On March 3-4 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (SSAC) entered its second decade of existence, and did so together with 3,500 attendees united by their passion for sports, statistical analysis, and business. After a record 39 panels, 39 Competitive Advantage talks, 7 interactive events, and the conference’s first ever esports exhibition, SSAC lived up to this year’s conference theme: Elevate the Game.
Conference Co-Chair Jessica Gelman kicked things off Friday morning, moderating the Titans of the Sports Industry panel featuring Michael Rubin, Jared Smith, Michael Spillane, and Casey Wasserman. The discussants set the bar high with a candid conversation about taking a business global and the role of analytics in building a successful company. In the afternoon 275K people tuned in through Facebook Live to watch 538’s Nate Silver interview NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
Another Friday highlight was the all-star lineup of executives Billy Beane, Sam Hinkie, SSAC Co-Chair Daryl Morey, and Farhan Zaidi taking the stage to discuss the role of cognitive bias in decision making. That wasn’t Morey’s only strong performance of the day. He was one of the last people standing against Chess Grandmaster Susan Polgar, who knocked out 10 opponents in under an hour in SSAC’s first ever chess simulation.
On Day 2, Nate Silver sat down with Mark Cuban, one of the biggest personalities in the NBA, to discuss everything from sports to his political aspirations. Their back-and-forth entertained more than the capacity crowd in the Hynes Center, reaching 330K people on Facebook Live.
Other popular panels featured looks at the role of sustainability in sports, disruptors in the sports industry—featuring Bob Bowman, Bobby Kotick, Jonathan Kraft, and Jason Robins—engaging the modern fan, and a discussion of negotiating strategies with Warren Legarie, Daryl Morey, Bob Myers, and Deepak Malhotra. During the Getting the Scoop panel, Adam Schefter managed to give a live demonstration, breaking some NFL news mid-panel.
Competitive Advantage talks by John D’Angelo, Larry Coon, Meeta Singh, and Eric Joyce and Cam Lawrence on, respectively, preventing Tommy John surgery, understanding the new NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, the impact of sleep on sports performance, and analytics’ role in NHL draft strategy generated significant interest. Over two days leaders from across the sports landscape provided attendees insight on some of the most critical issues in the industry today. Attendees were also treated to 9 workshops on topics ranging from coding in SQL to data scraping and optimization.
The Research Papers Competition presented by Wasserman remains a key source of innovation where groundbreaking researchers from around the world redefine sports analytics. Top prize went to John Drazan, Amy Loya, Benjamin Horne, and Ron Eglash for their work on using sports analytics to stimulate youth interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well at the Startup Competition & Trade Show, with 24 companies aiming to disrupt the sports industry. In addition, 2017 marked the introduction of the Accelerator Competition presented by Reebok. The judges were so impressed with the participants that both Nix Biotech and Open Gym walked away with the top prize and the opportunity to grow their businesses with Reebok’s support. Additional events—a dedicated esports room that hosted a ProAm tournament, drone racing, and a chess simulation with Polgar—helped make this the most interactive SSAC yet.
Finally, it wouldn’t be SSAC without a nod to the individuals who have used analytics to transform the sports world. Oakland A’s Executive Vice President Billy Beane, whose Moneyball approach to baseball has made an impact far beyond the diamond, took home the Alpha Award for Lifetime Achievement. The 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs were named Best Analytics Organization. Bob Myers and the Golden State Warriors took the Best Transaction prize for bringing Kevin Durant to the Bay Area just three months before Durant added an NBA Championship and Finals MVP to his resume. Finally, Q30 and its anti-concussion Q-Collar earned an Alpha Award for Best Innovation.
The excitement was hardly limited to the people in the Hynes Convention Center. SSAC’s social media footprint was massive throughout the two days. The conference’s live streams reached over 650K people. SSAC’s Snapchat filter was viewed by over 22.8K accounts. The conference made its mark on Twitter, with #SSAC17 trending No. 1 nationally.