Columbia student Matt Walker was on the ground for our program at the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference this past weekend in Boston, Mass. Here is a summary on what he and others learned…
CEO Casey Wasserman (Wasserman Media Group) set the scene in the opening panel of the weekend, “Use data as an equalizer. Don’t argue about the facts, argue about how to use them.” A record 3,500 attendees travelled to Boston, MA for the ‘2017 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference’ presented in conjunction with ESPN. The conference’s themes were ‘Elevating the Game’ through analytics and highlighting the beauty of the statistically improbable events that occurred over the past year.
There were a number of underlying topics explored throughout the panels including eSports, streaming media model, international market expansion and monitoring of player performance. From a fan perspective, subjects explored the disruptive technologies such as VR/AR, ticketing solutions and data capturing during the in-stadium experience. Ultimately, data driven storytelling is here to stay and it was prominent how important it will be for decision makers across all leagues in the coming years.
Without re-telling the narrative of each panel, a few of the more interesting discussions included Adam Silver (NBA Commissioner) and Nate Silver’s (Founder of FiveThirtyEight) ‘Silver Asks Silver’. This one-on-one interview of each other covering topics such as global expansion, the NBA’s forward-thinking mindset and use of data to provide the vision for strategies in the future. Adam Silver opened up on a conversation he received recently from Chris Paul (NBA Players Association President) regarding ‘hitting the reset button’ on the nature of the NBA All-Star game and its non-competitiveness seen in 2017. To note, this ‘Silver Asks Silver’ discussion was streamed on Facebook Live reaching over 275,000 people.
The crowd was witness to the Mark Cuban (Owner of Dallas Mavericks) and Nate Silver politically heated debate, aptly named ‘Shark vs. Fox’. Cuban was pressed about his potential 2020 presidential campaign and left the crowd in shock with some honest opinions on the current US President Donald Trump. When Silver asked if Cuban would do for a state-based or senate position, Cuban simply stated: “if I go down, I’m going down after the big dog”. In closing, Cuban was open to involvement in politics although frank with his stance, “I am an influencer and I want to be involved. But I’m not going to walk around wearing knee pads to get votes.”
One of the most energetic and transparent panels was the ‘Art of Negotiation’ with Bob Myers (GM of Golden State Warriors), Daryl Morey (GM of Houston Rockets) and agent for the NBA coaches, Warren LeGarie (President of WGL Management). As an audience, one witnessed arguments surrounding the most aggressive agents in the NBA, unique negotiation styles and what some GM’s do to ensure they get deals done. The common message from these esteemed professionals was to ‘find your own voice. Don’t try and be someone else and find your own voice’.
On a personal note, the panel called ‘International Growth – Targeting a Bigger Market’ included NBA’s Mark Tatum (Deputy Commissioner and COO), NFL’s Mark Waller (EVP of International) and NHL’s David Proper (EVP, Media and International Strategy). Two key takeaways, that each of the panelists shared examples of, were ‘Considerations of Expansion’: i) understanding the unique cultural behaviors and psychographics; ii) create partnerships with the right brands and organizations; and iii) establish relationships with government officials and sport ministries. Unsurprisingly, China and India were the countries that dominated this conversation for all the leagues in where energy will be invested in 2017.
What’s more, encouragement on a multi-channel strategy to engage young global fans included a balanced approach encompassing: i) grassroots participation; ii) technology integration (eSports and gaming); iii) marquee player endorsement in native country; iv) media and streaming execution on the right device; and v) social platforms engagement (story-telling and snackable content). Mark Tatum was clear in his view that ‘the old way of simply putting a ball in a kid’s hand and hope for fandom has changed’.
Outside of the speakers, interactive events included a live performance of Grandmaster Susan Polgar knocking out 10 opponents in under 50 minutes all at once! A 2-day tradeshow showcasing 24 start-ups whose devices, products and ideas received investment. There were drone races, eSports competitions and workshops on research paper’s showing concepts of products that we will see in market in the coming seasons.
For students specifically, it was a great opportunity to see the league’s decision makers and executives share the importance of data and analytics for all elements of their sports. Networking was at a premium with business cards being handed out like hotcakes and career advice bellowing in the corridors. The conference held ‘resume review’ sessions and ‘career conversation’ interviews each morning with volunteers from each of the conference sponsors meeting with the future of the sports industry. To note, the final question of most panel discussions involved ‘sharing your advice for the students in the room’. The advice that landed the most, was instilling ‘intellectual curiosity’ and making sure that you are illustrating your ability to ‘keep refreshing’ your knowledge in this ever-changing landscape.
From an organization perspective, the MIT Sloan students should be congratulated along with co-founders Jessica Gelman and Daryl Morey. The sessions were on-time, the rooms were walking distance to the next interaction and the use of mobile technology was exceptional. The native app included a dynamic schedule with alerts, biographies for each of the speakers, interactive map, voting capabilities of start-up competitions, unique twitter hashtags to ask questions and a chat feature to communicate with any of the conference attendees. Statically, the conference achieved over 980,000 tweets and 620,000 views on Facebook Live!
For those who are thinking of attending next year’s conference, it is a no-brainer. Networking, competing, deepening your knowledge or possibly engaging with an industry leader – there is something for everyone. Videos from some of the conference panels will be made available online in the next month, so be sure to check out the MIT Sloan Sports Conference website! Look forward to seeing you next year!