As I mentioned in a previous post that analyzed sports enthusiasts in the U.S., I recently attended the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. The event was fantastic! I enjoyed all of the sessions that I attended that included a who’s who list of people in the sports world such as: Mark Cuban, Scott Boras, Drew Carey, Eric Mangini, Jeannie Buss, Jeff Van Gundy, Jonathan Kraft, Mark Shapiro, Michael Wilbon, Bill Simmons, Steve Tisch, and the grandfather of sports analytics Bill James (who deservingly was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award).
I also just got back from attending the Clarabridge Customer Connections at the Doral in Miami where I gave the opening keynote speech: What Makes a Good Voice of the Customer Program? Interestingly, it was also the location of this week’s World Golf Championships so there were PGA people all over the grounds.
Given how much I enjoyed those two events, I’ve decided to list out 10 things I learned, observed, and/or enjoyed:
- #10: It’s good to be Mark Cuban. Mark missed a couple of the sessions, but showed up for his one-on-one interview with Bill Simmons (ESPN). He was great, totally relaxed, even smacking Bill on the back of the head as he walked on stage. He talked about the NBA lockout as “...lockout bullshit. You talk about a whole lot of time on a whole lot of nothing.” And he went onto say that the NBA stands for “Nothing But Attorneys.” In his tweets, Cuban referred to the event as the dorkapalooza. I’ve added “hang out with Mark Cuban” on my list of goals in life; he seems like a lot of fun.
- #9: The NBA is an analytical hotbed. Cuban said that the stats that you read in the box scores for NBA games “are pretty useless.” So the Mavericks have four people at games logging information that they use to make in-game decisions. The Mavericks won the award at the event for “Best Analytical Decision” based on the team’s decision to move J.J. Barea into the starting line-up at last year’s NBA championships. In addition, the winning presentation in the “Evolution of Sports” track was titled “From 5 to 13, Redefining Positions in Basketball” that used cluster analysis to identify 13 unique types of players instead of the guard, forward, center model used in the past. Also, we heard that many NBA arenas are putting three cameras on each end of the floor so they can track the X/Y/Z coordinates of players and ball movement to fuel more advanced analysis.
- #8: Taking action on insights is precious. I started my keynote speech by getting the audience to do a chant: “Feedback is cheap. Actionable insights may be valuable. Taking action on insights is precious.” My speech was all about how to focus voice of the customer efforts in a way that they add business value. As a part of my speech, I also discussed how many existing market research practices are obsolete. And, I ended my speech as I started it, with the chant: “Feedback is cheap. Actionable insights may be valuable. Taking action on insights is precious.”
- #7: Big analytics vendors are missing from sports. As with most conferences, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference had its trade show full of vendors. But, surprisingly to me, there weren’t any of the big guys like SAS or IBM SPSS at the event (at least with high visibility). All of the vendors were sports-specific providers like EDGE10, StarStreet, and Team Rankings.
- #6: Making people believe is critical. One of the sessions at the sports analytics was “The Power of Belief in Sports.” It examined some research about how athletes can improve their performance. The study that was discussed examined what happened after giving athletes performance enhancing things (like caffein or acupuncture). By doing a study with placebos, the researchers found that the level of improvement was not determined by whether or not the athlete received the enhancements. It was much more driven by whether they believed they received the enhancement and how much they believed that it would help them.
- #5: I’m a proud Sloanie. As a Sloan alumnus, It was great to see the MIT Sloan School lead such a great event. One of the co-chairs of the event was Daryl Morey, General Manager of the Houston Rockets, who is also a former MIT Sloan grad. There were also about 50 other Sloan students who were active in planning and running the event. Nice job Sloanies!
- #4: Parking in Boston is a mess. We drive into Boston on the first day to attend the sports analytics conference at the Hynes Center. There are no obvious signs as to where to park, so we ended in the main Prudential Parking lot. It’s a huge labyrinth of parking sections. After finding a spot, we walked aimlessly for a few minutes trying to figure out where to walk to get out of the parking lot — there weren’t any signs. All that was just for the honor of paying $30 for parking.
- #3: You’ve got to speak the right language. Scott Boras discussed how different parties have different languages and you need to speak their language. Players are typically kids in their 20s who come to the ballpark every day and just want to perform better. They discuss things like weight shifts and batting stance and care about optimizing what amounts to be a pretty short tenure as a professional athlete for most of them. Managers need to figure out line-ups every day that will give them the best chance to win. Owners want to win and make money, with a different emphasis across owners. I used this point in my speech, because its critical that analytical insights are translated into the language of the people that you want to use them. A store manager does not have the same needs as a product manager, so trying to show them the same voice of the customer insights and data in the same reports won’t be effective. You need to customize what they see to the decisions that they are going to make with the insights.
- #2: The Seattle Sounders are customer-centric, who knew? I was surprised to see Drew Carey (the actor) on the agenda at the sports analytics conference. But it turns out that he is an owner of the Seattle Sounders, a soccer team in the MLS, and a funny guy who is comfortable swearing on stage. The club has adopted some very customer-centric practices like having an advisory board of season ticket holders that provide feedback on strategies and decisions and even has the power to replace the general manager. These fan-centric efforts have really worked, as they get about 40,000 people to attend their matches. Here’s what Drew said about what they’re doing at the Sounders “If I owned a Costco, I’d do it [the same practices] there.” The Sounders appear to be a good business case to study.
- #1: Text analytics is a requirement. For several years I’ve been advising companies to look into text analytics as a way to tap into a myriad of wasted insights from call center interactions, sales notes, social media, and open-ended comments on surveys. I even wrote a post a couple of years ago called It’s Time For Text Analytics and have listed “unstructured data appreciation” as one of the key customer experience megatrends. Clarabridge and other vendors in the space have fine-tuned the technology to serve many key customer experience use cases. I really liked some of the new capabilities that were highlighted at the event: Automatic theme detection, root cause analysis, and collaboration. Other than the price tag, there’s no reason for any large company not to have some text analytics efforts under way.
The bottom line: I really enjoy combining sports and analytics