What Your Business Can Learn From the Intertwining of Sports and Analytics

Man balancing soccer football on his headFor many years, both on the field and in the front office, sports teams were run based largely on the intuition of those in charge. When data was brought into the equation, it was surface level in nature. Concepts like predicting future performance, examining advanced metrics, accounting for context, and optimizing win probability weren’t considerations. The few analytics-driven minds who did attempt to influence the way teams conducted business, such as noted baseball researcher Bill James, were condescendingly referred to as stat-heads and generally viewed as pariahs – outsiders who couldn’t possibly understand the game because they never played it. The majority of the decisions were driven by the intuition of a few.

But then a funny thing happened – everything changed. Player salaries began to increase, before eventually exploding. Technology empowered fans and media to scrutinize every decision and do it in real time. And the tenures of general managers and coaches started becoming shorter and shorter. In other words, a wrong decision that might have been glossed over in the past was now likely to cost your franchise millions, be publicly panned by media and fans, and eventually, if not simultaneously, cost you your job. 

Faced with a crushing pressure to make the right decision at all times, where have sports management teams turned? Analytics, of course. Moneyball was just the beginning. Front-office jobs once given to ex-Big Leaguers are now filled by Ivy Leaguers instead, and analytics have become a permanent fixture in the sports landscape, influencing everything player evaluations and contract negotiations to in-game decisions and risk taking.

But here’s the thing. Professional sports leagues aren’t exactly known for being progressive. The NFL only recently acknowledged the prevalence of concussions, Major League Baseball is only now getting around to using instant replay, and the NHL still somehow thinks fighting is okay. In other words, if slow-moving entities like professional sports leagues have embraced analytics, your business should too. 

The Dell-sponsored infographic below depicts the top five ways that businesses can take a cue from sports teams by integrating analytics into decision making processes.

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You might think that managing a pro sports team is not the same as managing a business, but the fact of the matter is that sports teams are businesses, and the realities facing managers in business are the same ones facing those in sports. Just as it is in sports, organizations that do not take advantage of the opportunities analytics present will be outmoded and disrupted, either by new entrepreneurial entrants or by competitors who have made the shift to a data-driven business model. Be it on the field or in the boardroom, you either adapt, or you get left behind.

What do you think, sports fans? Are there other best practices – whether they’re playing out in sports or in any other walk of life – businesses can emulate to improve their decision making? Drop me a line at john.whittaker@software.dell.com or on Twitter @AlertSource to share your thoughts.  

About the Author: John Whittaker