Why Data Analytics Is Crucial in Modern Sports

Data is a sports industry goldmine.

Data analytics has recently risen to mainstream prominence as a powerful tool. Given the ability of data and data analysts to uncover invaluable insights, many industries have become aggressive champions of data analytics. In fact, according to big data statistics on Tech Jury, the international big data market is primed to reach a value of $103 billion by 2023. Now while some of the industries that have embraced data are obvious (think healthcare and retail), some data-empowered industries are less top-of-mind like sports.

But while the uninitiated may think it odd for sports to hinge on data analytics, this is actually a massive market that is estimated to be worth nearly $4 billion by the end of 2022.

How Data Analytics Entered The Sporting Arena

As any sports fan will know, metrics and statistics have long been part of the sporting industry. As early as the 60s and 70s, team managers and coaches have been using performance numbers to guide their strategies and decisions. However, a Maryville University article on data analysts in sports notes that this use of data took a turn in 1971. This year, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) was born. Later, this same organization would give rise to a movement called “sabermetrics”, which saw researchers develop complex algorithms to further refine the process of optimizing data. This not only reduced the tedious nature of sports analytics but it also vastly widened its scope.

Later in 2002, the famed Moneyball Revolution would see sports analytics become more widely accepted by various sporting organizations. During this time, Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane proved the power of data analytics by using it to score a successful season despite having a roster of castoffs. A few years on, this feat would be turned into a 2003 novel named Moneyball, which further launched sports analytics into the mainstream. Since then, the art of data analytics has been embraced by teams, sponsors, and players across different sports

Contemporary Examples of Sports Analytics

Because data can literally be culled from almost every aspect of sports, there is a veritable mountain of insights that can be taken advantage of. As per Forbes’ introduction to the effect of sports analytics, some of the most pressing uses of data today include improving team performance, encouraging customer engagement, and enhancing the sports ecosystem as a whole. This has helped boost the sporting industry in general, even during years when spectator attendance was lower in 2020.

For starters, aside from the aforementioned use of data in baseball, analytics have also been used by teams in soccer, basketball, and football. In the NBA, coaches have been utilizing wearable wristband technology and video analyses to track player wellness and ball trajectory. In the NFL, leagues consistently make use of NextGen Stats to collate player ratings and difficult catch probabilities. In soccer, Matthew Benham’s Brentford FC and FC Midtjylland are supported by a crew of 300 data scientists that go over potential threats, goal chance quality, and overall efficiency. This approach, while unnecessarily complicated for some, has allowed the clubs to finish at the top of their respective leagues with some of the highest-scoring players.

Data analytics is also expected to nourish newer sectors like eSports. Described in a Towards Data Science report on data in eSports as a billion-dollar industry, eSports is one of the fastest-growing markets and is poised to be a timely sporting leader. Over the last three years, eSports has been unmatched in terms of growth with an almost 30% revenue increase. However, this market is only expected to reach its full market potential if it can improve gameplay using analytics. By using the right data, sporting teams and sponsors can better craft strategies that will attract more mainstream support.

Meanwhile, in regard to sporting fans and infrastructure, data has also been integral in finding ways to satisfy demand and streamline chokepoints. For instance, the New England Patriots have ingeniously used sports analytics to track traffic at their pro shop to predict ticket pricing and staffing on game day. On top of this, analysts use data to track foot traffic in stadiums in order to prevent accidents and fast-track congestion. This has helped increase staff efficiency, customer satisfaction, and back-office intelligence.

What Does Data Analytics Unlock in Modern Sports?

To sum it up, data is a sports industry goldmine because it allows stakeholders to maximize the present and prepare for the future. Moving forward, while not every sports purist is happy to have number crunching as part of sports, analytics is definitely not going anywhere. Hopefully, as the sports industry continues to evolve, sports analytics can unlock a happy medium where modern solutions safeguard the timeless appeal and impact of sports.

by Annie Crestwood

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