Opinion/Editorial Sports Technology

Changing the Game: How Big Data Is Revolutionizing Sports


If you’d asked me in August where’d I’d be this weekend, I would have said back in my home state at my alma mater’s homecoming football game, catching up with classmates and creating new memories with old friends.

If you ask me now, I’ll be at a local pub where I can hopefully convince the bartender to dedicate one of their TVs to the game.

After several weeks of deliberation, my fiancé and I decided to skip booking expensive plane tickets and stadium seats and forego traveling back home. Even the draw of catching up with old friends wasn’t worth the time and money needed to spend the weekend watching our beloved team lose.

Besides, at the pub, we could watch more than one game, which lets us keep tabs on our fantasy players as we simultaneously wax nostalgic about our college days.

Fantasy Football and Big Data: It used to be that banding together with fans all wearing the same color and cheering the same team was what football was about. Now, it seems the camaraderie comes more in the form of playful jabs and relentless side-betting on fantasy football rosters, rather than complete teams.

From a coaching perspective, individual player statistics have become an integral part of professional and collegiate athletics. As statistics became more available to team managers, the most avid sports fans jumped on board with cries of, “Me too!”

Now, fans are able to get closer to understanding teams’ 11th-hour decisions and feel more in tune with players than ever. Add to that the interactivity of fantasy leagues and you’ve got a recipe for obsessed observers.

Still, even with facts and figures drawing increased engagement, attendance to sporting events is down — and so may be team loyalty. Fantasy team players have access to statistics that make them more likely to root for single players than entire teams. A fan might have the defensive line of one team squaring off against the quarterback of the opposing team — this makes for some interesting loyalties in sports viewing.

Fans are increasingly opting for the comforts of home (or a pub) over a big stadium experience. This way, viewers are able to track their fantasy players across multiple games; save money on food, drinks, and seats; and know they’re not going to get caught in bad weather.

Sports analytics is changing the way we experience sports, even if the rules of play haven’t changed in decades.

Data in Team Decisions: Sports teams are getting smarter. Just like the average fantasy player, decisions that may impact a team’s roster are less gut-based than they are data-driven.

The amount of data available about any given player in a specific situation, hypothetical or otherwise, is astounding. With the rise of sports analytics, professional and collegiate teams alike are able to make more educated decisions about who to draft, who to play, and who not to take a risk on.

Big data is making previously personal decisions easier for coaching staff under pressure. It’s much easier to back up a call that goes sour with numbers than with gut feelings. Management and fans are both more in-tune with those decisions, and prone to be more sympathetic to coaching staff.

Our prolific media connections puts the same statistics into fans’ hands that coaches use to make daily decisions. You may not have the tech to run the same analyses, but having information available increases both understanding and engagement. However, it’s a little hard to absorb all that information while sitting on the 40 yard line and yelling.

Fan Attendance: Anyone who has ever played competitive sports can tell you that the experience is heightened by having an energetic crowd. Engaged fans lend purpose and palpable energy to the players.

However, with fan loyalties splitting and shifting, supporting a team isn’t enough to draw people to the stadium anymore.

Recent trends show that fan attendance is down. Stadium seats aren’t nearly as comfortable as couches are, snacks aren’t within arms reach, and three hours of television generally costs less than an event ticket.

Mobile interconnectedness has increased the expectation when it comes to user experiences. You have apps on your phone for everything. A lot of them probably serve to make your life easier or more entertaining.

Stadiums need to do the same. Technology-driven millennials are becoming the majority of sports spectators, and they demand different experiences than previous generations. It’s time for sports teams to up their game, so to speak.

Updating the Experience: Some arenas already offer you the future. Game day apps allow you to order food and drinks directly to your seat, find the bathroom with the shortest line, and replay game moments on your phone.

While apps like these are offering you the most convenient game day experience, they’re also providing the stadium managers with information about what their fans want and value. This data can then be analyzed to continue customizing the fan experience and offering personalized perks.

For instance, it doesn’t make sense to send a single, recently graduated college alum who holds season tickets an offer for a family pack of tickets to an upcoming game. By updating fan information, sporting venues can target different sections of their market with promotions that interest that demographic specifically.

Avid fantasy players may be drawn in by real-time stats that are only available in-stadium, and season-ticket holders will want information about last-minute seat upgrades for cheap. It’s all about leveraging data to bring the fans what they want.

Big Data to the Rescue: Updating the fan experience is essential to retaining fan loyalty — and their money. Spectators will once again fill the stands when sports teams can prove that they not only provide all the comforts of home, but add something extra as well. Having the most extravagant stadium is no longer enough.

Providing a personalized fan experience makes the arena feels like a second home. Big data is making this the norm by leveraging what sports teams know about fans to create a tailor-made experience worth leaving the couch for.

Don’t throw away your favorite player’s jersey just yet — you might find yourself back in the stands before you know it.


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