MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, started by Daryl Morey 5 years ago is kicking off this Friday with a record attendance of 1,500.  This is not surprising; the conference has been extremely popular in the sports and non-sports world.  It has doubled in size every year and it gathers the who’s who of Sports and Analytics.   Starting with Mark Cuban (entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks) to John Hollinger (a reference in the world of basketball analytics) and Jeff Ma, author and a member of the MIT Blackjack Team, who’s story was the subject of “Bringing Down the House”, a book explaining how MIT students used analytics to beat Vegas.  They will all be here this weekend to talk about Sports but more importantly how Analytics can provide a competitive advantage for any team and any business.

Malcolm Gladwell will keynote the event and talk about his book Outliers.  If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it particularly if you are a fan of understanding the pre-determining factors of success.  I’m also guessing that he will talk about his famous story of how an underdog basketball team deconstructed the game to play differently and win.

We will be there as well to talk about how technology can enable teams to better understand the factors of game success and win.  I will be talking about Analytics in the context of Sports and will focus on two sports in particular, Basketball and Soccer.  As I explained it in more details during the World Cup last year, these sports do not exhibit the habitual stop-and-go cadence that many of the other American sports have (American Football or Baseball).  Their continuous play flow makes it difficult for the audience to break up the plays and associate discreet performance metrics to each move.

In some cases, it becomes hard to understand what’s going on until someone scores.  Basketball makes it easier on the eyes because of its high scoring pace but soccer struggles as most games rarely end in a differential above 2 as Chris Anderson, author of the “Soccer by The Numbers” blog reports here.

It is also unhelpful that the traditional metrics of soccer poorly represent the true performance of a game – how could one explain the 2-0 victory of Inter Milan against Bayern Munich when Bayern had the ball 70% of the time (thanks to Gavin Fleig from Manchester City and Ian Graham from the Castrol Index for pointing me to the example).   The answer, of course, is Strategy and Management of Performance.

The Sports Industry is filled with lessons for business people.  You might have heard of Moneyball, a great book by Michael Lewis in which he explains the tribulations of Billy Beane, General Manager of MLB's Oakland A's who beat the odds and used analytics to identify and hire talent faster than his peers. 

Our presentation will feature an exclusive interview of Billy Beane, courtesy of Simon Kuper, author of Soccernomics, another great book on the world of Sports Analytics (Simon is working on a great documentary on Soccer data, featuring Billy Beane and due out in April).

There is also the great example of the AC Milan Club.  The club, who’s tagline is “The most successful club” has one the world’s best track records in soccer history.  The club runs “the MilanLab”, a medical facility, which started as a way to prevent injuries and allow players to play longer.  The “Lab” has gathered millions of data points that help management run the club, recruit, retain and better prepare their staff to win.  When David Beckham went to Milan last year prior to the World Cup, the club methods helped him shed nearly 40% of his body fat in record time.  You can find out more about the AC Milan by watching this video and this case study by Microsoft partner Tagetik.

Each of the above examples contains great lessons for business people, starting from the importance of data quality (read more about this from my fellow Microsoft employee and football expert Sarah Rudd here) to the importance of measuring activities and results to get a full picture of performance.

We will also discuss the role of prediction in business and the lessons that Sports teach us about the bias of data.  We will use examples from renowned Soccer Statistics and Analytics companies Footbalistic and PredictorPro that help the industry keep a cool mind and not react to the online gambling extravaganza.

If you want to understand what Sports Analytics can teach us about Business Analytics but can’t come to the conference, make sure to subscribe to BI-TV (show here, RSS here) and  catch our coverage of the event.  You can also start engaging via our survey here and joining our group here.

I hope to connect with you either way. As always, feel free to send comments directly to Bruno Aziza, Director of Business Intelligence.