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Michael Vig

Changing the Game at MIT's Sports Analytics Conference

by Michael Vig Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I was lucky to be born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin where I was able to regularly attend University of Wisconsin sporting events starting at a young age (my mom has photos of me on my first birthday crawling on the basketball court at the Field House with Bob Knight in the background). From that time on, sports were always an important part of my life, and I played a variety of them through high school. After graduation from college, I was grateful to have a professional opportunity in sports and fitness with Pivotal 5, a hand-held fitness equipment company based in Chicago (although I remained a die-hard Packers fan). And after coming back to school for my MBA, I knew that I wanted to continue to be involved in sports in some way.

During my first semester in the MBA program, I learned about the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. The conference is a two-day event where industry professionals and students discuss the growing role of analytics in the global sports industry. I immediately knew that I wanted to attend the event (a team from UW won the 2014 event’s case competition). A fellow first-year brand student, Angie Peltzer, and I were eventually able to get tickets after being wait-listed for some time. We were extremely excited to attend the event, although we would not be participating in the case competition.

On the first day of the event, I was in awe of the attendees listed on the final agenda. I was going to be hearing from and interacting with an amazing list of panelists (see below for details on the panelist sessions I attended). In the first session, panelists discussed specific examples of how analytics has developed and what the future holds. During this session, I was surprised to hear references to topics and ideas discussed in classes during my first few months in business school. For example, regression analysis was mentioned frequently and it was interesting to understand the relevance of it in the sports world. In the second session, basketball analytics was the topic. The pros and cons of big data were reviewed and new ideas for the sport of basketball were brought up. The potential addition of a 4-point shot, elimination of player positions, and a revision to the NBA draft process were radical ideas to hear discussed. In the additional panel discussions that I attended, common themes from classwork continued to surface. Marginal cost, marginal benefit, business strategy, consumer experience, and co-branding were just a few of the topics that resonated. For me, it was extremely relevant to apply these concepts in a sports-specific business context. In one of the last panel sessions, wearable technology was discussed. The panelists talked about the use of wearable technology and how information will be used today and in the future. I was thrilled to attend this discussion since I was very familiar with the topic through my first semester core team’s ICA project work on a wearable technology product recommendation for Under Armour.

Sharing, Liking, Streaming panel with NBA commissioner Adam Silver

Sharing, Liking, Streaming panel with NBA commissioner Adam Silver

Finally, in addition to the core panel agenda discussions, the conference featured a trade show, sponsor exhibits, research papers and posters, career services, and new industry technology. The opportunity to network and meet with sports-industry companies was invaluable. Specifically, Angie and I were able to meet with representatives from Zebra Technologies. Through this connection, we are both currently working through the process to potentially become NFL project managers for a newly released player tracking system. We are both hoping that we will be hired to work this fall on game days at Lambeau Field with the Green Bay Packers.

Through my first year in the MBA program at Wisconsin, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference has been one of the most memorable events for me. Through my connections at Wisconsin, I learned about the event and was able to attend. I am definitely planning to attend next year’s conference and looking forward to future opportunities.

Panelist sessions I attended:

Innovators and Adopters, featuring:

  • Shane Battier, Basketball Analyst, ESPN
  • Michael Lewis, Author and Columnist
  • Daryl Morey, General Manager, Houston Rockets
  • Jeff Van Gundy, NBA Analyst, ESPN (brother of former UW basketball coach, Stan)
  • Jackie Macmullan, Columnist, ESPN

Basketball Analytics: Push the Tempo, featuring:

  • Shane Battier, Basketball Analyst, ESPN
  • Sue Bird, Point Guard, Seattle Storm
  • Mike D’Antoni, Former NBA Head Coach
  • Masai Ujiri, General Manager, Toronto Raptors
  • Mike Zarren, Assistant General Manager, Boston Celtics
  • Pablo Torre, Senior Writer, ESPN

NFL’s Next Generation Statistics, featuring:

  • Matt Birk, Director of Football Development, NFL
  • Marshall Faulk, Pro Football Analyst, NFL Network
  • Sean Payton, Head Coach, New Orleans Saints
  • Abe Madkour, Executive Editor, SportsBusiness Journal

Commissioner’s Perspective, featuring:

  • Rob Manfred, Commissioner, Major League Baseball
  • Brian Kenny, Host, MLB Network

Business of Sports, featuring:

  • Phil De Picciotto, Founder and President, Octagon
  • Wes Edens, Owner, Milwaukee Bucks
  • Sunil Gulati, President, US Soccer Federation
  • Steve Pagliuca, Co-Owner, Boston Celtics
  • Vivek Ranadive, Majority Owner, Sacramento Kings
  • Jessica Gelman, VP - Customer Marketing & Strategy, Kraft Sports Group

Sharing, Liking, Streaming: The Future of Sports and Media, featuring:

  • Marie Donoghue, EVP, Global Strategy and Original Content, ESPN
  • Jonathan Kraft, President, The Kraft Group
  • Adam Silver, Commissioner, NBA
  • Bonnie Bernstein, VP Content and Brand Development, Campus Insiders

Wearable Technology: Athlete Analytics, featuring:

  • Brian Kopp, President, North America, Catapult Sports
  • Kirk Lacob, Assistant General Manager, Golden State Warriors
  • Eric Petrosinelli, General Manager, Sports, Zebra Technologies
  • Andrew Hawkins, Wide Receiver, Cleveland Browns