Big Data Analytics and Sports

Our discussion on big data had me thinking of the power that analytics can have in sports if it is harnessed effectively. I was reminded of the 2011 film called Moneyball which was based on how general manager Billy Beane used analytics to immensely increase the fortunes of his MLB team, the Oakland A’s. Although the film ended with the A’s failing to reach the World Series, it generated a buzz around the massive impact that big data analytics can have on America’s greatest pastime, and any professional sport for that matter. The enormous amount of data present in sports can yield a competitive edge for those who take advantage of it. Let me explain why I think this is true.

Today, various soccer clubs, such as Arsenal who plays in the Premier League in England, are making heavy investments in big data analytics. For example, the team had 8 video cameras installed throughout its stadium that track various metrics of data for each player on the field at an astounding rate. These cameras can measure 10 data point each second — an insane amount of data points. These cameras enable the coaches and managers of Arsenal to analyze player performance to a tee, which eventually leads to a better understanding of team strengths and weaknesses, strategies for consistent improvement, and the identification of player patterns and tendencies on the pitch. This technology is especially useful in analyzing and assessing the movements of players when they are away from the ball and not involved in the play.

Analytics devices that players can wear are gradually being used by players to reduce their chance for injury. In many sports, they have become crucial in identifying injuries that players may never even notice before surgery is necessary. In fact, I have a friend at Northeastern who will be working at a new start-up called Whoop, which sells a device that sports professionals can wear and that provides extremely valuable analytics about their performance and health. I am no expert in sports analysis or player performance. But the one thing I do know is that sports teams must utilize the massive amount of data that surrounds them if they plan to remain competitive in their league and sport. The data is out there to be harnessed, but that requires large investment in the technology that enables the analysis of the data.

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