This past weekend, the sports industry converged on Boston’s Hynes Convention Center for the 11th annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. A few of our members attended and decided to share their thoughts on the conference.
The 2017 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference featured a strong combination of technical presentations and interesting not-so-technical panels. Of particular interest to soccer analysts like myself, “Juggling Expectations: The Emergence of Soccer Analytics” proved a more interesting soccer panel than the 2016 edition, in which the panelists seemed understandably reluctant to speak candidly about their proprietary work. This year’s panel featured more interesting descriptions of the analytics pipelines within clubs and moved beyond the bland discussion of expected goals that seemed to dominate the 2016 panel.
Another standout panel was “Getting the Scoop”, which featured renowned sports journalists Ken Rosenthal, Adam Schefter, and Adrian Wojnarowski conversing on their experience. The panelists discussed how they maintain relationships with sources and, well, get the scoop. I quickly gained an appreciation for how sports journalists get the information they do, it really is an art.
Perhaps the most intriguing panel of the conference, however, had little to do with sports. In “Shark v. Fox: Politics and Forecasting in the Time of the Hedgehog”, Nate Silver interviewed Mark Cuban about Cuban’s relationship to the 2016 election (during which he initially supported Trump before endorsing Clinton), the prospect of a presidential run, and NBA referee accountability, among other topics. Cuban’s unfiltered yet generally intelligent takes produced a fascinating conversation, well worth a watch when the video becomes available.
As someone who dreams of submitting a research paper to SSAC one day, my favorite part of the weekend is listening to the authors of the top research papers present their work. The level of complexity and innovation of these papers increases every year, and this year was no exception. Probably biased by my interest in basketball and the SportVU data, my favorite talk of the day was far and away “Possession Sketches: Mapping NBA Strategies.” In this talk, Miller and Bornn are able to represent certain actions and movements using three dimensional curves, and through that representation reduce them to a vector. They can then cluster the plays, and from there begin to classify different types of possessions.
On top of the research papers, I also really enjoyed hearing Seth Partnow give a talk titled “Truths and Myths of the Basketball Revolution in Basketball.” He discussed things that we think about a lot here at HSAC as we try to tease out the most accurate trends for storytelling. In that same vein, SSAC also hosted a panel on Data Driven Storytelling which I found incredibly relevant to our blog. It is interesting to get a professional perspective on the different ways to generate stories and weave in the quantitative arguments.
Overall, it was a great experience to hear about the state of sports analytics and meet the industry leaders, and I am looking forward to attending next year.
This years Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The 2 days went by so quickly and there was very little down time. At any given point, there were at least 2 or 3 interesting things going on. The highlights for me were the research paper competition and the competitive advantage talks as they were very in depth and were often quite sophisticated with their methodologies. The only downside for me was that many of the general sport specific panels (particularly the one on ice hockey) were very general and vague and the panelists were unwilling to reveal any substantive proprietary work. With that being said, the following events stood out to me
My favorite panel of the weekend was the Moneymind panel featuring Billy Beane, Daryl Morey, Sam Hinkie and Farhan Zaidi. Billy Beane is a large part of the reason that sports analytics have become mainstream and accepted within the sports community so to have him come to Sloan for the first time was incredible. To top that, to have the 2 NBA executives who are known for thinking outside the box with analytics (Hinkie with The Process and Morey with the 3 point Revolution) added a tremendous amount to the panel. The good natured humor between Beane and Morey “if it wasn’t for me you’d be teaching in high school” provided a candid side that often lacks from large panels.
Favorite Competitive Advantage/Research Paper Talk
My favorite Competitive Advantage talk was “Pay Smart: Using Remuneration strategy to Gain an Edge in the English Premier League” by Ian Lynam. As a huge Premier League fan (who has aspirations of one day working for a Premier League club), to see the major differences between how clubs pay their players and the lack of efficiency in player contracts was astounding. His visual example of Ross Barkley taking a poor shot to boost his goal total (and his bonus) was an extremely telling way of illustrating the inefficiencies of contracts in the Premier League.
Special mentions go to “From Sports to Science: Using Basketball Analytics to Broaden the Appeal of Math and Science among Youth” and “A Switching Dynamic Generalized Linear Model to Detect Abnormal Performances in MLB” as two research papers that I found particularly inspiring towards my potential future research.
Thanks so much to everyone at MIT and Sloan Business school for organizing a fantastic conference and I look forward to attending in 2018.