2012 SSAC Preview: A look at the Evolution of Sport session

This is the second of my three-part preview of the 2012 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.  In this post I will look at the Evolution of Sport presentations from a soccer analytics perspective.

The SSAC added an Evolution of Sport (EOS) session last year to highlight presentations on ideas, technologies, or thoughts that have the potential to change the way people approach, play, and analyze sport.  One could view the EOS session in the same light as the famous TED conferences and their derivatives, which is a comparison that the SSAC organizers would welcome.

A total of 80 proposals were submitted for EOS, and after a couple of evaluation rounds a final group of 18 were selected.  Unlike the Research Paper competition, the EOS presentations span a wide range of sports and sport technologies, from basketball and baseball to American football, motorsport, combat sports and biologically- and psychologically-based technologies. None of the finalists are presenting anything overtly soccer-related.   In fact, most of the talks have a narrow focus on their sport of interest and limited applicability as a result.  There are some interesting talks on sports training, nutrition, medicine, and psychology but the research that links those fields to in-match performance is very much in its infancy and not my focus right now.

From my perspective, only two EOS presentations have attracted my interest.

The first is an invited talk called “QBR: What ESPN Analytics Learned” by Dean Oliver and Jeff Bennett.  Dean is the author of Basketball on Paper and held a quantitative analyst position with the Denver Nuggets before heading ESPN’s Production Analytics group last year.  Jeff is a senior manager with ESPN’s Stats and Information Group.  QBR is an enhanced rating system for assessing quarterbacks that is more involved than the current QB rating formula used by the NFL (and other football leagues). It’s not soccer-related, to be sure, but the group learned how advanced sport analytics can be used in the context of a sports media company.  Moreover, there are some elements of the QBR, such as win probability and expected points, that are related to some metrics used in the soccer analytics community.

The second is the presentation that I really want to see: “The Revolution in Advanced Sport Analytic Systems” by Kevin Goodfellow, founder and CEO of Sports Data Hub, a sports data management company. In fact, before I clicked on the expand button on the EOS page, I said to myself, “Only Kevin would give a talk like this”, so I was pleased to find out that it will be him. I first met Kevin at SSAC two years ago and have valued his professional and personal support to my venture from the start.  Last year he gave an EOS talk on “Elite Sports Analysis: Three Things You Must Know”, which was an excellent presentation of the sports analytics value chain.  This year he follows up with a talk — I believe — on the role that Big Data will play in the development of all elements of value chain.  I heard that he was going to mention something else, so I’m eager to find out.  Get there early; Kevin’s talk are to the point and very short — last year his EOS talk lasted just 8 minutes!

That’s it for part two.  Coming up tomorrow will be a preview of the most important part of the conference from a soccer POV: the Soccer Analytics forum.