MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference
|Founder||Daryl Morey, Jessica Gelman|
|Mission||Provide a forum to discuss the increasing role of analytics in the sports industry.|
The goal of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is to provide a forum to discuss the increasing role of analytics in the sports industry. Founded in 2006, the conference is co-chaired by Daryl Morey (General Manager & Managing Director of Basketball Operations for the Houston Rockets) and Jessica Gelman (Vice President of Customer Marketing & Strategy for the Kraft Sports Group) who oversee MIT Sloan students (from the EMS Club)[nb 1] in the planning and operating of the yearly conference. It is the largest student-run conference in the world, attracting students from over 170 different schools and representatives from over 80 professional sports teams in the MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS, and Premier League. The conference is held in the Boston area and while its location has moved from the MIT campus to higher capacity convention centers, it has always occurred during February or March. One of the largest student run conferences in the country, it has been sold out every year and has become the premier venue for sports analytics discussion. ESPN has been the presenting sponsor since 2010 and the conference has garnered national attention through media outlets such as Sports Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Time, BusinessWeek, NBC Sports, Fox Sports, ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, and Forbes. ESPN columnist Bill Simmons has nicknamed the conference Dorkapalooza.
The 10th Annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference will be held on March 11–12, 2016 at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in Boston, MA.
The inaugural conference was held on February 10, 2007 at a variety of classrooms on the MIT campus and had 175 attendees. Nine different panel topics were showcased including baseball analytics featuring Bill James, basketball analytics, fan management, and sports technology. The conference was highlighted by keynote speakers J.P. Ricciardi, then-Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays and Jamie McCourt, then-CEO of the Los Angeles Dodger.
The conference was held on February 9, 2008 at the Ray and Maria Stata Center. The 350 guests in attendance heard a keynote speech by Boston Celtics CEO and co-owner Wycliffe Grousbeck. Among the eleven panels offered during the day, the most popular was Defending the Title, which included decision-makers from the then reigning champions of the four major sports leagues; Bill Polian (Then President, Indianapolis Colts), RC Buford (General Manager, San Antonio Spurs), Brian Burke (Then General Manager, Anaheim Ducks), and Jed Hoyer (Then Assistant General Manager, Boston Red Sox).
The conference was held on March 7, 2009 at the Stata Center for the final time and was the first to use a featured panel format. Before an audience of 550 the panel, Value of Icon Players, highlighted by Boston Celtics all-star guard Ray Allen discussed how to quantify the contribution made by star players to a team or city. The other featured panel, Evolution of the Fan Experience, looked at how new technology, stadium design, game innovations, and customer initiatives impact fan experience. It was moderated by Bill Simmons and included ESPN commentator Jeff Van Gundy and Brian Burke.
The conference was held on March 6, 2010 and with over 1,000 attendees, it nearly doubled the gallery from the previous year. As a result, the conference was moved off-campus to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston to accommodate the growing interest. The conference was headlined by a panel that addressed the limits of statistical analysis entitled What Geeks Don't Get: The Limits of Moneyball and was moderated by author Michael Lewis and featured Bill Polian, Jonathan Kraft, Mark Cuban and Bill Simmons. One specific situation discussed was the November 15, 2009 game between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts in which the Patriots, up 34-28 with the ball on their own 28 yard line, decided to go for it on 4th & 2 rather than punt. Among the other popular panels were Coaching Analytics with New Jersey Nets Head Coach Avery Johnson and Baltimore Orioles Manager Buck Showalter and Next Generation Sports Management and Ownership with Boston Celtics Owner Steve Pagliuca and Tampa Bay Rays President Matt Silverman.
A research paper track was introduced in which individuals could submit original analysis that offers a new perspective on anything from evaluating players and game strategies, to examining the success factors for sports business. The research paper track has continued to be an integral part of future conferences. Submissions are evaluated by the organizing committee and, if selected, authors make a 45-minutue presentation to vie for a $7,500 prize. The 2010 winner, Joe Sill, presented Improved NBA Adjusted +/- Using Regularization and Out-of-Sample Testing which analyzed the traditional way adjusted plus/minus is evaluated and offered a technique to improve its accuracy.
The conference was held from March 4–5, 2011 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center once again. The conference expanded to a two-day format for the first time, running from early Friday morning until late Saturday afternoon. It was attended by over 1,500 guests and had a waitlist of 300. The first panel of the conference was headlined by Malcolm Gladwell and featured a dialog about whether modern athletes' skills are innate or developed through extensive training. For the remainder of the conference, each time-slot had 3 panels running simultaneously and covered the standard topics of Baseball, Basketball, and Football analytics along with a range of new content. Some of the more popular new panels included The Decision: How Players and Teams Will Choose in the Future with retired basketball player Donny Marshall, CEO and Founder of Priority Sports & Entertainment Mark Bartelsteain, R.C. Buford, Brian Burke, and Michael Wilbon, Referee Analytics with longtime NFL official Mike Carey, and The Future of the Game Day Experience: HDTV vs. Live Events anchored by Co-founder and Chairman of HDNet Mark Cuban. The research paper track was expanded and the 2011 conference added several new facets to the traditional panel discussions. These events include the Evolution of Sport (EOS) presentations, the First Pitch MBA Sports Business Case Competition, and a trade show that offers sports-industry startups the ability to demonstrate products or services and connect with potential customers or business partners.
The competition showcased the work of nineteen authors. The winner, Arup Sen, presented The Moral Hazard in Long‐Term Guaranteed Contracts: Theory and Evidence from the NBA which analyzed the effect the final year of a contract has on player performance.
"I was walking to pick up my poster on my way out of the conference and found someone reading it. On closer inspection, I realized that it was Mark Cuban."— Arup Sen
Evolution of Sport (EOS)
Similar in scope to TED talks, these presentations offer individuals a chance to present a message, idea or thought that could someday change the face of sport. The 2011 conference featured 14 speakers who were each given roughly 20 minutes to address the audience. Two of the most popular presentations were by Mark Sweeney, founder of AimPoint Technologies, who presented Accelerated Skill Acquisition in Putting and by Henry Abbott, senior writer at ESPN, who presented Bad Decisions in Sports Skew Macho. Some of the others topics included; The Importance of Being Open: What Optical Tracking Data Can Say About NBA Field Goal Shooting, The Foundation of Elite Sports Analytics: Three Secrets You Must Know, and Better Off Guessing? Measuring the Quality of Draft Decisions. The talks have since become some of the most downloaded content on the conference website.
First Pitch MBA Sports Business Case Competition
The case competition presents teams with a current sports business situation and asks students to analyze the situation and present a recommendation. The initial competition was sponsored by AECOM and featured 15 teams from top MBA programs including; MIT Sloan School of Management, Harvard Business School, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, University of Virginia Darden School of Business, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, and Yale School of Management. The MIT Sloan School of Management team was the winner of the inaugural competition.
The 6th annual conference was held from March 2–3, 2012 at the Hynes Convention Center located in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston. The attendance grew by over 50% from 2011 (13x increase since 2007) to over 2,200 guests with a waitlist of 250. There were 23 panels featuring over 100 panelists, and had representatives from 5 current championship teams, including: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Manchester United F.C. CEO David Gill, Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, New York Giants Chairman Steve Tisch, and current Houston Astros GM and former St. Louis Cardinals Vice President Jeff Luhnow.
The conference had multiple panels running simultaneously and covered the sports of baseball, basketball, football, hockey, soccer, tennis, motorsports. A groundbreaking eSports panel, highlighting the growth of competition in video games, panel was also featured. 11 first-time panels were introduced and addressed topics both on the business and operations of sports. The conference theme of celebrating analytics was exemplified through images of analytical decisions displayed throughout the venue. Among those included were Brain Westbrook taking a knee on the 1 yard-line with 2 minutes left to allow the Eagles to run out the clock, Greg Popovich employing Hack-a-Shaq in key moments, New Orleans Saints onside kick to start the 2nd half of the 2010 Super Bowl, and the Patriots allowing a touchdown while leading with 64 seconds to play in the 2012 Super Bowl.
"This conference is a culmination of 30 years of my work."
The most popular panels were In the Best Interest of the Game: The Evolution of Sports Leagues, which addressed how leagues have evolved and what the future holds regarding both on-field and off-field issues, Fanalytics which looked how to predict fan behavior and improve the fan experience drive revenues, and Franchises in Transition which highlighted the various strategies used by teams to achieve success.
- In the Best Interest of the Game: The Evolution of Sports Leagues was moderator by ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon and was headlined by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, sports agent Scott Boras, NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, MLB Executive Vice President of Labor Relations Rob Manfred and Steve Tisch.
- Fanalytics was composed of Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard, New England Patriots President Jonathan Kraft, ESPN Executive Vice President John Walsh, MLB Executive Vice President Tim Brosnan, Mark Cuban and Bill Simmons.
- Franchises in Transition, moderated by Around the Horn host Tony Reali, included Rita Benson LeBlanc of the New Orleans Saints, Paraag Marathe of the San Francisco 49ers, Brian Burke of the Toronto Maple Leafs, George Postolos of the Houston Astros, and Daryl Morey.
Each day of the conference ended with a live B.S. Report with Bill Simmons interviewing Bill James on Friday and Mark Cuban on Saturday. The ESPN show Numbers Never* Lie, hosted by Michael Smith and Charissa Thompson, was broadcast live from the conference on Friday afternoon and conversed with conference panelists Mark Shapiro, Paraag Marathe, and Bill James. The conference continued its success in attracting new, interesting and unique research papers and Evolution of Sports talks. Some new facets unveiled for this conference included the inaugural Alpha Awards for sports analytics achievement as well as the inaugural Trade Show Business Competition. The conference website also added a sports analytics blog and job board.
The research paper track received over 100 submissions and 20 authors were selected to display their work at the conference, with 10 chosen to given 20 minute presentations. The presenters competed for the $7,500 Grand Prize. The paper Deconstructing the Rebound with Optical Tracking Data by Rajiv Maheswaran was awarded the Grand Prize. CourtVision: New Visual and Spatial Analytics for the NBA by Kirk Goldsberry received second place. Additionally, the inaugural ESPN "Fan’s Choice" award was initiated. The competition was featured in the March 5th issue of ESPN The Magazine and voting occurred online. There were over 900,000 total votes and the paper Effort vs. Concentration: The Asymmetric Impact of Pressure on NBA Performance by Matthew Goldman and Justin Rao was crowned the winner.
Evolution of Sport (EOS)
The Evolution of Sport (EOS) presentations returned for a second year and featured 11 talks selected from over 80 submissions. 11 additional talks were specifically sought out by the organizing team for their unique ideas. The winning talk was, From 5 to 13: Redefining the Positions of Basketball by Muthu Alagappan. Other topics touched on included, Mixed Martial Arts, concussions, the force of slam dunks, automated journalism, the America's Cup, and NASCAR driver development.
First Pitch MBA Sports Business Case Competition
The competition, sponsored by the NFL, asked 21 teams of MBA students from top global programs to analyze a current business situation facing the league. Specifically, students were asked to refine methods teams use to "right size" professional football stadiums. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business (Josh Yelsey, Moon Javaid, Shreena Amin) won the competition.
Trade Show Business Competition
The competition gave 12 start-ups "4 Good Minutes" to explain their business and its role within the sport industry. StarStreet, a real money sports stock market, won the inaugural competition and the $3,500 cash prize. MC10, who develops next generation of electronic systems and SportBoard, who provides scouting and assessment software for all levels of sports were the other finalists.
The conference created the 1st Annual Alpha Awards to recognize people and organizations that have changed sports by defying conventional wisdom through sports analytics. The following were the inaugural winners:
- Lifetime Achievement – Bill James
- Best Analytics Organizations – Tampa Bay Rays
- Best Analytics Decision – Dallas Mavericks (Rick Carlisle's decision to change the starting lineup for games 4,5, and 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals)
- Best Analytics Innovation – Prozone 3
- Best Research Paper – Deconstructing the Rebound with Optical Tracking Data by Rajiv Maheswaran
- Best EOS Talk – From 5 to 13 – Redefining the positions in basketball by Muthu Alagappan
The 7th annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was held from March 1–2, 2013 at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC). Attendance grew by over 25% from 2012 to more than 2,700 guests and featured 125 panelists across 30 panels. Featured panelists included: Michael Lewis, Mark Cuban, Nate Silver, R.C. Buford, Brian Burke, Jack Del Rio, Herman Edwards, Stan Kasten, Jonathan Kraft, Andrea Kremer, Jackie MacMullan, Steve Pagliuca, Bill Polian, Adam Silver, John Skipper, and Stan Van Gundy.
The conference featured multiple panels running simultaneously and covered a range of topics across sports and the business of sports. Featured panels included "Revenge of the Nerds," which covered the rise of probabilistic thinking using objective data in decision making across all disciplines, "The Changing Nature of Ownership" highlighting the challenges and opportunities for today's’ owners and their various partners, and "It’s Not You, It’s Me," which discussed whether or not coaches get fired with too great a frequency, and what the data tells us about how these breakups impact performance.
The theme of the 2013 conference was "Going Back to the Data." Specifically, the conference explored how today’s thought leaders have found more meaningful ways to analyze, visualize and prioritize data to improve decision making. The discussion examined the influence of big data, the rise of technology, and the evolving competitive advantage analytics provides.
The conference continued to emphasize and promote innovation in the sports industry through conference staples such as the research paper competition and Evolution of Sport (EoS) series. Each was again a featured part of the conference, drawing packed audiences across the two days. In the research paper category, "The Value of Flexibility in Baseball Roster Construction" by Timothy Chan and Douglas Fearing took home first prize, while "The Automated Prospect Model" by Adam Guttridge was selected as the best EoS presentation.
Opportunities for students and start-ups to share their ideas remained a focus with the third annual "First Pitch" business case competition sponsored by Major League Baseball Advanced Media. In a similar forum, the second annual Trade Show Blitz Competition provided space for exploring new, unique ideas in sports analytics from start-up companies.
The conference's impact on the sports industry continued to grow with over 100 media mentions over the two-day conference, including articles from Bloomberg, Forbes, The New York Times, and Sports Illustrated. Additionally, the conference trended #3 nationally on Twitter and in the top 5 internationally, with 22,000 #ssac or #ssac13 tweets posted throughout the conference.
"From Ripple to Revolution," co-chair Daryl Morey began in echoing the theme of the 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. "Things start small, and using analytics, eventually become a necessary part of competing." Morey’s panel with some of the great innovators in sports – Bill James and Nate Silver – kicked off a conference which has become the fabric of the sports analytics revolution. In 2014, 2000+ attendees representing 300+ teams, leagues and sports-related organizations descended on Boston to hear the latest in the development and use of sports analytics. Expanding far beyond the attendees at the Hynes Convention Center, the conference trended on Twitter as high as third throughout the US, with conference attendees relaying quotes and insights to a broad online audience, while hundreds followed panel live-streams on YouTube. Eight years into the conference’s history, nearly every aspect of the sports industry has been impacted by the data revolution. Once again co-chaired by Jessica Gelman and Morey, the 2014 version featured 25 panels, 27 presentations, and 100+ speakers. Innovation in sports analytics remained a primary focus, with over 300 entries in the research paper competition and a series of Evolution of Sports talks by analytics thought-leaders. The role of analytics on the business side of the industry also increased in prominence, with an expanded Competitive Advantage series highlighting the growing role of data in managerial decision-making.
The heart of the conference remained the panels featuring pre-eminent analytic and industry leaders. The talk of the first day centered around its culmination, the "Building a Dynasty" panel in which Jonathan Kraft talked with Jackie MacMullan about the Patriots’ run in the 2000s and Phil Jackson discussed how he led the Bulls and Lakers to 11 NBA Championships. In other Day 1 highlights, panelists discussed the increasing use of analytics on the field, in the front office, and in the boardroom, including entrepreneurs sharing their stories in "Starting a Sports Business," featuring founder-CEOs Kevin Plank of Under Armour, Michael Rubin of Fanatics and Casey Wasserman of his eponymous sports marketing and talent agency.
This set the stage for a fast-paced Day 2, when a massive crowd filled the main ballroom to watch Malcolm Gladwell engage new NBA commissioner Adam Silver in a heated one-on-one that had the basketball world talking. There was a major splash on the diamond as well with MLB Advanced Media using the SSAC stage to roll out its defensive tracking technology that will fundamentally change the way baseball players are evaluated.
While league luminaries, front-office decision-makers and industry leaders spoke about how they are employing analytics in decision-making on the panel stage, the next major advances in sports analytics were shared through research papers, Competitive Advantage presentations, Evolution of Sport talks, Tradeshow competition and the First Pitch MBA case competition. Second Spectrum Inc. won best research paper for the second time in the conference's history based on defining basketball’s rebounding statistic into three separate quantifiable skills. Peter Carr won the EoS competition for his work on "Broadcasting Live Sports Automatically Using Robotic Cameras."  Swingbyte, Inc. was judged to be the top presenter at the startup trade show, marketing a product that gives golfers real-time swing analysis on their phones. The team from the University of Wisconsin School of Business captured Aramark’s First Pitch MBA case competition on the analytics of the fan experience, and best transaction was awarded to the three-team trade between the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, and Chicago White Sox. New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson was given the Lifetime Achievement Alpha Award for his career in baseball, including his role on the forefront of applying sabermetrics in the front office while GM of the Athletics and mentor to Billy Beane and his subsequent tenures as GM of the San Diego Padres and New York Mets. The conference continued to be a hotbed for recruiting and hiring within the industry. The introduction of a resume review session, "Career Conversations" between students and business leaders, and a panel on breaking into the sports world highlighted the opportunities and interest of the next generation of sports professionals who will carry forward the revolution.
“This year it has been incredible to see the growth of sports analytics both in breadth and depth” conference chair Jessica Gelman exclaimed to kick off the 2015 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Continuing as the preeminent sports industry conference, SSAC15 also grew in breadth and depth as it pushed out the limits of data analytics and sport, delivering two days of groundbreaking innovation and discussion. The conference welcomed three commissioners: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, and MLS Commissioner Don Garber, once again highlighting the growing acceptance of sports analytics.
The much anticipated 2015 conference brought together leading sports innovators, influencers and technologies at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center February 27–28. The ninth annual conference drew more than 3,200 attendees (a 50% growth from 2014), representing over 100 professional teams and 300 sports industry organizations. Featuring 29 panels and 15 Competitive Advantage presentations, the conference delved into themes for every fan and industry professional with topics ranging from early analytic adopters, player contract negotiations, entrepreneurship, sports betting, the future of sports media, the value of digital media for fan engagement, adapting and expanding the game for the modern fan and the future of sports analytics. Attendees enjoyed insights from Shane Battier and Sue Bird equating data analytics to another tool in their arsenal similar to a jump shot or strength training; Commissioner Silver, Jonathan Kraft and Marie Donoghue shared their unique vision on media rights and the ever-changing landscape of fan consumption; and SSAC veterans Brian Burke, Nate Silver, RC Buford and Scott Pioli got into heated discussions about how much to attribute the improvement of sports to analytics and how analytics will contribute to the future of sport over the next 5–10 years Other conference speakers included industry veterans such as Wyc Grousbeck, Sean Payton, Oliver Luck, Bob Myers, Jackie MacMullan and many more.
The SSAC research paper competition continued to remain at the forefront of sports analytics research and showcased some of the most exciting and cutting-edge developments in the theory and practice of sports analytics. Several teams of researchers and academics presented their findings to a panel of expert judges, who produced a split outcome, with two teams sharing the first-place prize. The first team, a group of statisticians at Harvard University, introduced “Counterpoints,” a framework for quantifying basketball players’ defensive contributions based on their ability to suppress and alter shots. The second team, a duo of analysts at Baseball Info Solutions, developed a method to quantify and more finely assign credit for pitch framing to catchers, batters, pitchers and umpires.
The conference featured two inaugural and fully interactive events: the Data Science and Visualization Zone presented by Booz Allen Hamilton and the SSAC Hackathon presented by ESPN’s Stats & Info Group. The Data Science and Visualization Zone included groundbreaking technological demos, conversation areas, and presentations. The SSAC Hackathon featured students from top universities competing for a coveted internship with ESPN as well as professionals from industry leading companies. Participants analyzed and presented innovative ways to visualize NFL data in order to improve the fan and media experience.
The conference continued to be a leading recruiting and hiring tool for the sports industry. Lines were out the door early Saturday morning for “Career Conversations” as students met 1-1 with sports business leaders to learn about roles in the sports industry, followed by a panel on breaking into the coveted industry.
SSAC 2015 built on the successes of previous years’ conferences and continued to pioneer the field of sports analytics. With its original content, invited speakers and showcase of advanced technological innovations, SSAC 2015 once again set the industry conference standard in sports analytics.
- The MIT Sloan EMS Club is a student-run club that aims to help MIT Sloan students learn about its target industries as well as extend the MIT Sloan brand as a leading business school in the entertainment, media, and sports worlds.
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