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Role of Business Intelligence in the Sports Industry

  • Mallika Rangaiah
  • Mar 19, 2020
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“The idea that I should trust my eyes more than the stats, I don't buy that because I've seen magicians pull rabbits out of hats and I know that the rabbit's not in there.” - Billy Beane


Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Oakland Athletics team’s capacity of maintaining its performance undeterred by its lack of resources had shocked many spectators. 


Swinging open the hatchway to a new way of expounding and deciphering sports was Billy Beane, the Oakland General Manager who made excellent employment of Business Intelligence in his operations for building a strategic and dynamic team. 


Inspired by Bill James, the man who propelled the “Sabermetrics” approach that proposed a new way method of looking at baseball, Beane leveraged statistical models to interpret the performance of professional players and get an idea regarding which players were undervalued in the market thus gaining a competitive edge by recruiting non-traditional players. 


Based on how Billy Beane reinvented the entire game of baseball team management, the book “Moneyball” was published by Micheal Lewis, on which the movie Moneyball was also produced in turn. 


Moneyball Trailer


Thus took place the birth of Business Intelligence and analytics in the Sports Industry.


Business Intelligence is basically the process, approach, and technologies that are undertaken to convert raw data into meaningful information which will prompt profitable business operations. It is the chamber of software and services for converting data into actionable intelligence and insight. 


Business Intelligence’s tools perform data analytics, interpret and comprehend datasets and display analytical findings through reports, summaries, dashboards, charts, graphs, and maps for facilitating users with detailed knowledge about the position of the business. 


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Business Intelligence promotes factual decision-making by making use of historical data over assumptions and intuitions. 



Business Intelligence in the Sports Industry


Billy Bean’s successful implementation of the “Sabermetrics” approach was the turning point in the management of the Sports Industry, serving as a catalyst for the application of Business Intelligence in the sector. The days back when decision-making in the industry was managed on the grounds of intuition and gut feelings had long passed. 


The financial journalist and author, Michael Lewis, in his book and ensuing movie “Moneyball,” conveyed the story of how Billy Beane employed statistics and shifted the ritual of baseball player evaluation. Severe statistical analysis established that on-base percentage (a measure of how often a batter reaches base) and slugging percentage (a measure of the batting productivity of a hitter) are more accurate determinants of favorable outcomes as opposed to traditional methods of assessing baseball players.


This helped the Oakland Athletics discover and recruit undervalued players that held these qualities at a fraction of the cost being paid by other teams. The methods leading to the team’s success became more and more popular thus revolutionizing the entire surface of baseball and professional sports. 


A variety of teams across the globe in varied sports fields have begun adopting different types of people analytics for determining the players that are suitable for the game and which among them they wish to bring in to play. 


Presently, the majority of professional sports teams are staffed with analytics experts. While the teams perform the task of merging data, inspecting notes, digitizing statistics and remaining sources, preparing it and storing it in a central repository, it is the role of the analyst team to handle various forms of exploratory and structured statistical analysis and advise managers regarding which players to outline trade and focus on. 


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Presently, the majority of professional sports teams are staffed with analytics experts. While the teams perform the task of merging data, inspecting notes, digitizing statistics and remaining sources, preparing it and storing it in a central repository, it is the role of the analyst team to handle various forms of exploratory and structured statistical analysis and advise managers regarding which players to outline trade and focus on. 


However, at the same time, there are many prevailing clubs that do not adopt any analytics. Yet the majority of teams, irrespective of the league in which they are engaged or the sport they are involved in, are adopting analytics for undertaking their decisions.  


In the case of boardrooms across the globe, analytics can be the weapon they adopt for accomplishing their target and this analytics is what often triggers the final approval seal for a team prior to them possibly spending an enormous sum of money on someone to be a part of their team. 


Below are a handful of areas where business intelligence is being employed in the professional sports industry





One area where Business Intelligence is implemented is through the use of On-field sensors. These sensors gather live data from the field amid games. 


Various sports firms have begun incorporating a variety of approaches of gathering data which include Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags that are hooked onto the equipment in order to keep track of various metrics including movement, distance, speed, etc, amid the game. 


This data is then either employed amidst the game to update coaches regarding their player’s impartial performance or utilized later to aid in vital decision making. Various new metrics have been introduced in sync with new technologies. 


For instance, MLB’s Statcast is a state-of-the-art tracking technology adopted for keeping track of the spin rate of baseballs.



Wearable Technology


Wearable technology is a category of technology devices that can be worn by a consumer as accessories, embedded in clothing, or implanted on the consumer’s body. It often includes tracking information related to health and fitness. (You can also check out our blog on IoT in fashion industry).


The image shows the various kinds of wearable technology playing a significant role in the Sports Industry

Various Kinds of Wearable Technology in Sports Industry


This technology is utilized to assist players and trainers in remaining aware of fitness targets as well as progress. At the same time, the technology can also be adapted for tracking, preventing, and detecting injuries in players. The collected data can set the foundation for the player’s performance in the long term and hence any deviation from the data can alert the coaches and trainers pertaining to indications of any injuries or other causes for the change in performance. 


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Extensive efforts are being made on the part of Technology Companies to design and market wearable devices for athletic teams. A handful of companies which include Zephyr Technology, Viperpod, miCoach, and Smartlife are reconstructing the approach of athletic coaches in making decisions and transforming how sports are played as well as the health, safety, and performance of professional sports players.


There has also been a swift advancement of the technology market from the professional sports industry to facilitate the general public as well. 



Formulating more competent teams


We’ve already gained an insight into how Billy Bean incorporated statistics and Sabermetrics for developing more advanced teams. As we stride swiftly towards a world ruled by data science, the role of analytics and business intelligence becomes more and more full-fledged in the sports industry. 


The image gives a basic idea of how Sabermetrics plays a role in formulating competent teams



Today, in the age of data science, sporting teams draw on much more data using much more advanced techniques. Teams may develop their own methods for scouting or use the services of specialized companies. Let’s draw the example of the NBA and its implementation of analytics. 


The NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, announced at an analytics conference how the team players are attached with monitors not just during the games but also during practice to keep track of their performance and fatigue. Even their saliva, which is an indicator of fatigue, is sampled as well as the player’s diet. 


Golden State Warriors, for instance, employ big data sets to assist coaches and owners in recruiting players and executing game plans. 


SportVu, meanwhile, has around 6 cameras set up in the NBA arena for keeping track of the movements of every player in court as well as the basketball 25 times per second. This data, in turn, assists in working towards enhancing the performance of players in the coming games by facilitating a deluge of informative statistics on the basis of speed, distance, player separation as well as ball possession. 



Prompt Fan Engagement


Sports Analytics is also succeeding in driving fan engagement. Analytics is playing a huge part in being employed for sports betting websites. Some franchises are even recruiting data-savvy fans who have proven their abilities online. 


As per Davenport, 2014, New England Patriots is one sports organization that is employing analytics to prompt fan engagement. The organization relies on sports analytics for measuring the fan’s behavioral trends and metrics at Gillette Stadium.


The habits of repeat customers are observed and studied to determine retention rates. Other analytical approaches and behavioral criteria being studied include attendance rate during the game, merchandise purchases as well as other non-football-related events like concerts for prompting fans back into the stadium. 


San Francisco Giants in Major League Baseball (MLB) have also taken use of social media and analytics to enhance fan engagement. 



Ticket pricing and sales inventory 


As per an article on Sports Analytics by Analytics Magazine from Informs, analytics is also employed by Sport business firms for alerting the ticket inventory as well as to influence the decision-making process pertaining to pricing.  


The main focus of sports teams lies in maximizing attendance as well as in the optimization of revenue. The teams are also focused on maximizing the customer’s experience as well as emphasizing the total amount of business gained from a current or prospective customer.


The demand models developed for tickets combined with the direct feedback gained from customers aids sports firms in establishing ticket pricing approaches as well as developing customized promotions for tickets.





I would conclude this blog by stating that Business Intelligence has played a massive role in developing and advancing the sports industry through its tasks such as merging of data, an inspection of notes, digitization of statistics and remaining sources, etc. The analyst team handles various forms of statistical analysis, advising managers regarding which players to outline trade and focus on. 


While it would be too soon to say that the teams in any particular sport can ever engage in a situation in which only analytics is adopted by them for formulating decisions, yet the more that teams adopt it, the more it would lead to other teams accompanying them on the same.  


Thus the blog touches upon the topic of what Business Intelligence is and how Business Intelligence and Business Analytics have shaped the sports industry to metamorphose into what it is today. 

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