By David Patton
Updated with some next steps below:
In early March ESPN sponsored the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, a gathering of 3,000 hard-core sports nerds fascinated with the performance data of athletes who play games for a living. Luminaries in the field include Nate Silver (who invented a baseball sabermetric before becoming an election blogger) and event co-chair Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets.
This is the seventh edition of the conference and the amount of mainstream coverage it generated shows that the sports analytics business has grown dramatically from the first days of Billy Beane and Moneyball.
Many teams are using data analytics to drive business decisions, personnel decisions and even in-game strategy. In addition, the performance data now available to the public has made sports betting a much larger business and allowed casual gamblers or “squares” to net some big wins against the house.
While there are still traditionalists, most in the sports industry agree that smart money is investing in and profiting from the gathering and deep analysis of performance data.
The marketing and communications world has seen a similar explosion in availability of performance data along with the adoption of social and digital platforms by the disciplines. But marketers are far behind the sports industry in understanding those metrics and using them to drive smarter business decisions.
Reading the pullouts on this survey of marketers is similar to how the old-school baseball guys were portrayed in the “Moneyball” movie. Marketers still rely on “intuition” and “past experience” to guide their strategies instead of mining the copious data being created by interactions with customers online.
So here’s my suggestion for marketers who want an edge over their competitors: Raid the attendee list for the MIT Sloan conference for talent. It would include the folks from Football Outsiders who spend their days watching every single play of every single NFL game going back more than 20 years to figure out what happened and why to come up with their performance insights.
Those are the kind of people that will help move the marketing and communications world forward from relying on mostly on traditions and guts to technology and brains.
So if you are looking to bring some more smart science to your marketing and communications, start recruiting from the MIT Sloan conference’s attendee pool. They way to attract those folks is to get out of our guts and start talking about the data behind our successes and failures. I look at the example of how Grantland is approaching storytelling about sports by using writers steeped in the analytics as a path for the marketing industry to follow.
Perhaps that is another opportunity: Create a media outlet that covers marketing using the wealth of publicly available analytics from digital and social properties to show the why behind what is and isn’t working. Any sports nerds out there looking for a wordsmith? Find me at @davidapatton.