Analytics in sports: The key is communication

Kellogg group photo
Kellogg students meet with former NBA player Shane Battier.

A group of Kellogg students and I recently attended the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, and two things became clear: the sports industry is fundamentally changing and analytics is playing a part in that transformation.

In many ways, professional and collegiate sports have never been more popular or brought in more revenue. However, there are many threats to the sports industry, including health concerns such as concussions or the rise of Tommy John surgery. There are also growing external pressures, such as the push to allow the legalization of sports betting in the United States, as it is legal in many other countries.

Given the growing number and complexities of challenges facing the sports industry, there was a noticeable wave of recent MBA graduates at the conference making inroads at a variety of teams and league offices, particularly those that are more analytically advanced companies. These organizations see the value of utilizing quantitative and business savvy MBA students to help address these issues. This was helpful for many of the Kellogg students in attendance who want to transition into the sports industry and are trying to find opportune ways to do so.

We found that a key way to differentiate yourself is being able to communicate analytics. There are a lot of smart people who can perform data mining and analytics, but not all can communicate the results effectively to non-tech savvy and/or skeptical players and personnel. There was a clear theme throughout the weekend that analytics is only one aspect of the decision-making process, which bodes well for MBA students who not only have the technical know-how, but also have finance, marketing, accounting and other business skills.

Session photoI think these takeaways will help shape the Kellogg Sports Business Club and Conference as we continue to better position and educate our MBA students for the roles most suited for their skill sets.

While the session topics were of high quality and variety, I think the best value from the conference was the personal interactions with company representatives. Learning how former MBA students transitioned successfully into the sports industry was helpful because it demonstrated that this career pivot could be done and that MBAs can add value to sports organizations.

Now that my fellow attendees and I have greater insight into the latest issues in the sports industry, we are that much more ready to contribute at a high-level within these organizations. The key is to keep a balanced approach in which analytics is a key tool, but not always the sole determinant for a particular decision, and that being able to communicate the importance of analytics is even more important than the analytics themselves.

Nathan Pohle ’16 is a first-year student in Kellogg’s Full-Time Two-Year MBA Program. After completing his undergraduate degree at UW-Madison in 2007, Nathan has spent the last seven years as an Actuarial consultant at Deloitte helping insurance companies across a wide range of consulting and audit engagements. Nathan is passionate about sports and finding innovative ways to apply data/analytics to improve fitness, nutrition and the overall sports experience.

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