Every person in sports has one thing in common: they want to win. For years, winning was determined by ownership, front offices, and coaching. Their decisions regarding which players to draft, trade, develop, and coach had a significant impact on the outlook of the franchise. Then, in 2003, everything changed.

Oakland Athletics’ General Manager, former player Billy Beane revolutionized the world of sports forever. Beane used sabermetrics to discover the secret to success in baseball and improve the often imperfect science of sports. This was the first known use of the prioritization of statistics and data to make personnel decisions in professional sports. Beane’s thought process was simple. He theorized that a team with a high on-base percentage was a team more likely to score runs and, as a result, more likely to win more games. Beane built his team around that central tendency and helped the Athletics find success. Ever since Beane’s introduction, sports analytics has not only revolutionized baseball’s modern era but professional sports as a whole.

Today, every major professional sports team has at least one analytic expert, most frequently supported by an entire analytics department. The current sports analytics market has an evaluated net worth of $774.6 million, a small price in comparison to its expected growth. Due to analytics’ profound impact on baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and most other sports, the market is expected to grow at an astronomical compound annual growth rate of 31.2% by 2025, increasing its worth to well over four and a half-billion dollars. 

This exponential growth is a result of the competitive advantage that analytics provides a team. Mathematicians record hundreds of categories of stats on each individual player, crunching those numbers in order to provide an overall assessment of the athlete’s compatibility with the team and help make the work of scouts and general managers easier. Analysts create an overall profile of a player to determine if that player is worth drafting, signing, trading for, or even cutting.

The increased popularity of data analytics has even trickled its way down to the fans. Websites like FiveThirtyEight have over 20 journalists counting and crunching numbers for fans to gain a better understanding of an upcoming game, series, or season. Additionally, they track and project player performances as well as overall win-loss records and game results. The increased accessibility that these websites provide to fans has certainly contributed to the rampant run analytics has taken throughout athletics. 

Basketball has also been heavily impacted by the widespread use of data analytics. National Basketball Association (NBA) teams now use a form of a technology called “Player Tracking” which evaluates the efficiency of a team by analyzing individual player movement, on and off the ball. Each team now uses six cameras, installed in the catwalks of arenas, to track the movements of every player on the court and the basketball 25 times per second. This data provides a plethora of statistics on speed, distance, player separation, and ball possession. However, the way in which the data is used, determines how effective it can be. The sheer volume of data that is currently collected makes decision-making difficult for NBA franchises and results in some teams better utilizing their data than others.

Besides helping teams win, data analytics also drives customer engagement. Teams are running data-driven campaigns to understand what and when fans are watching, via app logins and online video views, in order to maximize their fan engagement. Additionally, this data is used in order to improve the in-stadium gameday experience, concession sales, improve parking lot congestion, and increase the front and back-office intelligence and overall understanding of their athletes and fanbase. 

Most recently, data analytics has made its way into the National Football League (NFL) in a fascinating manner. Harvard University senior Ella Papanek is a research and strategy intern who assisted with Cleveland Brown’s analytical preparation for its 2021 AFC wild-card game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. The NFL has quickly become a data-hungry league with websites like Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference popularizing the globalization of analytics. Papanek developed a player projection model for Cleveland’s analytics team to assess and plan for the upcoming game accordingly. Papanek is indicative of the ever-expanding market of data analytics and the countless job opportunities developing in the field.

While Billy Beane thought he was just going to turn around an abysmal Oakland Athletics team, he instead revolutionized sports forever. Data analytics has become an integral part of all major sports and provides coaches, general managers, and other stakeholders with a competitive advantage in predicting outcomes and assessing individual player performances. Professional sports have just recently scratched the surface of data analytics and the opportunities and benefits that will one day amount from it are endless.

 

On May 14th, 2018, the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, thus providing each state the decision and opportunity to legalize sports betting. This decision has revolutionized the sports gambling world, propelling the betting industry into an incredibly lucrative market space. As the rate of sports gambling continues to increase exponentially in the United States, the industry’s future remains bright. But what will the lasting impact of the wide legalization of sports betting be?

Aiming to profit from the newly legal industry, 25 states and Washington D.C. have chosen to legalize sports betting and 80% of the other states are expected to do the same in the next few years. Since then, over $20 billion in bets have been placed (ESPN). In 2020, U.S. sports betting generated one billion dollars in revenue, and that number is expected to grow sixfold by 2023 (Forbes). If betting is legalized by all 50 states, the estimated revenue would exceed $19 billion a year. 

Many companies and organizations are attempting to capitalize on this rapidly expanding industry. This includes major sports leagues in the U.S. such as the MLB, NBA, and NFL. These leagues have come to understand how strong and dedicated the sports betting demographic can be and they have chosen to support that fanbase. Scott Kaufman-Ross, the NBA’s senior vice president and head of fantasy and gaming, explains the matter.

“We want to meet the fans wherever they are and so, if [betting is] how they’re choosing to engage, we want to support that,” Kaufman-Ross said. “We’ve seen the data that shows people who play fantasy sports, people who bet on sports, they are some of our most engaged fans. They consume more content than traditional fans – they watch more games and for longer periods of time.”

Partnerships between leagues, teams, and betting platforms have also exploded in popularity in recent years. The MLB’s Chicago Cubs just inked a $100 million deal with DraftKings and the NBA has secured deals with Genius Sports Group (GSG) and Sportradar. Many other organizations are following in their footsteps, with the hopes of benefitting the leagues, teams, fans, and other companies.

“The wealth of data around US sports is impressive and the customers’ appetite is massive,” Kaufman-Ross said. “That translates in fantasy-type games being hugely popular but also, from a sports betting perspective, it’s showing a higher propensity of data-driven player propositions. The leagues have made a big step towards providing real-time data to licensed league operators and that is the basis of a partnership that can be successful for both leagues and operators while delivering a better experience for the fans and customers.”

In this past Super Bowl, over 23 million Americans reported plans to bet a total of $4.3 billion (Forbes). 7.6 million of those bets were placed online, up 63% from the previous year. Due to technology’s constant accessibility, online gambling is becoming the most popular medium. An increase in gambling addictions has come with this change.

After reviewing over 140 studies and reports related to sports gambling and addiction, the National Council on Problem Gaming (NCPG) offered a statement. “Recent research suggests that gambling problems may increase as sports gambling grows explosively at the same time that mobile and online technologies evolve to create seemingly unlimited types of wagering opportunities.” Additionally, the NCPG found that sports bettors have at least two times higher rates of addiction than other gamblers, and these rates of addiction increase in an online format. This is because online gambling provides increased convenience and privacy. 

Online sports betting has also made it easier for minors to get addicted to gambling. Many minors are able to illegally create accounts and begin betting from a young age. A recent study found that 75% more students are gambling now than in 2015, but many people are now working to counteract this growing movement. Moving forward, organizations such as the NCPG are working to research the dangers of gambling addictions and educate the public. Additionally, they are aiming to prohibit TV advertisements for sports betting and to enact stricter laws/regulations surrounding the topic. If the industry is able to reduce the amount of underage gambling as well as addiction, then the future will remain increasingly bright and astronomically lucrative. Sports betting truly is sweeping its way through the nation. So, with that being said, in one of the biggest games of the year, Alabama +3 or Georgia -3? You heard it here first: Roll Tide!