Whether or not their 2016 season ends with a second consecutive NBA championship, the Golden State Warriors are making Silicon Valley proud. They broke the record for regular season wins with 73. They are headlined by Stephen Curry, the dynamic and eminently likeable two-time MVP. They have established themselves among the league’s elite franchises.
Like the “unicorns” along Highway 101, the Warriors have done it all with a deep organizational commitment to data-driven decision making – both on the court and as a business. The three-pointers Steph and running mate Klay Thompson hoist seemingly without abandon are actually grounded in troves of evidence supporting the shot’s relative value. Meanwhile, the business side of the organization is leveraging fan data to more effectively drive ticket, sponsorship, and merchandise revenue.
The Warriors are not the only team pioneering the analytics revolution in sports. Organizations across an increasing number of sports and levels (professional, college, and high school) are capitalizing on data to gain a competitive edge. Indeed, few industries have implemented data-driven decision making as successfully as sports.
As General Manager and Managing Director of Basketball Operations for the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey MBA ’00 has built a team that has gone a combined 227-167 (.576) over the last five seasons and has set a number of team records. In 2010, his innovative integration of statistical analytics into the evaluation of NBA talent, earned Morey selection to the SportsBusiness Journal Forty Under 40, which honors the most promising young executives in sports business under the age of 40. Prior to Houston, he served as SVP of Operations for the Boston Celtics.
Morey is also the co-chair of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, a sports forum he founded in 2007 with Jessica Gelman of the New England Patriots. The conference—dubbed the “Super Bowl of sports analytics” by one ESPN columnist—examines the application of data and statistics to improve team and league performance. The fifth annual conference wrapped up over the weekend with its biggest numbers yet: five stages, 39 panels, and close to 3,000 attendees.
The MIT Sloan Experts Blog caught up with Morey recently. An edited transcript follows. Read More »
I came to baseball later in life. As a kid growing up in Greece, I played soccer, which is very popular in Europe. I then got interested in American football, and basketball, and I also followed track and field. Even after living years in Boston – a rabid Red Sox town – I never gave baseball much of a thought.
Then, a while back, a friend gave me a copy of the book Money Ball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, because he knew I was interested in analytics. (You see, I have a passion for sports, but my greater passion is analytics.) The book, by Michael Lewis, is the story of how Billy Beane – a former player who later became general manager of the Oakland A’s – used an analytical, sabermetric approach to create a winning team. The A’s were the first team to heavily depend on quantitative methods, and at the time – we’re talking 2002 here – many considered Beane’s approach very radical, even foolish. But he made believers out of his skeptics. Even with the third smallest payroll in major league baseball, the A’s were able to use quantitative methods to gain an edge.
I’m supposed to be pretty good at statistical-based predictions, but I could not have predicted how much the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytic Conference would grow in just five years. The success is not just in attendance – this year’s March 4-5 event was another sellout – but in the range of topics, sports, and speakers. And that reflects a bigger trend: analytics has expanded not just within sports such as baseball and basketball where it has been accepted, but to other professional leagues, such as hockey and football.