Michael Lewis and Paul DePodesta. Throughout the rest of the weekend, industry leaders covered topics ranging from new scientific developments in panels on sports science and wearable technology, to sports business panels on modern sports finance and the future of the front office, to one-on-ones with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Nate Silver. Attendees were treated to insights from Jonathan Kraft, Michael Rubin and Jared Smith on the ways sports organizations are connecting in a more personalized manner and generating targeted content faster to enhance the fan experience. Jackie MacMullan closed the conference by moderating a high-energy discussion on player retention, building a winner and the overall future of the front office between Nick Caserio, Jeff Luhnow, Bob Myers and Daryl Morey. Other conference speakers included Stan Kroenke, Sam Kennedy, Wyc Grousbeck, Shane Battier, Steve Pagliuca, Vivek Ranadive, Oliver Luck, Michelle McKenna-Doyle, Sue Bird and many more.
While league and industry leaders spoke about the current applications of analytics in the panel rooms, the newest advances in sports analytics thinking and technology were showcased in the research papers competition, startup competition, the data visualization room and the Hack-a-thon. A team of Australian researchers won the prestigious Research Paper competition presented by Ticketmaster for their work using Hawkeye technology to discover player patterns in tennis, and, in turn, predict the probability of a given player winning a point.
The conference continued to be a leading resource for developing new talent in the world of sports with the Hackathon, the MBA case competition presented by ESPN—which was won by a team from McGill University—and career conversations providing opportunities for the 1,000+ students in attendance to network and demonstrate their industry skills.
The weekend concluded with the presentation of the Alpha Awards, as the conference recognized achievement across the entire landscape of sports analytics, as well as special recognition to the ten devotees who been a part of every conference thus far. Through the increasing number of dedicated attendees and the growth and development of the sports analytics field, SSAC 2016 was able to build on the success of previous conferences and again set the industry conference standard in sports analytics.