The Future of Sports and Data: How the Industry Can Keep Up This Next Decade 

By Mark Hodgkin


It’s no longer a question of whether the sports industry has entered the era of big data, but one of how great the impact. 

As we enter 2020, the answer appears to be somewhere between revolutionary and transformative. 

Let’s take a look at this past decade:

  • Nearly two decades after the small-market Oakland A’s rise to fame in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, most front offices have data analytics teams to assist in player evaluation. 
  • A flurry of wearable technologies and tracking software have provided unprecedented information on nearly every move a player makes in games. These have helped leagues, like the NFL, understand safety and health risks while playing and ultimately craft safer equipment and rules. 
  • Fantasy sports have erupted in popularity, with around 60 million participants in the U.S. and Canada, according to the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association. Additionally, changes in sports betting laws in the United States have brought gambling into the mainstream, and along with fantasy sports, provide an insatiable thirst for game projections and statistical research.
  • Connected stadiums have provided more ways than ever to gather fan information; and endless ways to provide a better fan experience. 
  • With video coverage of almost every game available via traditional TV, streaming and social media,there are more channels than ever to keep up with and share information. Through advanced analytics, statistics and metrics on players are now embedded on TV and web broadcasts in real-time as viewers watch the program. 

But with more advanced technology comes greater responsibility and more questions the industry must answer.

  • Who owns the data? There have been numerous court cases over the past several decades debating who owns the underlying data. Some have involved media coverage of events and league’s claiming to “own” the data that comes out of its events. The smartest organizations work with strategic and media partners to share their data in ways that enrich both sides and expand their brand. 
  • What are the regulatory hurdles? Marketers need to be vigilant in keeping up with major privacy and data usage laws and regulations like GDPR and the upcoming California Consumer Privacy Act. While compliance can be expensive and tedious, it can also move organizations into far better and safer positions as well as build consumer trust. 
  • What are the true competitive advantages? At a time when everyone is investing in data, is it still a competitive advantage? It’s complicated. There will always be those able to stay ahead of the curve and their competitors by finding undervalued and overlooked information. 
  • How can you manage and make sense of tons of data? Using the right data storage solutions and investing in specialized team members to cull through and synthesize data are critical. The value lies not on the amount of data collected, but what is being done with that data. . 

The bottom line is that if your organization is not serious about data use, its competitors are and they will win. It’s important to get strategic with your organizational goals and find ways that data can help. We’re past the stage where just gathering the information will make your organization seem innovative; data should be used to drive results, ultimately winning games, engaging fans and driving revenue.