Recently, I attended the 11th annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, in Boston. As a big sports enthusiast, spending time with this diverse group of professional athletes, sports leagues, teams, agents, media, data scientists, engineers, vendors, and students was particularly exciting. Since moving to the United States about 20 years ago, I have been an avid personal follower of basketball and football – and professionally – believe that sports analytics are changing this industry.
My colleague Yasuyuki Kataoka had his research paper accepted for presentation at the event. He was one of 20 selected out of over 200 submissions – but what really stood out to me is that because of NTT i3’s partnerships, we are able to go beyond postulating theories and work with our partners to develop solutions that solve real world problems. His research on wearable devices, real time data, and data visualization points to the opportunity for some powerful near future changes in the world of auto racing.
It’s clear that the kind of digital transformation, technology adoption, and business strategy changes that we have been witnessing in the enterprise are also occurring in the world of sports. The sports industry is increasingly getting into analytics – from sports writers talking about data analytics instead of just what they’re seeing on the field, to team management making better player performance and business decisions. Teams are now using technology to ask and answer some really interesting questions. How is stress impacting a team’s players? How can management gain a better understanding of an individual’s physical factors (like cardio) that can affect a player’s performance? How can management make better strategic decisions, based not only on physical movements, but also physiology?
Listening to the leaders on the forefront of sports and technology, and interacting with fellow attendees, my key takeaways from MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference include:
Sports Science, Not Just Analytics: This was a big theme at the conference. While the industry has been measuring activity metrics like distance, heart rate and speed, it can now gain greater insights and context from data analytics, versus simple collection. To do that, data scientists and teams need to take a holistic look at all of the numbers for a deeper understanding of a professional athletes’ physiology. What are they eating? Does their DNA make them better at athletics? How do hormone levels impact recovery periods? These types of insights will provide a more leverageable advantage, as players can be better conditioned for improved performance and team management can make more strategic decisions about who’s on the field or court.
Ethics and Morality of Analytics: When we look at all the data that we are now gathering, the question of ethics and morality come into play. How much information should we share? How can this information help or hurt a player? Who should own and have access to all this data? While science and technology are providing access and analysis, we also have to provide moral guidelines for use and distribution. Team owners, players and sports leagues are engaging in debates on the ethics and morality of analytics. Overall, the younger players – more than older individuals – were willing to share their information. In order to move forward, we need to educate and make sure that all participants agree on how information will be extracted, used and shared.
As shared by NBA player Luis Scola, sports analytics is something that is here to stay, whether or not athletes like it. Data is being used to empower players, help better manage their schedules and health, and drive evolution of personnel decisions from being subjective to objective.
Augmented and Virtual Reality: Augmented and virtual reality are hot topics in the sports industry, with opportunities ranging from improving the fan experience to providing a new way to train athletes and sign on new talent. Professional sports teams are using VR to attract star players. They can present what the experience would look like in an arena, how it would be to play with the team, and what they would look like in a team’s outfit.
Stadium Technology to Enhance Fan Engagement: Stadiums are bringing in new technologies to enhance and transform the fan engagement experience. Stadiums need to be more than just a place to see a game. They can sell an entire sports experience through new advertising platforms, as well as improve food and beverage sales with location-based technology so that fans no longer have to wait in line. The financial future of stadiums is going to be built around monetizing the fan engagement experience.
With digital technology’s rapid pace of change, athletes, teams and leagues must adapt if they want to keep fans engaged in a world that offers many competing entertainment options. The reality is that data can give a more accurate presentation on performance, rather than teams guessing how an athlete can and is performing.
And as we are seeing in the sports industry, the “what if you could” scenarios are now a reality – which aligns with one of NTT i3’s biggest strengths, our ability to collaborate, innovate, and bring ideas to life. We innovate for a reason, and that is to solve real world problems. What’s particularly exciting to me is that we, as technology leaders, are building and providing better and more impactful solutions each year.