Podcast review: Data is becoming key to those running sport teams

Public Radio International‘s Kara Miller talks to Jessica Gelman and Ben Shields about the increasing importance of data analytics in the world of sport. In an engaging 16.30 minute podcast, the discussion touches upon the use of data and analytics for player valuation and performance management on the one hand and increasing fan engagement on the other. Read on for a summary of the discussion.

The two experts

Jessica Gelman

  • Co-founder and chair of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference.
  • Vice President at the Kraft Sports Group (owns New England Patriots football team).

Ben Shields

  • Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management
  • Former social media and marketing director at ESPN.


“Data is only a piece of the puzzle”

  • Data is an important cog in the sports machine, but it has its limitations (for now), as individual mentalities and team morale cannot be measured with just numbers and requires a human connect.
  • People who aren’t at peak performance, sometimes can overcome that and up their game. Data cannot measure mental attributes of a player. It cannot measure team chemistry and momentum.

Player valuation and performance management

  • Data is increasingly being used by player agents and teams to arrive at player valuations.
  • Data is helping coaches assess player strengths and weaknesses.
  • Wearable technologies are enabling player’s fitness and health parameters to be tracked all the time. For e.g. hydration data may tell the coach when a player needs a rest to prevent injuries.
  • Wearable technology is an emerging trend and we may expect to see players raising concerns about privacy as they become more commonplace.

Fan engagement

  • Data collected on fans help teams create better customer experiences, with a focus is engaging and retaining customers.
  • Data has started helping understand actual fan behavior which may at times contrast with behavior they reveal in surveys. Listen to the podcast to learn about the story of the cheerleaders page on a franchise’s website.

Technology used for data collection – today and future possibilities

  • Emerging technology is improving the type of data available for stakeholders to use
  • The NBA uses six Sport View cameras to gather every movement on the court at 25fps, so data can be used meaningfully to impact results on court
  • In the future we may see Virtual reality (Occulus Rift) used by fans away from stadiums
  • The popularity of playing video games played and the immense viewership this activity generates suggests that more vicarious participation will be made available to sport fans that will make them feel more invested in the teams they follow. In doing so, more avenues of measuring fan behaviour data will open up.


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