Big Data: Not just for baseball anymore
Basketball - and soccer and hockey and even mixed martial arts - are catching up to baseball in the use of Big Data and analytics
Image credit: MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference
Big Data, and the tools and analytics required to deal with it, are becoming a bigger and bigger part of just about every business these days, including professional sports. Baseball, I think even casual or non-fans know, has long been awash in statistics, from the traditional batting average and RBI to today’s more advanced statistics like VORP and WARP (don’t forget, Nate Silver first made his name with baseball analytics). Now, though, other sports are catching up, with the NBA a clear number two in the use of Big Data and analytics.
To see evidence of just how deep NBA teams are getting into Big Data, read the piece in Grantland this week on the use of the SportVU system. SportVU uses a number of cameras to record the geographical coordinates of every player movement during a game. These data can then be used by the teams to do advanced analytics.
Fifteen NBA teams (half the league) currently pay $100,000 per year for the system. Each team is on its own to then take the data and do something with it. The Grantland piece focuses on the Toronto Raptors, who seem to be taking the system the furthest. So far, they have data on 140,000 plays and can create a video of any play, showing what each player on the court did and, more importantly, what each Raptor player should have been doing on the play, based on player tendencies and coaches expectations.
It’s pretty amazing stuff that goes way beyond even the use of sports analytics that many of us learned about in Moneyball. But the use of advanced analytics based on the growth of data available to teams is growing beyond just baseball and basketball. Most professional sports leagues are at least dipping their toes into the analytics waters, if not diving in head first.
As an example, see the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which was started in 2006. The conference is sponsored by organizations like MLB, ESPN and SAS and is run by MIT Sloan School students. It’s become quite the trendy event in the sports and media world, and it really reflects the growth of Big Data analytics in professional sports.
Among the speakers at this year’s conference, earlier this month, were representatives of sports leagues and teams, broadcasting and technology companies including, of course, Nate Silver. Research papers were presented on topics such as:
Acceleration in the NBA: Towards an Algorithmic Taxonomy of Basketball Plays
Total Hockey Rating (ToHR): A comprehensive statistical rating of National Hockey League forwards and defensemen based upon all on-ice events
The value of flexibility in baseball roster construction
The hidden foundation of field vision in English Premier League (EPL) soccer players
Panel discussions were held on things like:
Hall of Fame Analytics
Predictive Sports Betting Analytics
Breaking Down the Fight: MMA Analytics
That’s right - MMA analytics. Need any more proof that Big Data and analytics are here to stay in the sports world? Maybe next year the conference will feature a panel discussion on Advance Noodling Analytics.
Personally, as a pretty big sports fan, I don’t spend much time thinking about stats or analytics, beyond the records of my favorite teams. I don’t play fantasy sports or gamble, so I tend to tune out when people start talking about stats, let alone anything particularly advanced. But I still find it interesting what these teams are doing with all the data becoming available. Plus, if it’ll help my team do better, I’m all for them going crazy with it. Have at it, nerds!
What about you? Do you think Big Data and analytics are good or bad for sports? Do they enhance your enjoyment of the games? Let’s hear your two cents in the comments.
Read more of Phil Johnson's #Tech blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Phil on Twitter at @itwphiljohnson. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.