Four Ways Sports Teams ‘Get’ Data Analytics Better than Business

Loraine Lawson

Data is disruptive. On some level, I think most leaders know that’s true. In a recent Capgemini survey, 64 percent out of 1,000 senior business leaders agreed that Big Data is changing traditional business boundaries and even enabling non-traditional providers to move into their industries. Another 53 percent also agreed that data-enabled start-ups are increasingly competitive with their companies.

If, by some chance, you’re among those who think data isn’t disruptive, you haven’t been paying attention. And you don’t have to look any further than this season’s NCAA tournament to see how data — and particularly new types of data — are changing the game.

The University of Louisville’s basketball team is heavily investing in sports data analytics, according to BizTech. Before each game, Director of Video Operations Doug Davenport creates a video database of nine to 10 hours of video, tagging each play in multiple categories. That’s a Big Data set in that it’s unstructured. (Remember: Big Data = volume, variety and velocity?) He combines this dataset with advanced data analytics to give coaches a more objective view of the game.

“With every play tagged in multiple categories, coaches, for example, can view every offensive play by an opponent against man-to-man, zone or press defenses, every two-point shot made inside the paint, or every drive or shot attempt by specific players,” freelance journalist Wylie Wong writes.

Louisville is also one of the early adopters of STATS LLC’s SportVU player-tracking technology, which is more widely used in the NBA. It uses six video cameras to track and record every player and ball movement.  They invested in this system, despite the fact that U of L is coached by Hall of Famer Rick Pitino. That’s how serious my state is about basketball (alas, the analytics is more of a symptom of that insanity than a driver).

Of course, U of L is out of the Final Four, but the University of Kentucky (UK) is still a contender. By the way, did you know that UK attempted 19 post-ups per game compared to just seven per game from their opponents? Neither did I, but now we do — it’s one of the new stats featured in a follow-up BizTech article, 10 College Basketball Stats Made Possible by Data Analytics.

Sports Analytics

So what can we learn about analytics from sports?

Know your elite metrics. Sports data analysts don’t just focus on identifying metrics — they focus on finding out new facts about the elite players, according to this Guardian article on data analytics in rugby. It’s also telling that the researchers used GPS receivers in players’ vests to nail down the top speedsters. It’s tempting to focus on daily metrics, but to really optimize your gains, focus on what happens when the metrics hit the highs.

Use technology, don’t let technology use you. From using health sensors in uniforms to video analysis, sports teams know what they want to analyze and they use the technology to do it. This comes back to knowing your business drivers. Too often, companies invest in new technology without a clear use case. Don’t be that team.

Let the data drive change. Data visualization is a key component of using data. As the BizTech article points out, the data may confirm what coaches already know, but it offers an unbiased perspective that can be used to win over players. “If we tell players that they’re not going to the glass enough, they may not believe us. But if we pull up data that out of 19 missed shots when a player is on the court, he only got to the designated area four or five times, then it’s easier to get through to players,” says Davenport.

Visualize the data. “A lot of people are visual learners,” warns Brian Prestidge, former head of analytical development at Bolton Wanderers FC. Prestidge used off-the-shelf data visualization software to present analytics to senior club figures.

For more on how data analytics is affecting sports, check out the following reads:

Loraine Lawson is a veteran technology reporter and blogger. She currently writes the Integration blog for IT Business Edge, which covers all aspects of integration technology, including data governance and best practices. She has also covered IT/Business Alignment and IT Security for IT Business Edge. Before becoming a freelance writer, Lawson worked at TechRepublic as a site editor and writer, covering mobile, IT management, IT security and other technology trends. Previously, she was a webmaster at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and a newspaper journalist. Follow Lawson at Google+ and on Twitter.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Apr 4, 2015 3:24 PM WMWENDT WMWENDT  says:
Right now I am teaching three sections of Statistics and I am teaching at a college that encourages students to compete in a Sport and rewards their efforts with scholarships. I was trying to find something that would get them excited about statistics and this article is "right on point" for them. I asked them to talk with their coach and to see if they could do a statistical analysis of some aspect of the sport in which they participate. I will use this in class. wmwendt Reply

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