With Daryl Morey departing the Rockets and Billy Beane leaving Oakland, sports analytics has lost two of its most ardent advocates in two weeks, prompting some to wonder if the field has gone out of fashion and will be less important in the future.
Not a chance.
Yes, as founder and CEO of a sports data analytics firm I want the field to advance. But digging deeper shows analytics isn’t moribund — it’s maturing. Organizations are demanding not big data but deep data: they want focused, actionable insights that help their people.
Case in point: Stats Performs’ analytics recent work on shape vs. formation. They distilled something extraordinarily complex and dynamic (shape) to quantify effects of players’ actual on-field alignment on a key objective (goalscoring). Deep data, not big.
Skeptics might answer, ‘OK but what about the 76ers’ replacing Brett Brown with Doc Rivers? Isn’t that a departure from data?’ Not necessarily. I read it as reaching for balance in how data is used. Remember Brown overlapped general manager Sam Hinkie, whose heavy numbers approach wasn’t the easiest to understand.
Philadelphia highlights that analytics isn’t about replacing practitioners with data, it’s about respecting them and supporting them with insights that amplify their expertise. This is where organizations that haven’t had success with analytics often go wrong and helping them get it right is the challenge for the field today.
I’m confident we’ll meet that challenge. As MIT Sloan professor Ben Shields notes, analytics in sports is already way more advanced than business more broadly. We’re climbing out of the trough of disillusionment. We’re coming of age.
And the future looks promising. UConn’s second annual sports analytics conference for high schoolers and undergrads this month suggests rising generations don’t want to ditch data. Why would they? Analytics creates opportunity to explore new concepts and apply talents, sometimes in totally new contexts.
Watch for Billy Beane to do just that in European football reportedly with — you guessed it — Liverpool. And you better believe Daryl Morey will bring his analytics-heavy focus to his next chapter. In the meantime, rest assured reports of analytics’ decline are greatly exaggerated.
I’ll be sharing thoughts on sport’s most impactful developments and news of the day in the coming weeks. I welcome your feedback at email@example.com.