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Have Sports Analytics Reached Tipping Point?

In the off-season, the NBA’s Toronto Raptors installed a sophisticated six-camera motion tracking system that creates a steady stream of player data. This week, the very same Raptors traded Rudy Gay, who was openly critical of sports analytics. Coincidence? Most likely. However, it serves as a reminder to sports business and sponsorship professionals that a new era has officially “tipped off”.

Rudy Gay, openly critical about the use of sports analytics, was traded this week by the Toronto Raptors to the Sacremento Kings.

Rudy Gay, openly critical about the use of sports analytics, was traded this week by the Toronto Raptors to the Sacremento Kings.

NBA Signs Multi-Year Agreement
The NBA represents the leading edge of sports analytics, signing a multi-year agreement to use STATS LLC’s SportVU motion tracking system in every arena starting this season. Professional teams are constantly on the lookout for an edge, so expect other leagues to jump onboard with SportVu, or perhaps a more athlete-specific solution offered by the likes of Catapult Sports. These systems deliver data that impacts how a sport is coached, how it’s recruited and even to how a player’s worth is calculated. Sorry, Rudy. What’s more, the data advances game stats to an entirely new level. We’re talking heat maps, detailed possession breakdowns and much more. Naturally, the Association is packaging these stats in easy-to-digest chunks across its platforms, including  NBA.comNBA Game Time app and NBA TV.

The NBA was likely influenced by the 2011 Asia Cup (AFC) case study. A similar competition to the UEFA Euro in scope, the AFC used the SportVU tracking system to present innovative broadcast graphics, such as possession stats, player run comparisons and player heat maps. A wider variety of information gave fans the ability to more fully judge everything from player performances to referee’s decision-making, sparking conversation through social media. With greater involvement of fans, comes the opportunity for further sponsor activation. Broadcast and application partner Samsung recognized this new inventory of on–screen graphics as a great way to activate its brand.

New Stats Spark New Revenue Streams
Smart NBA teams are following this lead and just beginning to recognize the business development potential of enhanced information. Specific stats like speed, durability and distance can be re-packaged quickly to generate graphics in as little as 60-90 seconds, automatically enhancing the in-arena experience – an important consideration given the proliferation of technology at home. Just as important, new revenues streams are created to attract brands and sponsors. In the very near future expect teams and sponsors to work together to create integrated marketing approaches that span mobile, tablet, broadcast and the web.

Enhanced stats packages represent new inventory for teams to attract brands and sponsors.

Enhanced stats packages represent new inventory for teams to attract brands and sponsors.

So, have sports analytics reached a tipping point?

Well consider this one final fact. Last week (Dec. 9-11, 2013) the Fitness and Sports Technology Expo was  held in Universal City, California. The keynote speaker was Paul Robbins, director of Elite Performance for STATS LLC. Naturally, he discussed how and why his company and the NBA struck the deal to install SportVU Player Tracking technology.

It won’t be the last word on sports analytics, that’s for certain.

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