2019 Panels

The 2019 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference offers panel lineup distinguished by the expertise of its panelists across business and sports analytics. It’s never too early to begin planning how you will spend your time at SSAC, where there is something to learn every minute of every day.

2019 MIT SLOAN SPORTS ANALYTICS CONFERENCE Panels

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Friday, March 1 8:30 AM – 9:30 AM
Bill James Room

Traditional management principles need to be revised—data is shaping the way in which best-in-class organizations build teams, drive strategy, maximize revenue, and create culture. What are the challenges in acquiring and analyzing data in sports? How can organizations be best structured to ensure consistency of data across the organization and the ability sift through endless quantities of information to define impactful insights about their businesses? This panel brings together industry leaders who have led, are leading, and are at the forefront of redefining how data can be the heart of decision-making and innovation.

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Friday, March 1 8:30 AM – 9:30 AM
Pat Summitt Room

As the beautiful game continues to adapt to the rise of analytics, player positions are evolving in accordance with these changes. With the rise of data collection at the back of this impending revolution, new methods of evaluating player value, contracts, and incentives are coming to the forefront. While the game moves away from formal positional roles, teams uncover what skillsets were previously under- or overvalued. As the sport sits at the precipice of thrilling analytical revolution, every element of the sport from training to game strategy stands to change. This panel brings together perspectives from across the sport to discuss the state of the game today and where soccer goes from here.

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Friday, March 1 9:45 AM – 10:45 AM
Bill James Room

The game of basketball changes quickly – so in an era of three-point shooting, floor spacing, and versatility, it’s natural to wonder what the next iteration of the game will look like. Forecasting the relative value of future player types will be of the utmost significance for any franchise looking for that one special player to take the next step in their evolution. This panel will examine the ways in which teams are leveraging analytics to answer these questions and address other top-of-mind issues such as lineup optimization, “position-less basketball”, as well as finding and exploiting inefficiencies in an increasingly intelligent NBA.

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Friday, March 1 9:45 AM – 10:45 AM
Pat Summitt Room

With most aspects of our daily lives featuring advertising or sponsorships of some kind, it is increasingly difficult for brands to quantify and attribute the value that they get out of specific sponsorships. Traditional metrics like sales and clicks have become complicated by both improved technology and bad actors, and the time it takes to see meaningful results can vary widely. With more organizations focusing on data to drive strategic decisions, sports organizations seeking partners need to provide more than simply anecdotal evidence of what brands can stand to gain. This panel will feature discussion of what outcomes matter most to brands, how sports organizations value partnerships, and how more robust data can help inform decisions on both sides of the table regarding who they choose to partner with and in what way.

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Friday, March 1 9:45 AM – 10:45 AM
Bill Walsh Room

The days of rubbing dirt on an injury and returning to the game are over. Fans watch games to see their favorite athletes and teams perform at a high level, and so the processes and technologies in place to maintain player health are paramount to the quality of the product on the field. Consequently, more and more investment is going into both preventative and reactive measures to improve athlete health. What are the key considerations when seeking to maximize performance and stay healthy? What data is available to help illuminate risks and prolong careers? How can teams and players balance exercising caution without being overprotective? This panel brings together the experts working to explore the opportunities in maximizing player performance, extending careers, and keeping athletes healthy.

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Friday, March 1 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Bill James Room

Having been directly impacted by unfairly harsh laws and unexpectedly becoming a voice for criminal justice reform, Philadelphia-raised rapper Meek Mill shares his unique perspective and partnership with close friend and co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers Michael Rubin to bring greater awareness to this issue impacting millions without a voice in the US. Togther, they sit down with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols to discuss their REFORM Alliance launch and vision for prison reform.

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Friday, March 1 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Pat Summitt Room

Ticketing is the next frontier of major growth in the sports business. As leagues and teams begin to trend toward a more open ticketing environment, they will be able to leverage multiple distribution channels and data analytics to forge one-on-one relationships with their customers. In turn, fans will become direct beneficiaries of a more streamlined ticket buying process that will reduce the friction and risk of fraud that has plagued it in the past. This panel of executives from teams, leagues, and vendors will explore the challenges that they face in an evolving ticketing landscape and lend insight into some of the questions that wider distribution presents to ticket sellers.

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Friday, March 1 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Bill Walsh Room

Soccer, the sport with the largest global fan base, has largely resisted the analytics wave. Despite recent improvements, the game has failed to undergo a major gameplay revolution like basketball, baseball, and football. Daryl Morey questions some of the fundamental assumptions and decision-making in soccer analysis. Roger Bennett of Men in Blazers, will lead a wide-ranging conversation with analysts across soccer and other sports to better understand the big-picture ways soccer should change.

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

The sports industry is changing every day: questions around media rights are more pertinent than ever, consumer interests and desired engagement are evolving quickly, the ticketing industry is undergoing a massive shift, and start-up leagues and technologies are challenging leagues who had a near monopoly on fans attention. Meet the leaders who are shaping the response to external agents of change and crafting visions and strategies that will define the future of sports business. On this panel, industry leaders from some of the most influential companies in sports will share insights on how they’ve transformed their organizations and themselves to keep pace with the sports industry evolution.

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

Given the massive set of possible decision points – 10^14 in Limit Hold ‘em and 10^160 in No-limit Hold ‘em – poker lends itself naturally to the implementation of analytics. Moreover, the rise of analytics’ prominence in poker has somewhat mirrored the rise of analytics in other major professional sports in the 21st century. This panel, led by Nate Silver, brings together a diverse set of backgrounds in analytics and professional gaming that will explore the crossover between these sports and poker – looking into what we can learn from poker that can be applied to sports and sports analytics.

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

Legacies are built when there is a vision for establishing something novel and long-lasting. Today’s industry game changers are learning from multiple avenues to have impact internationally, technologically, and through using data to gain a long-lasting competitive advantage in the front office and on the field. This panel brings sports industry leaders who have turned their business success in other fields to redefining the future of sports. Jonathan Kraft has created a sports dynasty in New England and is actively extending to esports, additional venues, and technology and analytics. Josh Harris trusted the process and has ownership stakes in basketball, hockey, soccer, esports and much more. Casey Wasserman turned an agency into an Olympic Movement and his impact is just beginning. Learn how they approach decision-making, hiring, investing, and what the future holds.

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

Recent years have seen an uptick in the use of advanced data and analytics to enhance game broadcasts and drive second-screen platforms, creating differentiating viewing experiences for sports fans. The growth of player tracking technology in baseball, basketball and football has fueled opportunities to tell smart, new stories during live game windows. This panel will discuss innovative ways that events have been presented on linear and digital platforms, what is coming soon, and what may be possible in the not-so-distant future.

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

The Hockey ecosystem is in the midst of widespread change. The analytics revolution is taking hold as an increasing number of teams lean on analytics to support important decision making. But, key questions remain unanswered. Why have some teams not yet “bought in”? With tracking data soon to become available at a league-wide level, what specific steps are teams taking to prepare? How will the abundance of new information help inform player personnel decisions, in-game coaching strategy, video preparation, and scouting? This panel dives into these questions – and more – as we approach the next era of hockey analytics.

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Friday, March 1 2:45 PM – 3:45 PM
Bill James Room

Nearing the end of the regular season, Bill Simmons sits one-on-one with commissioner Adam Silver to discuss various basketball – and, in typical Bill fashion, a couple non-basketball – related topics. As Silver enters his sixth year as commissioner, he reflects back on his tenure, discusses the current NBA landscape, and talks about the future of the league. Among other topics they will address tampering in the NBA, tanking, the one-and-done rule, and basketball’s continually increasing world-wide popularity.

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Friday, March 1 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Bill James Room

Data use and misuse has emerged as an area of focus as organizations collect and use data in new and innovative ways, ahead of regulatory and ethical frameworks. The emergence of data use in decision-making has exposed unintended consequences and biases that only push us to replicate the past, not move forward. These misuses are widespread: Facebook’s use of data experiments and selling data to third parties revealed how a lack of ethics could lead to unintended consequences. Examples of biases in data have exposed faulty hiring algorithms. What is appropriate or inappropriate use of data? Does this vary by industry? How do we improve biases and continue to progress? This panel will debate the ethical challenges different industries face in using data with leaders in healthcare, gambling, sports, politics, government, and social media

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Friday, March 1 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Pat Summitt Room

Baseball has been a constant through the years with limited innovation while the world of sports shifts around it. Many MLB teams led the analytics movement at the beginning, but the game has been tethered to tradition. Despite recent efforts to make the game faster and more fun, baseball has struggled to keep pace with the NBA and the NFL in terms of TV rating and share of fan attention. So what changes can be made to ensure baseball stays America’s Pastime? How will baseball be played 5, 10, and 20 years down the road? Some of the most analytical and creative baseball minds will debate what the MLB product should look like in the future as it struggles to separate from the past

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Friday, March 1 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Bill Walsh Room

The sports industry has experienced tremendous growth over the last ten years—but the growth hasn’t come from a single source. New companies, industries, and entire sports leagues have entered the fray, and transformed an already burgeoning industry. What does it take to succeed as an entrepreneur in sports? How can ideas attract capital in a more-competitive-than-ever environment? This panel will discuss the existing and emerging field of sports entrepreneurship, new areas of innovation, challenges entrepreneurs face, attractive areas for investments, and techniques for building successful sports businesses.

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Friday, March 1 5:15 PM – 6:15 PM
Bill James Room

Sports has been a bastion for innovation and change. Today, with vertical integration, new partnerships, gambling, esports and direct-to-consumer opportunities, the pace of innovation has accelerated. For those at the leading edge of the sports industry, no lead is safe. Learn how leading sports executives are developing new products, altering their business models, or creating inventive ways to access and serve customers. This panel will dive deep into how innovative environments can be built and where the future growth will come in sports.

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Friday, March 1 5:15 PM – 6:15 PM
Pat Summitt Room

The availability of data today is rapidly expanding, and while this promises to unlock valuable insights for all businesses, many organizations find themselves at a crossroads. While some leaders will boldly turn over all decision-making to AI, others will confidently eschew analytics for gut instinct. There remains a wide spectrum between these extremes, and all leaders need to decide where they stand. How these leaders choose to balance the role of data vs. judgment in their teams will fundamentally shape their organizational culture going forward. On this panel, Adam Grant, Nate Silver, and the SSAC Co-Chairs, Jessica Gelman and Daryl Morey will debate their philosophies on data, organizational culture, and the best way to approach decisions.

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Saturday, March 2 7:45 AM – 8:45 AM
Pat Summitt Room

The Career Panel provides a lively discussion on the skills vital in today’s sports industry and what analytical and business leaders are looking for in talent. Those interested in transitioning into or moving up in the sports industry will hear unique stories of breaking into, navigating, and succeeding in the sector from accomplished individuals with diverse backgrounds.

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Saturday, March 2 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM
Bill James Room

The Celtics-Lakers rivalry is one of the most storied in all of sports. From Russell vs. Chamberlain, Bird vs. Magic, to the “Big Three” vs. Kobe and Gasol, the matchup has defined eras throughout the history of the NBA. It’s been almost ten years since their most recent matchup in the NBA finals, as each team has transitioned on from its last slate of superstars and are now looking to write another chapter of the rivalry. This panel will explore each team’s approach to rebuilding over the past decade, featuring the two respective owners of the Celtics and Lakers, Wyc Grousbeck and Jeanie Buss. The panelists will discuss their similarities and differences regarding team-building strategies, and the relevant implications they have on fan engagement, business operations, and the odds of another Finals matchup in the near future.

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Saturday, March 2 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM
Pat Summitt Room

The ecosystem of a sports league is unique, and league offices are given the difficult task of bringing together a set of disparate teams and pointing them towards the best interests of the collective whole. That process presents many challenges, both common across leagues and unique to each sport, and the balance of power between all parties is tenuous. In a game of cat and mouse, teams seek to exploit loopholes while the leagues seek to close them and maintain a level playing field. Still, all leagues hold substantial influence and can utilize a variety of levers to enact change, maintain competitive balance, and ultimately steer their respective sports to shared popularity. However, pulling on one lever too much or ignoring others can lead to unforeseen consequences detrimental to not just leagues and teams, but fans as well. This panel comprised of league and team executives will shed light on the decisions that leagues make to execute their vision and improve their sports.

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Saturday, March 2 10:15 AM – 11:15 AM
Bill James Room

The moment millions of fans have been waiting for is finally here: sports betting is legal in a few of the 50 U.S. states and is only expected to become more widely accepted. The implications of this new era for fans and leagues are massive. This panel will explore the opportunities and pitfalls that legalized sports betting has for organizations including how the growth of gambling will impact the fan experience, its effectiveness at increasing engagement in low-viewership sports, how entities will keep gambling democratic, and who the winners and losers will be after the dust settles.

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Saturday, March 2 10:15 AM – 11:15 AM
Pat Summitt Room

Player tracking technologies in the past decade have provided information that was once unattainable—the distance and speed a player runs in a game, effectiveness against certain defenders, the game situations which are most likely to produce a fast break, and so much more. As the technologies behind player tracking improve, much more information can now be captured: the skeleton of every player in every frame; tracking data for every college or high-school game; or data from historical games (e.g. comparing the performance of Jordan, Gretzky or Maradonna against the current greats). What does this evolving category of information mean for sports? How can teams, leagues, media and fans benefit from the next generation and scale of data being captured? This panel brings together thought leaders across sports and the tracking-data space to discuss these questions and explore the implications of this rapidly expanding industry.

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Saturday, March 2 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM
Bill James Room

Until recently, athletes were completely reliant on journalists to communicate with fans, and consequently their stories were told through someone else’s lens. Today, the media landscape has fundamentally shifted. Athletes own and curate their image, leading to many channels of direct interaction and unprecedented proximity to fans. A number of athletes have clearly reaped the benefits, making their personalities and the work they do on and off the field more visible than ever. However, it is not just the good side that has become more visible, and the absence of the media’s filter has led to regretful mistakes and miscommunication. While athletes today have more ways to tell their own stories, does that replace the role of traditional sports media? This panel brings together the pioneers of this movement and those that leverage the new paradigm to its fullest.

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Saturday, March 2 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM
Pat Summitt Room

A multitude of esports leagues and tournaments are thriving globally across various blockbuster games. With the start of another exciting year for the esports industry, sponsorship, marketing, and activation agreements with the leading games continue to grow. Getting visibility into the performance and ROI of these partnerships isn’t always simple. Esports leagues and teams navigate performance metrics in unique ways in the online digital space – coming up with creative, but fair methods of measuring value and league health. In this panel, industry thought leaders will shine a light on how esports league work with sponsorship partners to generate insights, establish trust, and help brands find the best opportunities to engage with fans.

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Saturday, March 2 12:45 PM – 1:45 PM
Bill James Room

Football is rapidly shedding its reputation for being slow in the uptake and application of advanced analytics, as today’s teams are more readily harnessing the power of data to inform their decision making. Hear from some of the brightest minds in the game as they tackle today’s most pressing topics, including how newly available league-wide tracking data is shaping in-game strategy and team building, what mechanisms are being put in place by teams to handle today’s onslaught of information flow, and of course debate over which stats matter most for player evaluation in the modern game.

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Saturday, March 2 12:45 PM – 1:45 PM
Pat Summitt Room

The ability to create and view content on-the-go has changed how fans engage with their favorite teams on game days and beyond. With closer access and more real-time insights, the amount of data available to personalize and customize the fan experience has evolved as quickly as the emerging technologies giving teams, media companies, partners, and brands unparalleled consumer insights. Learn how companies are broadening their content offerings and define how best to engage an audience accustomed to microtargeted suggestions and on-demand experiences. This panel will explore how companies are differentiating themselves through their content offerings, fostering customer loyalty, and using a growing fan desire to be continuously engaged to generate revenue, subscriptions, and sales.

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Saturday, March 2 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Bill James Room

Authors Malcolm Gladwell and David Epstein meet again, five years since their initial 10,000 Hours vs. The Sports Gene talk, to resurface the important and long-standing question of whether nature or nurture determines one’s athletic success. In this one-on-one discussion, Gladwell and Epstein sit down to evaluate what has changed, including Epstein’s latest argument that contrary to popular belief, generalists are the ones who actually succeed in a specialized world.

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Saturday, March 2 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM 
Pat Summitt Room

Every league has, at least to some degree, embraced social media outlets like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook as critical channels to connect fans more closely to the sports they watch. Players view these communities as opportunities to engage with fans, build their personal brands, and control their stories. However, these benefits to the teams and players come with costs. While phones have become inescapable to many of us, this growing obsession could be particularly detrimental in the context of a professional sports team. This panel will discuss the impact social media and phone dependence may have on team performance, ways ill effects can be mitigated, and whether these networks ultimately bring more harm than good.

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Saturday, March 2 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Finals Room

When it comes to excellence and superior performance in the martial arts, sports, business or any other endeavor, how does one exceed the limits of science and truly become an “artist”? Are experts simply outstanding practitioners of their sport, or do they go beyond “practice” and develop their own philosophies? What are the limits of exceptional technique, and how do you go farther by mastering underlying principles? In a dynamic and wide-ranging conversation on the essence of mastery, Sensei Nick Theodorou (a 35-year practitioner of the martial arts and 6th degree black belt in Jiu Jitsu) and Professor Deepak Malhotra (a Negotiations Professor of 17 years at Harvard Business School and an advisor on deals and conflicts around the world) will discuss what accounts for greatness in the martial arts, in the worlds of negotiation and diplomacy, and in everything from sports to the performing arts to leadership. Come learn as well as participate in a conversation that will enhance your own game, whatever skill or domain you are trying to master.

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Saturday, March 2 3:15 PM – 4:15 PM
Bill James Room

In the age of camera phones and social media, athletes and league officials can hardly do anything without it being captured and reported on. But what about the stories that have been passed along from generation to generation or unnamed source to blogger about people doing seemingly impossible or improbable things? Our panelists will run the numbers to prove or disprove the possibility of a number of famous sports myths and legends that have stuck around despite lack of evidence or unwillingness of participants to discuss. The veracity of those same myths though? That part is up to you. In this panel, Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics and Jason Concepcion from The Ringer will co-host, posing questions that help us separate fact from fiction.

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Saturday, March 2 3:15 PM – 4:15 PM
Pat Summitt Room

With increasing options for when, where, and how fans are able to watch their favorite teams play, legacy venues are trying to accommodate newer technologies and comforts to encourage fans to come to live games and engage with their team. Creating a new venue experience offers organizations the opportunity to incorporate state-of-the-art technology, local and gourmet food and beverage options, and more ways for fans to interact with each other and the game itself. But, it is also a long and expensive process. On this panel, executives will discuss how they are redefining the “street to seat” experience to fill their seats and create an unparalleled experience for longtime and new fans alike.

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Saturday, March 2 4:30 PM – 5:30 PM
Bill James Room

Coach; Author; Innovator; Eccentric; Brilliant; Unconventional. All these and more have been used to describe Mike Leach, who will sit down with bestselling author Michael Lewis for a one-on-one conversation on being arguably the most innovative coach in football history and how he has changed the way the game is played. Coming off an 11-2 season at the helm of the Washington State Cougars football program, Leach will take a moment to reflect on where he’s been, where he’s going, and why he might be the most misunderstood man in college football.

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