The sports industry has always collected significant data on team interactions, player performance, and other factors, but only recently has technology offered capabilities sufficient enough to take advantage of these data. And the sports industry isn’t alone—by 2025, it’s estimated that people will create more than 463 exabytes of data every day. An exabyte, for reference, is 1,000,000 Terabytes.
But now, managers, broadcasters, analysts, and even gamblers are employing better, more intensive methods to crunch the numbers and learn more about their favorite players and teams. What does this mean for the future of sports, and how can you take advantage of it?
Jobs and Roles
As a kid, you might have dreamed of playing for your favorite sports team. As you got older, you might have reigned in your expectations, daydreaming instead about simply working for your favorite sports team. Now, thanks to the plethora of job opportunities opening up, it’s more possible than ever to get involved in the sports industry.
For example, you can learn about management analytics in the sports industry and use your training to qualify for an analyst position. Depending on your field of specialty, you may be directly involved with internal team insights, helping coaches and players improve, or you might be in charge of communicating your findings with the masses, preparing your statistics for display. In any case, the economic and career opportunities in the sports industry are evolving thanks to better access to data.
One of the most exciting prospects of data analytics for team owners is the possibility of better understanding the worth of each athlete. A quick glance at the annual contracts of some of sports’ best players makes it obvious why this is important. Mike Trout of the Angels makes $35.8 million a year. James Harden of Houston and John Wall of Washington each make $42.3 million a year. Lionel Messi, the Argentinian soccer star, is making $80+ million in salary, and even more in endorsement deals.
How can you know for sure that these players are really worth what you’re paying them? You can do some armchair math to calculate the revenue of a given sports team, and figure out just how big an impact each player makes to the team, but if you want more specific, action-inspiring answers, you’ll need to dig deep into the numbers. Managers now have a method to tell, almost definitively, whether that $400 million, 10-year contract is worth it.
Performance and Improvement
Data analytics are also important for measuring performance and inspiring improvement. Experienced fans and coaches may be able to tell, at a glance, when a player’s performance is suffering, but data analytics will be able to pinpoint specific problems and, possibly, offer a solution. For example, you might notice that a player’s batting average drops in high humidity, or that a player’s free throw percentage is worse early on in a game.
There’s no limit to how data can improve our understanding of both team and individual performance. When properly harnessed, it can give anyone an edge over the competition.
Data is also important for keeping track of player health and wellbeing. Medical professionals can take vital signs of athletes before, during, and after training sessions (and games), and keep a running log of how they change. If a player shows signs of cardiovascular distress, or if they start displaying other aberrant signs, medics can take action, or the player can be benched before the problem gets any worse.
Have you noticed more onscreen statistics during your favorite sports games in recent years? That’s no coincidence. Data analysts are more than happy to share their findings with viewers, giving them detailed insights into individual player performances, comparing them to other players and speculating how they could play into the team’s overall performance—especially over time. For the most part, this makes the game more engaging to fans, and gives them new metrics to track and talk about.
It’s also worth noting that the increased attention to data analytics has been attractive to both individual gamblers and gambling institutions. Casinos and other gambling organizations feel more confident, knowing they can calculate more accurate odds of a team’s victory, while individuals feel confident if and when they know something that hard numbers can’t necessarily track.
It may seem like we’re in the middle of a data revolution in the sports industry, but realistically, we’re just beginning. These are the earliest stages of a transformation that will change how we play, work with, watch, and talk about sports. In the coming years, as we gain access to more complex types of data, we’ll have even more detailed, accurate insights to share.