'Sport Is Unique In Its Ability To Generate And Leverage Emotion'

We sat down with Adam Karg, Senior Lecturer and Course Director at Deakin University


Dr Adam Karg is a Course Director in the Sport Management Program and member of the Centre for Sport Research at Deakin University. He is engaged in a wide range of research activities with national and state sporting organisations, governing bodies, sport technology start-ups and more than 45 professional sports teams. Through this work, he has developed as one of the country’s leading researchers on sport fan equity, focussed on services related to satisfaction, engagement and loyalty. Dr Karg has published articles in international peer-reviewed journals, is a co-author of multiple textbooks and has presented research findings at national and international conferences.

Ahead of his presentation at the Sports Analytics Innovation Summit this March 8 & 9 in Melbourne, we sat down with Adam to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing a burgeoning industry. 

How did you get started in your career?

I had a background and interest in sport management and marketing and particularly in research. I undertook my PhD in Sport Organisation Design while building extensive experience working on fan and customer equity research projects with a number of professional leagues and teams (our team has now worked with over 45 professional teams in major sports in Australia). Over time, the volume of data we collected from these projects naturally led to both an interest in using more analytics-driven tools to manage data and drive insights but also an opportunity to assist teams and organisations better utilise the data they were collecting.

What, in your view, were the defining sports analytics trends of last year?

For teams and governing organisations, we definitely saw a greater interest and understanding of what predictive analytics might offer sport marketing domains. Analysis of unstructured data (predominantly forms of open or text data) started to emerge for us as a key opportunity to simplify insights and add value via volumes of mass data.

In Australia, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence technologies have started to be used by sport organisations to aid consumer experiences, starting the next phase of analytics opportunities. Academically, the growth and interest in data and business analytics as a career path also gained significant traction in 2016.

With the incredible amount of data available to analytics teams in modern sport, how can analysts identify which metrics are important?

There is some important background here around the use of quality data, valid cases and investing in the right expertise and techniques. Often a danger can be working on poor or limited data which impact results, and resultant strategies. Using data mining and predictive modelling approaches can manage extraordinary numbers of variables – so volume of data presents less of an issue than in the past. Likewise, open text and composite metrics become more relevant here to add value to current modelling.

Most vital is balancing an approach that both confirms logical or known patterns (i.e.; the variables we’d expect or know are important), but also combines exploratory techniques to uncover hidden or less obvious patterns and metrics that can assist marketers. Above all, one size does not fit all (i.e.; not all fans or markets behave the same) therefore adopting non-specified models or insights from other contexts can be dangerous.

Do you think there is a danger fans could begin to feel like a commodity? Can personalization ease this?

Yes and yes. Commodification of the consumer and consumer experience is an issue, particularly as fan bases grow, where automation of messages is over-utilised and where organisations (deliberately or otherwise) start to service levels of fans differently based on their perceived ‘value’ they offer the organisation. There is less excuse (and less forgiveness) than ever for receiving an email or message that is poorly targeted, but it still happens.

The challenge of personalisation, particularly for teams with large fan bases, is around the balance between efficiency and personalised approaches. To what extent can (or should) an organisation create 75,000 or more different experiences for its season ticket holders?

Thankfully, analytics, and perhaps most vitally data management platforms, provide better opportunities than ever to segment consumer bases, and personalise offers and experiences to add value. This requires a few levels to strategy including comprehensive planning and evaluation stages to aid targeting and messaging, and to better understand consumers as individuals. Building trust and strengthening relationships is vital here as well, to an extent where consumers are happy to exchange data and information, so an organisation can ultimately better serve them.

In terms of customer - i.e. fan - analytics, what are the challenges unique to the sports industry?

The main challenges translate from two areas; the unique aspects of sport and realistic capacity of sport organisations – which largely remain small and medium organisations in Australia.

Relative to teams and leagues, the core challenge unique to sport is the lack of control marketers have over the core sport product. Winning and losing strongly influence attitudes and behaviours – but is an area marketers have little impact over. Understanding the impact of on-field performance, and associated halo effects is vital in sport consumer behaviour. Large scale, longitudinal data and analytics is one way that teams can understand the role of on field performance when looking to predict behaviours and interpret results and research.

The unique aspects of sport also creates a significant opportunity. Sport is unique in its ability to generate and leverage emotion, involvement and uncommon loyalty. This is positive as it allows higher levels of engagement that many other products and industries, and as such, potential to capture more data and build deeper relationships.

Finally, sport organisations or teams individually remain by definition small to medium organisations that can lack experience or resourcing to build analytics capacity. Here, collaborations with other teams, organisations or institutes can provide mutual benefits. Within a university environment I’ve seen, setup and worked on projects where collaborative approaches can be a great way to work in tandem to drive the industry and knowledge forward.

Who are you most looking forward to hearing from at the summit?

Above all and as with all Sport Analytics conferences - here and abroad - it’s just great see the range of data collection and analysis techniques used in both on-field contexts as well as those related to the business of sport in the same place. Exploring how the industry is evolving and opportunities for collaboration are key in growing Sport Analytics as a domain.

You can hear more from Adam, along with many other leading sports analytics practitioners, at the Sports Analytics Innovation Summit this March 8 & 9 in Melbourne. To see the full schedule, click here

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