Brock prof talks impact of sport analytics on industry

Many professional sports teams are realizing the importance of playing the numbers game.Organizations are hiring sport analytics consultants and staffing entire departments aimed at delving into statistics to give their teams an edge.With the popularity of sport analytics, and related professions, on the rise, the concept is being introduced into the curriculum of many post-secondary programs, including the Bachelor of Sport Management degree and graduate programs at Brock.The way decisions are made in the professional sport industry is changing, said Sport Management Assistant Professor Kevin Mongeon, a North American leader in the field of sport analytics.Gone are the days of player statistics only being available on the back of trading cards or in the local Saturday paper. Advanced analytics are now being used by sport organizations of all types to stay ahead of the competition.“Currently, most of the literature available is related to roster design, player evaluations and in-game strategies and decision-making,” Mongeon said. “Through the use of advanced qualitative and quantitative data, analytics is another piece of information sport management executives can use to make decisions.”Publicly available data produced by major professional sport leagues, as well as increases in low-cost data collection methods and computer processing technology, has enabled the organic growth of the sport analytics industry, he said.However, not all organizations are using the latest resource to the same degree.One of the reasons for the different adoption rates is the varying manner in which sport contests are played, with different sports requiring different strategies for analysis.For example, one of the reasons Major League Baseball teams were early adopters of analytics is the ‘discrete nature’ in which games are played.“Game events, such as hits, errors and runs, are largely independent of one another,” Mongeon explained. “Therefore, relatively accurate information can be discerned from examining summary statistics.“Other sports, like hockey, have a constant flow with competing teams simultaneously playing offence and defence, and with different incentives.”Mongeon noted good sport analytics models incorporate the way in which games are played and therefore many analytical methods are not generalizable across sports.This development of models is a focus of Mongeon’s teaching.In his fourth-year sport analytics course, students learn to examine and model the processes of winning games rather than just analyzing and making inferences based on summary data.“I continually articulate the importance of students developing strong conceptualization skills learned from both qualitative and quantitative research,” Mongeon said. “It’s not just about analyzing the data available, it’s about formulating an idea about games and then learning and applying the appropriate method to obtain accurate results.”These approaches are being utilized by a number of Brock graduate students who are studying sport analytics with Mongeon. The topics being researched are wide ranging and include the accuracy of National Football League coach’s fourth-down decision-making, the impact of scoreboard watching on Major League Baseball playoff races and optimal roster design in the National Hockey League (NHL).Mongeon’s own work involves NHL team roster designs, in-game win-probability models and in-game coaching decisions.Along with Sport Management Professor Lucie Thibault, Mongeon is integrating sport analytics into the sixth edition of the Contemporary Sport Management textbook.“Given the prominence of analytics in sport decisions and the fact that sport analytics is becoming an integral component to the curriculum of sport management programs in colleges and universities, undergraduate students need to be introduced to sport analytics concepts early in their studies,” said Thibault, the book’s co-editor.

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