Blame Jonah Hill.
The world of sports is changing at a radical pace, both on and off the field of play. The study of research data that examines every single move made by the athletes who play the game and the business people who run the sport has calculated every possible outcome of every possible decision.
It’s a little bit maddening, and takes away the abstract nature of the games.
Jonah Hill is the actor who played Peter Brand, the statistics guru who helped Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) to turn around the Oakland A’s baseball team in the non-fiction movie Moneyball. Since the release of that book and movie, Big Data has become a significant part of every single action taken in professional sports.
The topic came up numerous times at the Stanford Graduate School of Business inaugural Sports Business Conference, which took place in April. Big Data not only predicts how players play, but predicts how fans react to what teams do to attract attention.
A report by Stanford’s GSB detailed what sports business leaders see as the five key trends that are driving the business of sports today, and Big Data ranked No. 1
For the 2013-14 season, the NBA used a tracking system called SportVU, developed by STATS, to detail every single contact a player has with the basketball. Six cameras installed in all NBA stadiums created the data stream, which actually tells teams how many times a player touches the ball, and then measures touches-per-minute.
“This is the first year we have more data than we can analyze,’’ said Vivek Ranadive, a member of the ownership group of the Sacramento Kings.
While the eye test can usually suffice to explain which players have the most influence on a game, the new data is unusually beneficial to defensive game-planning. Of course, it is entirely dependent on the teams and the players to make the best use of the data they are given.
Another trend discussed at the Stanford conference was the emergence of “smart’’ arenas, which not only allow but promote the use of mobile technology to watch the game on site. Some stadiums are unable to handle the demand for Wi-Fi that comes from every single attendee wanting access, and now companies are working to create more Wi-Fi capability.
The Sacramento Kings are getting a new stadium in 2016, and it is going to have the capability of leading a customer to his seat and detailing where the shortest bathroom and concession lines are through mobile technology. It will also allow for seat upgrades when available (similar to what airlines offer) and in-seat charging ports.
Specially assigned cameras will be employed to send unique game views to attending fans.
“We are looking for ways to use technology to further engage with people,’’ said NBA Team Marketing and Business Operations vice president John Abbamondi.
Social media continues to take over the world, and the conference included conversations about ways to promote teams through social media. While marketing alerts on sites such as Facebook or Twitter get some notice, teams believe that creating an easier path for fans to connect with the athletes is the way to go.
NASCAR is developing a “digital cockpit’’ that could show onboard dashboard displays for fans to see as well as some social media interaction between fans and drivers during a race.
If fans are going to be able to communicate with athletes during sporting events, and they could know the tendencies of opponents thanks to Big Data, how far away are we from having the fans control the game from the stands?
And isn’t that what video games are all about?