March 10, 2020

SSAC20 Day Two Recap

DAY 2 RECAP: The 2020 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference has come to a close after two full days of panels and presentations from leaders and innovators in sports and business. We truly appreciate everyone attending, live-streaming, and contributing to the conversation about advancing the use of data and analytics in sports.

The day got off to an impressive start with a conversation between two giants of baseball analytics – Bill James and Tom Tango. Meghan Chayka moderated the discussion in From Moneyball to Homerball that explored the past, present, and future of baseball. One topic in the discussion was the pace of play in the sport. “It’s not an option to fix the pace of play, it’s a requirement,” said James.

During Built to Last: The Importance of Inclusion & Diversity in Sports Organizations Presented by Wasserman, Catherine Carlson, Allison Feaster, Scott Pioli, Shelley Pisarra, and Liz Moulton got together to discuss how teams, leagues, and other organizations are tackling biases in hiring and fostering an environment where all voices are heard in order to increase performance. During the panel, Pisarra stressed the need to make D&I efforts a more cohesive part of organizational strategy. “We may have a diversity and inclusion group, but the question becomes how do we actually implement it into our business model?”

To close out the morning, Richard Thaler, Sashi Brown, Bill James, and Daryl Morey convened for The Sports Learning Curve: Why Teams are Slow to Learn and Adapt. The discussion focused on the root cause of decision-making errors in sports and how to overcome them. One example was the sacrifice bunt in baseball and the Nobel Prize-winning Thaler had this hot take: “There is ‘The Book’. Nobody knows who wrote the book, but whoever it was is an idiot.”

In one of the more amazing moments of SSAC20, chess Grandmaster Robert Hess played chess against multiple opponents at the same time while blindfolded!! It was an unbelievable display of the Grandmaster’s skill. Once the competition was finished, Hess, Daryl Morey, John Urschel, Danny Rensch, and moderator Neil Paine teamed up in Dark Arts: What the Sports World Can Learn from Chess to identify the lessons that sports will soon borrow. One previous learning is the Elo rating system. Paine pointed out that Hess “is a 2600 Elo and the best baseball team is an 1800. I think this is an apples-to-apples comparison and speaks to the variability that happens in a sport like baseball versus chess.”

In the afternoon, an episode of ESPN’s The Boardroom was filmed live at SSAC. The episode, entitled The Making of a Superstar featured Rich Kleiman, Jay Williams, TJ Adeshola, and special guest star Jaylen Brown. The group discussed how Brown has focused on building his brand as his star has risen in the NBA. “It’s about story-telling,” Brown said, “but it’s also connecting the loop. People see me at the Sloan Conference and they may wonder how I got there. I want to focus on connecting my story so they know why.”

One of the last panels of the day looked to the future. Katie Nolan brilliantly and hilariously moderated the Sports in 2040: Hindsight is 2020 panel, featuring our Co-Founders Jessica Gelman and Daryl Morey as well as Bill James and Nate Silver, as they made predictions about how the landscape of sports will look in 20 years. The prognostications included major salary increases in MLS, opportunities for women to play in the NFL, major American sports league teams in Mexico City, an NFL franchise in London. On the obscure end of the spectrum, James joked “I’ve had a dream since I was 23 to create a sport that you can play with your dog.”

COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE: Day Two featured nine more Competitive Advantage talks with topics ranging from NHL goal scoring to data-driven weight room training programs. Once again, these talks identified new and innovative ways to use data and analytics to improve performance in sports and business.

During Playing Catchup: Estimating Player & Positional Value in (American) Football Presented by ESPN, Paul Sabin presented an objective, data-only approach to player evaluation for all positions on the field that would be independent of traditional subjective scouting methods.

Charles Gao explained in his CA entitled How the Golden State Warriors Use Analytics to Optimize Fan Experience that the Warriors have adopted analytics to uncover new fan insights with the opening of the Chase Center. This has allowed the team to provide best-in-class experiences, thereby increasing both fan satisfaction and revenues.

ROBOTS: In another first (during a weekend already full of them), SSAC20 hosted a Robotics Room with FIRST. The room featured robots and their student creators in three competition age groups – FIRST LEGO League, FIRST Tech Challenge, and FIRST Robotics. Attendees were able to see the innovation and creativity of the students firsthand. The event also featured a competition and an opportunity for attendees to try their hand at running a robot!

CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR WINNERS: All the winners of this year’s competitions embody the spirit of this year’s theme – #RunTheNumbers.

Hackathon Presented by ESPN
Open Track: Philip Maymin
Student Track: Arnav Prasad, Nikhil Morar, Saiem Gilani, Erik Johnsson

Sports Gaming Innovation Challenge Presented by DraftKings
Liz Bloom, Harvard Business School

Startup Competition Presented by 42 Analytics
Fan Experience Track: Immersiv
Performance Track: Uncaged Sports

First Pitch Case Competition Presented by Eventellect
Sushaan Modi, Christine Jiang and Kyle Larkin of Harvard Business School

Research Paper Competition Presented by MLB
Grand Prize: Evan Munro and Martino Bianchio, Designing a No-Tanking Draft Lottery
Audience-choice: Samuel Kalman and Jonathan Bosch, NBA Lineup Analysis on Clustered Player Tendencies

Table Tennis
Attendee tournament: Eliot Goldfarb
VIP tournament: Xiao Xu

9th Annual Alpha Awards
Best Sports Innovation: HomeCourt
Best Transaction: Yankees sign DJ LaMahieu
Best Analytics Organization: Liverpool FC

MISSED A PANEL? We will be uploading panel videos to our YouTube channel in a few weeks.

THANK YOU: On behalf of our Co-Founders Jessica Gelman and Daryl Morey, our student Co-Leads Zee Siddiqi and Jason Rehhaut, and our entire student organizing team – thank you to our speakers, sponsors, and attendees for making SSAC20 the best one yet!!

#SSAC21: We can’t wait to see you back at the 15th Annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference next year! Be sure to save the date for March 5 – 6, 2021. Until then, keep running the numbers!