The 12th Annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference reached new heights as we welcomed a unique speaker to the conference, the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama. For some, he may seem like a surprising choice for our keynote speaker. However, “we know he’s a huge sports fan and he’s done a lot on tactical decision-making leveraging analytics,” said Jessica Gelman, the conference’s co-founder. On February, 23rd-24th, 3,500 attendees traveled to the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center to join in our love of all things sports, and we continued to “Talk Data to Me” while pushing the boundaries in sports analytics, data, and technology.
On Friday morning, we kicked off Day 1 with “Serial Entrepreneurs”, featuring Michael Rubin and Ted Leonsis. Hosted by SSAC co-founder, Jessica Gelman, the wide-ranging discussion featured tips on balancing gut vs data and the next major entrepreneurial opportunities in sports. “Top Shelf with Gary Bettmen and Jeff Vinik”, moderated by Elliott Friedman, discussed the re-emergence of the NHL, and extending the rising interest in hockey through innovation, fan engagement in new markets, and community synergy.
A highlight for all attendees was “A Conversation with Barack Obama”. Our 44th U.S. President, and sports fanatic, had a candid conversation with co-founders Jessica Gelman and Daryl Morey. The discussion ranged from his love of sports, how data informed his decision making, lessons learned from this time in the White House, and NBA teams he most respects.
Day 1 wrapped up with “The Right Stuff: Launching a Business in Sports”, featuring Alex Rodriguez, Jason Robins, Maverick Carter, and moderated by Michele Steele. These leading sports entrepreneurs shared the opportunities they see in the sports industries, what motivates them to find new opportunities, and how they grow their ventures to new heights and growth.
Day 2 kept everyone engaged after a jam-packed Day 1. Two of the fan favorite panels were “Just the Facts with Steve Ballmer & Nate Silver” and “Trust the Process”. In “Just the Facts”, moderated by Rachel Nichols, Steve Ballmer and Nate Silver shared perspective on a range of topics including business, government, and basketball, discussing the challenges of using data to push agendas vs creating unbiased, data-driven stories. In “Trust the Process”, moderated by Howard Beck, David Griffin, Sam Hinkie, Steve Pagliuca, Chris Bosh, and Lawrence Frank explored the tradeoffs involved in championship-or-bust approaches, chasing playoff spots and rings, and how organizations balance short-term success with a longer-term vision. They also talked about fan support, free-agent acquisition, establishing a winning culture, and other factors that influence what it means to be successful in the NBA.
The Competitive Advantage talks presented by Wasserman continued to draw crowds, especially “Innovative Analytics Processes and Storytelling in the NFL and NFL Media” by Cynthia Frelund, which was standing room only. Other popular CA talks include “How the Philadelphia 76ers Leverage Analytics to Help Grow and Retain their Season Ticket Base” by Braden Moore, and “Rethinking Suite and Premium Seating Strategy” by Ryan Gustafson. The deep dives on specific industry topics with industry leaders and researchers continue to provide new insights each year. There were also seven workshops with topics ranging from analyzing film study to using R for data visualization.
As we continue to foster innovation and research at our conference, we held our signature competitions, and added a new one to the roster:
- The Research Paper competition presented by MLB; Winner – Philip Maymin, “An Open-Sourced Optical Tracking and Advanced eSports Analytics Platform for League of Legends”
- The Startup Competition & Tradeshow presented by Ticketmaster; Winner – Protxx, a precision wearable sensor platform that enhances athlete safety and performance
- The First Pitch Competition presented by Eventellect and the Philadelphia 76ers; Winner – Kellogg School of Management team
- The Hackathon presented by ESPN and Ticketmaster; Winners – Jason Feldmen and Zach Knowlton in the student and open divisions, respectively
Last, but not least, we partnered with Draft Kings to create the first ever Daily Fantasy Challenge. Graduate students were tasked with creating a presenting new sport concepts to Draft Kings. Dela Gbordzoe and Garrett Schreiber from MIT Sloan took home the top prize.
The Data Visualization Room presented by Fusion Sports, created an interactive hands-on experience for our attendees. Fusion Sports provided presentations and demos focusing on human performance data, and insights from top human performance organizations.
Another well-received first was the introduction of “Listen Live Podcast Center” presented by Bose. This provided sport’s most influential journalists the chance to bring SSAC’s cutting-edge insights to a broader audience through their podcasts. Attendees were also able to stop by the center to listen live to the most insightful discussions and try out the Bose QC 35 headphones II as if they were on a real NFL field during a game.
Our 12th annual conference concluded with the Alpha Awards. The winners selected by our esteemed panel of experts were 3D Printed Athletics Shoes for Best Sports Innovation, the Rockets trade for Chris Paul for Best Transaction, the Houston Astros for Best Analytics Organization, and John Hollinger VP of Basketball Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies, Lifetime achievement award.