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Why Analytics is Taking Over Professional Sports

Keeping with Sports Week, I take a high-level look at the increasing value being placed on analytics in the sporting world and in particular, why. This is based on observations this career coaching professional has seen and observed from clients directly involved in the professional sports and entertainment business.

Analytics in Sports (Photo: iStockphoto)

Analytics in Sports (Photo: iStockphoto)

Analytics eliminate emotion from personnel decisions
More and more you hear about finance or consulting superstars being hired by professional sports teams to apply their analytical, stock-picking methodologies to pursuing and choosing “right,” saving teams money and maximizing the odds of winning. Adding greater weight to empirical evidence around productivity and historical performance (just like estimating a company’s future cash flow and analyzing historical stock price) can tell you something about, let’s say, a college athlete’s future performance. The more success teams enjoy, the longer analytics will become part of the decision making process.

Analytics can give teams and franchises an Expert Network-type edge
Analytics can find significant correlations between seemingly unrelated factors in the same way that the best hedge funds leveraged “expert networks” (I will not comment on the legality or ethical question surrounding the practice) and delivered excess returns to shareholders for many years. Teams that apply analytics are more likely to find and exploit weaknesses in opponents or diamonds in the rough in terms of landing inexpensive talent.

Applying analytics can drive models that accurately forecast future performance
Analytics enables sports franchises to simplify complex data sets into insights that are translatable and quickly understood. The best analytics people in sports are outstanding financial and business modelers, and those that are the most successful usually come up with their own predictive system that they continually test, refine and challenge. If you feel like you might have a future in this, attend the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference held every year in Cambridge, MA, and test your wits against the very best. Who knows, a team out there in the NBA, NFL, or MLB might pick you up!

Debra Wheatman is a certified writer and career coach who has guided the professional development of thousands of clients globally. She is reachable at

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