How Big Data Is Revolutionizing Sports

How Big Data Is Revolutionizing Sports

Sarah Willis
23 March 2016

As we dive into social media analytics and how it impacts March Madness in Meltwater’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter brackets, we thought we’d explore how sports data helps light up the scoreboard.


There’s a reason you seldom see a sports player sporting a number 13 jersey; sports are superstitious. Whether it’s spitting on a baseball glove or being the last to shoot a hoop in a basketball warm-up, there are endless superstitions associated with sports. So how are cold, hard facts changing the playing field?

Sport is big business, for teams and individuals, for advertisers and sponsors, for merchandising and licensing, for media, and for games developers. Big data is a major emerging global trend in government and businesses of all levels. Access to large volumes of data can lead to greater efficiency, more accurate forecasts, the identification of new “micro markets” and better customer experience.

Sports data

Michael Lewis’s best-selling book Moneyball (2003) sparked the data revolution in sports. His book proposed that player performance should be measured using a data-centric approach rather than a subjective, intuitive system.

This data-led approach to decision making can be used in professional sports in a number of ways including when and where to scout, how to select the best team, how to mitigate the risk of injury, how to improve fitness, how to manage injuries and even how to approach contract negotiations.

Wearable technologies could take it to the next level, allowing coaches and managers to monitor players’ bodies. This could help to identify dehydration or even rises in heart rates that could put players at risk.

It’s not just managers and coaches who are making better decisions with data, players are doing it too. Former NBA player Shane Battier admitted many of his fellow players were utilizing advanced metrics to monitor their own performance.

More than this, in some instances data analysis has changed the way that performance is measured, from a simple system measuring how many points they scored to a more sophisticated system measuring player efficiency, productivity per touch and more.

Immersive user experience & increased ad inventory

Comcast recently acquired a startup called OneTwoSee, a sports data and technology company. The fast-growing Philadelphia-based company combines statistics, game data, advanced analytics and social media to provide a more engaging fan experience and to allow publishers and broadcasters to monetize their audiences with additional sponsorship and advertising opportunities.

The first collaboration between Comcast and OneTwoSee was the X1 Sports app, which provides users additional context around a sports game by pulling and aggregating game data from several sources. This provides win probabilities for teams and individuals and tracks performance in real time.

It comes hand-in-hand with a broader trend in media consumption: interactivity. New services allow viewers to be in control of how they view sports, whether it’s being able to select different camera views or view real time data.

Fantasy sports

Sports fans have always been big on stats. Goals, points, runs, possession, saves, assists; they are all used to measure the performance of individuals and teams, but a new breed of sports fan is interested in advanced metrics for another reason – their own team’s performance.

Fantasy sports have experienced significant growth in recent years, as demonstrated in the graph below showing numbers of fantasy sports players in the US and Canada.


Source: Fantasy Sports Trade Association

The industry’s growth is so rampant that efforts are being made to get fantasy gaming regulated before it is outlawed as illegal gambling. Virginia has become the first state to regulate fantasy sports, lending the industry important legitimacy. The industry’s challenge is proving that the games involve skill rather than luck, making them exempt from state gambling laws.

In the same way that sports data can empower sports teams to make better decisions, it too can help fantasy sports players make informed decisions rather than using their gut.

Data for graph:

Year Estimated Number of Players
1988 500,000
1991 1,000,000
1994 3,000,000
2003 15,200,000
2004 13,500,000
2005 12,600,000
2006 18,000,000
2007 19,400,000
2008 29,900,000
2009 28,400,000
2010 32,000,000
2011 35,900,000
2014 41,500,000
2015 56,800,000


This article was written by Sarah Willis from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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