SSAC20 Day One Recap

DAY 1 RECAP: The first day of the 2020 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is in the books and what a day it was! Panels, talks, and other events at SSAC20 covered everything player empowerment, the growth story of MLS, innovation and entrepreneurship in both sports and business, and dozens of other topics.

Co-Founders Jessica Gelman and Daryl Morey, along with Co-Leads Jason Rehhaut and Zee Siddiqi, began the conference by welcoming all attendees, sponsors, and organizers. They reminded us all of the increasing role of data analytics in sports and business, referencing the SSAC20 theme of #RunTheNumbers.

The morning got off to a strong start with the Game (Show) Theory panel featuring the greatest Jeopardy! Player of all time Ken Jennings and statistics guru Nate Silver. The two engaged in a wide-ranging conversation about how analytics have transformed game shows, politics, sports, and more. According to Jennings, “Today is the Moneyball era of Jeopardy!.” Their conversation helped set the tone for what is shaping into a very insightful weekend at SSAC20!

The morning continued with the Player Empowerment: I’ve Got the Power panel featuring Kendrick Perkins, Michael Rubin, Stephen A. Smith, and moderated by Jackie MacMullan. As expected, Stephen A. came in hot by probing “Who really has the power? It is one thing to have influence. But in terms of the true power, there is a difference between those that cut the check and those that cash it.” The panel addressed the increasing autonomy of athletes over their careers, both on and off the court. The panelists represented a range of perspectives and they each shared how they foresee players’ voices impacting their sports, their teams, and their leagues.

We wrapped up the morning with a fascinating discussion among a handful of inventors and entrepreneurs who have each revolutionized the way we analyze data during Start Me Up: Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Dean Kamen, Alexis Ohanian, Jason Robins, and Nate Silver shared the hurdles they experienced during the early days of their ventures and compared how their entrepreneurial journeys would be different if they launched them today during the panel moderated by SSAC Co-Founder Jessica Gelman.

The afternoon featured Don Garber and Jonathan Kraft sitting down with Taylor Twellman to tell the story of the growth of MLS. They took us through how the once-upstart league has grown from 10 teams in 1996 to 30 in 2022. The trio also looked forward, identifying the key opportunities on which the league must capitalize to maintain its impressive growth. “25 years from now, we’ll be bigger, we’ll be more important, we’ll be even more relevant in our local markets. This league has enormous momentum,” said Garber.

Rich Gotham, Jessica Gelman, Rob King, and Jason Robins got together to reprise one of our favorite panels from SSACs past. In Fanalytics 2.0, moderated by Alison Overholt, we learned how leading organizations are collecting and using data from the entire customer lifecycle to better understand their fans and adapt their offerings accordingly. During the panel, Gotham stated “When we look at the fan, it’s a relationship, not a transaction, and we build our in-game services with the fans in mind to deliver a more customized experience.”

In one of the final panel segments of the day, Shane Battier, Steve Koonin, Gersson Rosas, and Evan Wasch came together for the Making the Right Play: Optimizing the NBA’s Season Structure panel, moderated by Kevin Arnovitz. The group, representing a number of key NBA stakeholders, discussed the merits of several proposed changes to the basketball season and tried to hone in on one or two that would maximize the benefits for each group, including midseason tournaments. From Shane Battier: “After watching the excitement European soccer leagues are able to generate through their tournament structure, I started to support the idea of having multiple tournaments during the NBA season.”

COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE: Throughout the day, 22 Competitive Advantage talks took place as well. The breadth of topics was striking – from projecting talent in hockey to innovation in cricket. Each CA surfaced new ways to use data and analytics to help athletes, teams, leagues, and organizations make smarter decisions and achieve higher performance.

During Measuring the Immeasurable: Solving Soccer Analytics Using Machine Learning and Computer Vision Presented by Stats Perform, Dr. Patrick Lucey explained how ML and AI can be used with tracking, event, and video data to overcome some of the traditional analytics challenges in the beautiful game. Applications include projecting how players will perform on new teams and accurately measuring formations.

Miles Lowry shared during his CA entitled Formula 1 x Sustainability: Launching the Sport’s First-Ever Sustainability Strategy how F1 plans to be a driving force in the sport and automotive industry as the organization sets out to become a net zero carbon sport by 2030.

Other talks covered the use of real-time data, reducing the risks of CTE in football, and the intersection of AI and human potential.

INTERACTIVE EVENTS: Following his early morning panel, Ken Jennings hosted our first-ever Sports & Analytics Trivia Blitz, a trivia game played in the style of Jeopardy!

In another first, SSAC20 featured a Table Tennis expo, which included an attendee tournament and a 1-on-1 sit-down with Olympian Jimmy Butler.

Nine Research Papers finalists presented their studies and conclusions to our judges and an audience of attendees in the RP Competition Presented by MLB. Additionally, student teams presented their best data-driven ideas for crafting a ticketing strategy for an MLS expansion franchise in the First Pitch Competition Presented by Eventellect. We heard pioneering new business ideas from participants in the Sports Gaming Innovation Challenge presented by DraftKings as well.

FOLLOW ALONG: Be sure to follow us @SloanSportsConf on Twitter and Instagram and don’t forget to keep tagging your tweets with our hashtags #SSAC20 and #RunTheNumbers!

ON TO SATURDAY: Don’t forget to bring your badge tomorrow – attendees we not be allowed in without their badges and we have another jam-packed day you won’t want to miss! Tomorrow’s highlights will include The Boardroom: The Making of a Superstar featuring TJ Adeshola, Rich Kleiman, Jay Williams, and Jaylen Brown about how young athletes develop their brands as they push towards the heights of their games. We’re also very excited for the Moneyball to Homerball panel with Bill James and Tom Tango. Meghan Chayka will moderate a conversation with these two giants of baseball analytics. Another exciting series of Competitive Advantage talks will take place that will continue to challenge and inspire! We will showcase a FIRST Robotics event and a chess simul with GM Robert Hess. The finals of multiple competitions will take place, including the Hackathon Presented by ESPN, Research Papers Presented by MLB, and the Startup Competition Presented by 42 Analytics. We’ll end #SSAC20 with closing remarks from our leaders, Jessica Gelman and Daryl Morey, as they close out with the annual Alpha Awards.