SBD/March 7, 2011/Events and Attractions

MIT Sloan Analytics Conference Draws Sellout Crowd Of 1,500 In Boston

The fifth annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, held Friday and Saturday in Boston, surpassed its prior iterations with a sellout crowd of 1,500 people, up 50% from '10, a new two-day program and a high-powered array of speakers and presenters from across the sports industry. In a further testament to the rapid embrace of high-end research and analytics within team and league operations, much of the gathering centered on finding balance and using the wellsprings of new data and technology in more seamless, thoughtful and non-overwhelming ways. "There's no such thing as too much data, but it needs to be contextual, relevant and tell a story," said Sportvision CEO Hank Adams. "You can't just put stuff up on the screen for its own sake." Adams, along similar lines, later called 3D TV "clunky technology," a comment with which NFL Network COO Kim Williams readily agreed. Williams: "We've seen 3D inhibit the shared fan experience that's crucial to our game."

ENLARGED FOCUS: Instead of focusing heavily on player performance analytics, this year's event included a rather prominent business focus, with panels exploring ticketing, fans' gameday experience, broadcast technologies and team ownership. "It seems like so many new owners buy a team and then immediately forget everything they know about business," said Maple Leafs President & GM Brian Burke, who appeared on several panels during the weekend and won rave reviews for his blunt, outspoken demeanor. The ongoing NBA and NFL labor situations, predictably, were discussed on numerous occasions, with the current financial woes in basketball sparking particular concern. "The NFL (labor issue) is completely different than the NBA debate because of the strength of their business," said ESPN NBA analyst and former Trail Blazers VP/Basketball Operations Tom Penn. "The NFL is a very profitable business, and in the NBA, most teams are losing money." Smith College sports economist Andrew Zimbalist: "The revenue sharing in the NBA is comparatively weak and needs to be improved. The current sharing does not cover the losses being incurred by some teams." In-venue fan experience was also frequently mentioned, and Cowboys Exec VP & COO Stephen Jones captured the attention of many when he said just 3% of all NFL fans have ever attended a league game in person. But while the NFL, in part because of that skewing, has been pushing hard over the last year to replicate more of the at-home experience in-venue, Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban offered an alternate view: "If fans are looking down during the game (at personal screens), I have failed" (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).

HE'S KRAFTY: In Boston, Ian Rapoport reported Patriots President Jonathan Kraft attended the conference Saturday for the panel on the "future of the game day experience." He said that the Patriots have "pumped $500,000 into wi-fi" at Gillette Stadium, but added that "really good stadium wi-fi is five or 10 years off." He hopes in the future "it will be reality to mic-up players during games for fans to listen, albeit with 15-second delays," and he "envisions an in-stadium app where fans could pull up a specific audio feed of a mic'd-up player." However, Kraft was "skeptical of in-stadium handhelds like fan vision." Kraft: "Eventually, it'll be the phone or the tablet" (BOSTONHERALD.com, 3/6).
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