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Volume 20 No. 45
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Colleges offer analytics track

The sports industry is still in its early days placing staffers focused on business analytics at more senior levels such as vice president or executive vice president. But some executives predict the future leaders of the industry, perhaps within a decade, will come directly from this area.

“Some of the next generation of your senior-most executives in this business, team presidents and the like, are going to be coming from backgrounds in data,” said David Melnick, chief executive of Boston-based marketing analytics firm Fan Manager. “They’re going to be the people who really understand multi-channel consumer behavior.”

In advance of that, some colleges that offer sports business or sports administration programs have begun to heighten their academic offerings around business analytics. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which stages the perennially popular MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, has played a major role in higher education and influencing the development of business analytics in sports. But the school is now far from alone.

Northwestern University, for example, now offers a specialization in predictive sports analytics within its graduate program in sports administration that includes courses in statistical analysis and building mathematical models.

“They’ve been at the forefront of developing these kinds of programs as they saw a real market demand for this kind of capability,” said Block Six Analytics founder and CEO Adam Grossman, who is an instructor in the Northwestern program. “And quite frankly, a lot of the students have been asking for more of this, too.”

At least seven pro team data analysts hail from the suburban Chicago school, though from several different programs there (see chart).

American University in Washington, D.C., similarly, offers a graduate degree or certificate in sports analytics and management, merging instruction around data collection and analysis with an emphasis on communication and presentation strategies. Other schools with similar graduate-level concentrations in sports analytics include Temple University, Columbia University in New York, the University of New Haven, and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, among others.

Syracuse University’s Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, named for noted agent, alumnus and major donor David Falk, last year debuted a sports analytics degree at the undergraduate level, merging elements of math, statistics, economics, and computer programming. The undergraduate major in the field joined a smaller, lesser-known one offered at California Baptist University. Syracuse began to offer classes in the analytics program this past academic year in advance of a full start for the program this fall.

Not surprisingly, some of the initial student interest in the Syracuse program has focused on player performance analytics. But the school has begun to market the new degree offering around the country and the sports business opportunities also likely to come from it.

“We drew up a blueprint to bring an Ivy League-caliber student into this program and that’s what has happened so far,” said Michael Veley, Falk College director and chair. “We’ve set our goals high to have a truly elite, competitive offering, and we’ve been very encouraged with the early progress.”