Three ways big data is changing sports

Big data can be used to predict the next hottest sports star, track injuries and more

9Jan

Big data has uprooted longstanding practices in industries ranging from retail to banking, so it's not surprising that it's affected sports too. Here are three ways that it has made a major impact on the industry.

Improving recruitment decisions about college athletes

People who play sports in college have opportunities to get some of their college expenses paid for via sports-related scholarships. Star athletes can increase a school's prominence too, especially if they lead teams to championship wins.

Some universities are aiming to boost the chances of finding the next athletic superstars by using big data algorithms. One is the University of Virginia. It has algorithms that predict a football player's likelihood of making it to the NFL or attending the University of Virginia instead of another school.

Then, recruiters know how and where to focus their energy and other resources. Although this method might uncover surprising and helpful findings, it's also crucial that recruiting professionals don't become overly reliant on conclusions from a database and overlook factors of an athlete not targeted by an algorithm.

There could be a variety of factors — ranging from limited financial resources to family troubles — preventing a person from reaching a high level of athletic potential before getting to college. That means even if the data shows that a potential college athlete is not the most appropriate choice based on hard statistics, it's crucial for recruiters to get a fuller picture of the person's background.

Providing more details about concussions in contact sports

Even if people never intend to play sports professionally, they can get a tremendous amount of enjoyment from participating in them. Benefits for kids who play sports include the development of listening skills, an improved ability to work as a team and opportunities to explore various interests. Children also learn to sharpen their social skills and respect others while playing sports.

All sports have risks and contact sports increase the chances of athletes getting concussions during gameplay. Even though many parents recognize that injuries could occur, they often decide that the advantages of participating in sports outweigh the downsides. They realize that by playing sports, their kids could experience things that are positively life-changing and shape who they are.

Plus, high schools are getting better at tracking events like concussions. As a result, coaches can do things like teaching neck-strengthening exercises to players and reducing the amount of contact practice scheduled. Big data could calculate the number of incidents in a specified time frame and determine whether injury reduction strategies are working.

This use of big data in sports even applies to people who don't play sports or like them. Physicians can use the information to improve treatments for players, and helmet manufacturers might rely on it when they're updating models.

One problem with the current methods of collecting concussions data is that consistency and accuracy can vary greatly depending on the organization responsible and the methods used. Moreover, a person analyzing the information may draw hasty conclusions based on data from a relatively short span, such as a year. It may be challenging to verify legitimacy.

Enhancing fan experiences

Live games pepper the memories of many sports enthusiasts, whether those people see amateur teams or professional ones. But there's a trend associated with some sports where live game attendance is down. The issue hasn't caused a widespread panic yet, but some stadiums and teams are tapping into big data resources to figure out how to keep fans happy.

The company responsible for stocking the merchandise stands at a stadium might use big data to analyze the most popular items, down to the colors and sizes. Then when fans decide they want to splurge on branded products, it's more likely for the stuff they want to be in plentiful supply.

Another way to enhance the fan experience with big data is to assess which games might sell out faster than usual and target repeat ticket buyers with notifications that recommend acting fast to avoid missing out on the events they want to see.

Big data can reduce hassles that tarnish a fan's outing too, such as finding a parking place. If an arena has several lots, a traffic analysis can direct parking managers on where to send incoming cars to avoid delays as fans arrive. Distributing the automobiles across numerous areas can also help prevent problems as fans leave after a game.

All data collection practices must be carried out strategically in line with any applicable data privacy regulations while making sure fans don't feel that the techniques are invasive.

Possibilities abound for applying big data to sports

This list highlights how big data can improve outcomes for athletes, team managers and fans. However, it's crucial to also weigh any current or potential use for possible pitfalls.

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