Samford Hits a Home Run with Center for Sports Analytics
BY ADAM GROSSMAN
Samford University recently announced the full launch of its Center for Sports Analytics. The center will focus on topics “where analytics impacts sports including fan engagement, sponsorship, player tracking, sports medicine, sports media and operations.”
There are several interesting aspects of this announcement and of the creation of this center. The idea that a school would launch a center specifically devoted to sports analytics may not seem notable after the success of the book and movie Moneyball. However, the center’s mission is not solely focused on the Moneyball type analytics that originally made data in sports popular.
More specifically, the first two focus topics listed in the previous paragraph involve fan engagement and sponsorship. Unlike the player tracking metrics, business analytics are currently not as pervasive in the sports industry. By leading with business analytics in its statement of purpose, the school is making a bet that professors and students will be interested in solving off-field challenges.
This builds into the second interesting feature of the center: its emphasis on leveraging student talent to solve sports business challenges for leading companies both inside and outside of the sports industry. In particular, the center notes that students have worked on projects for “companies that spend millions of dollars in sports sponsorships including Honda, Blue Cross Blue Shield, AON, etc.” Having students work with sports organizations on real-world assignments is something that many sports administration programs around the country provide to students. In my own classes at Northwestern University’s Masters of Sports Administration program, I have encouraged sports organizations and students to work together on projects that promote revenue growth for a team, league, event, or athlete.
However, it is uncommon for a sports program to work directly with companies outside the industry on these types of projects. In particular, companies like Honda, Blue Cross, and AON are typically very familiar with using analytics and data-driven decision making given the nature of their businesses. For example, actuarial science (one of the primary ways math is used to assess risk) is core to the insurance business of Blue Cross. Students should receive significant and unique benefits from working on sponsorship projects for companies with this level of quantitative sophistication.
The final noteworthy piece of this announcement is the fact that a school such as Samford launched this center in the first place. More specifically, Samford is located in a competitive environment in Birmingham, Alabama with the home to the Southeastern Conference headquarters, Hibbett Sports, and Birmingham Barons in the same city. In addition, the University of Alabama and Auburn University are competing for resources, professors, and students in the state. It is difficult for Samford to stand out in this environment.
The center is now a clear point of differentiation between Samford and these other organizations. Sports analytics should only continue to grow as new technologies ranging from virtual reality, Over-The-Top (OTT) television channels, and wearable technologies (among others) provide huge amounts of data that need to be analyzed in a variety of different contexts. Samford can credibly say that it is at the forefront of the data-driven decision making that will be critical to the future of the sports industry.