Mike VigLast month, I had the opportunity to once again attend the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. The goal of the conference is to provide a forum to discuss the increasing role of analytics in the sports industry, and ESPN has been the presenting sponsor since 2010. Having been a sports fanatic and stats nerd my entire life, I was extremely excited to attend the conference for the second time as an MBA student. ESPN columnist Bill Simmons has even nicknamed the conference Dorkapalooza, which is definitely not something to be embarrassed by.

At this year’s conference, I was extremely excited to have a larger group of Badgers with me. Fellow brand center students, Angie Peltzer and Eric Janssen, as well as first-year classmate Joren Thompson, and I, attended the conference together. Over the course of two days, we would have the opportunity to attend core panel discussions, a trade show, sponsor exhibits, and research forums. At every event we attended, we constantly had opportunities to interact with and meet with famous athletes, industry leaders, and company executives.

Mike Vig with John Clayton

Through connections that Angie and I made at the conference last year, we both landed part-time jobs with Zebra Technologies as player tracking system specialists. We ended up working on Zebra’s NFL Next Gen Stats project as members of the Green Bay Packers team at Lambeau Field on game days. Angie and I had a phenomenal experience over the course of this past season as we interacted with NFL players, coaches, referees, and other personnel in order to bring a new layer of data to the league and game day broadcasts. With the Zebra team back in Boston to demonstrate their technology at this year’s conference, Angie and I were able to spend time with various team members and discuss plans for the upcoming season.

Outside of these talks with Zebra, the numerous panel discussions were a highlight of the conference for me (see below for details on some of the panels I attended). Generally, the panels provide attendees with the opportunity to learn from panelists’ past experiences and also interact with the panelists in a Q&A format. One of the panels that I found most interesting was the Serving the Sports Fan with Analytics panel. In this panel, it was great to hear FiveThirtyEight.com founder Nate Silver discuss how analytics can either be the building blocks for telling engaging stories or can simply be dry lists of numbers that fans don’t pay attention to. For me, these discussions led to insights that can be taken outside of the sports arena and applied to general business practices as well.

All in all, having the opportunity to attend the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference for a second time is one of the most memorable events from my second year in the MBA program here at UW-Madison. I first learned of this conference through my connections at Wisconsin, and I hope that incoming students will take advantage of similar opportunities in the future.

Analytics in Action

A few of the notable panel sessions I attended:

Moneyball Reunion, featuring:

  • Billy Beane, EVP of Baseball Operations for the Oakland A’s (unable to attend)
  • Michael Lewis, Author, Moneyball and The Blind Side
  • Bill James, Preeminent Statistician, Historian, and Author
  • Jackie MacMullan, Senior Writer ESPN

Analytics in Action, featuring:

  • Shane Battier, Retired NBA Champion
  • Sue Bird, Point Guard, Seattle Storm
  • Dean Oliver, Vice President of Data Science, TruMedia
  • Jeff Van Gundy, ESPN Analyst and Former NBA Coach
  • Kevin Arnovitz, Basketball Writer, ESPN

Serving the Sports Fan with Analytics, featuring:

  • Neil Greenberg, Sports Writer Washington Post
  • Sharon Katz, Sports Analytics Writer ESPN
  • Nate Silver, Statistician, Author and Founder of FiveThirtyEight
  • Pablo Torre, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine & ESPN.com
  • Alok Pattani, Associate Director – Sports Analytics ESPN

Panel A