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March 5, 2022

SSAC22 Day 1 Recap

SSAC22 Day 1 Highlights

Delighted to be back in person at the Hynes Convention Center, we kicked off the first day of the 16th Annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference with a loaded agenda! The day began with welcome remarks from MIT Sloan School of Management’s Dean Schmittlein, SSAC Co-Founders Jessica Gelman and Daryl Morey, and SSAC Co-Leads Jack Blasberg and Emily Johnson. The group highlighted key themes for the conference around reuniting in person, embracing societal shifts driven by sports, and diving deep into the data and technological cutting edge.

The morning began with Disrupting, Reimagining, & Crushing It!: A Conversation with Michael Rubin and Gary V (Michael Rubin, Gary Vaynerchuk, Jessica Gelman), where we learned about their businesses, innovative applications of blockchain technology, and personal social media brands. The pair discussed how projects that continually provide value and utility to their consumers will be successful in the long-term. Jess even asked Gary and Michael to evaluate each other’s personal brands which resulted in Gary getting Michael to agree to play DJ Khaled in a pay-per-view basketball game! 

Taking a look back in time, we turned to Power of Athletics on Society: 50 Years of Title IX Impact & the Path Forward Presented by Wasserman (Miguel Cardona, Maura Healey, Laurie Hernandez, Sue Bird, Shira Springer). The panelists discussed the immense impact of Title IX, a bill that has no direct mention to sports but that has had an undeniable impact on the space. Since the bill’s passing in 1972, athletes have become integral to breaking down gender divides in sports and in society, though more work is left to be done.  

There’s more to the conference than cutting-edge panels featuring prominent sports leaders and influencers. SSAC22 is also fostering the next generation of leaders. The Mentorship Program held its meet and greet today, which kicks off a long-term mentoring relationship between some of the brightest aspiring sports professionals and industry leaders. We are so thankful for those leaders and their willingness to pay it forward to our largest mentorship class ever.

During lunchtime, we saw a packed house for the back-to-back Competitive Advantage talks from the basketball world - How the Philadelphia 76ers Accelerated Fan Insights during COVID presented by KAGR (Kraft Analytics Group) and NBA Strategy: Leveraging Analytics on In-Game Information presented by Microsoft. These featured speakers from the Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment and the Los Angeles Lakers, and the content lived up to the hype as experts shared how they leverage data for a competitive edge on and off the court.

There is maybe no better place to see how technology has impacted sports than the world of chess, which in spite of a history steeped in tradition has been revolutionized by artificial intelligence engines. We explored this in Chess and Machines: The Future of the World's Oldest Game (Daryl Morey, Robert Hess, Jennifer Hu, Danny Rensch, Ella Papanek). After two thrilling games of Hand and Brain chess, the panel discussed how computers are revolutionizing the way chess players prepare for competition in a time when all players have access to super-human analysis.

Mid-afternoon, we learned about The Future of the Fan (Tom Garfinkel, Paul Caine, Kim Pegula, Jessica Gelman, and Abe Madkour). They talked about bringing AR/VR to the fan experience, fan considerations for Kim as she builds the new Buffalo Bills stadium, and whether blockchain will disrupt the ticketing ecosystem. Abe also asked some rapid-fire questions at the end including whether or not Tom Brady will play football again, which received some mixed responses!

Then, we turned the page to the next chapter of soccer analytics with Beyond Expected Goals: Analyzing and Implementing the Next Phase of Soccer Analytics (Luke Bornn, Lucy Rushton, Jaeson Rosenfeld, Raul Pelaez, Ted Knutson). A diverse set of perspectives across soccer brought us up to speed on where analytics in soccer are now, but more importantly, took us to the frontier. This new frontier includes developments in player load management, pass grading, and integrating advanced analytics earlier in academy systems. 

In the competition arena, three finalists presented their pitches in the Oracle Sports Innovation Challenge. These ideas on ways to innovate the game day experience included an integrated betting platform, drone food delivery, and new methods of curated fan engagement. We are impressed by the outside the box thinking from all of our competitors and look forward to a day when these innovations might come to life!

To end the day, we had From NBA 75 to Basketball 100: The Future of the Game (Sue Bird, Mike Zarren, JJ Redick, Tom Haberstroh, and Daryl Morey). Through some great banter, the panelists reflected on the past and looked forward to the future of the NBA, from the emergence of the three pointer (and even adding a four-point line) to differing mentalities across generations of players. This was a great way to finish Day 1!

Research Paper Finalists

Alongside our great panels and Competitive Advantage talks were the presentations for the semi finals of the Research Paper Competition. We are happy to announce the following four papers as the finalists for this year’s top prize:

  • Beyond action valuation: A deep reinforcement learning framework for optimizing player decisions in soccer - Pegah Rahimian, Laszlo Toka
  • Detection of tactical patterns using semi-supervised graph neural networks - Gabriel Anzer, Pascal Bauer, Ulf Brefeld, Dennis Fassmeyer
  • Sports Narrative Enhancement with Natural Language Generation - Henry Wang
  • Using Hex Maps to Classify & Cluster Dribble Hand-off Variants in the NBA - Koi Stephanos

Panelist Highlights

SSAC22 Day 2 Preview

After a great first day of the conference, we are excited to be back again with more fantastic panels and conversations tomorrow morning. Please check out our most up to date schedule here

Day 2 panel highlights include NFTs, Ownership, and Utility: Outlining the Path Forward for Digital Assets (Rachel Jacobson, Brendan Lynch, Mickey Maher, Sam Rubinroit, Daryl Morey), as well as a discussion of important societal issues in Transgender Athletes: A Conversation led by Malcolm Gladwell on Data and Participation Policy (Katie Barnes, Joanna Harper, Ross Tucker, Malcolm Gladwell). After lunch check out In the Trenches of Football Analytics (Mitch Schwartz, Brian Burke, Sarah Mallepalle, Kevin Demoff, and Kevin Clark) and later in the afternoon is Planting Healthy Roots: Exploring the Cannabis Boom with Calvin Johnson (a 1-on-1 with Calvin Johnson and Bomani Jones). Throughout the day, we will see results from various prestigious competitions, including the ESPN Hackathon, the First Pitch Case Competition presented by SponsorPulse, the Start Up Competition presented by Microsoft for Startups, and the Research Paper Competition Finals. The day will be capped off with a celebration of some of the top moments in sports of the past year during the Alpha Awards.