While most of my friends would agree my athletic abilities leave something to be desired, this deficiency does nothing to disparage my passion for enjoying all kinds of sports (In case you were wondering how long we have to wait until the first Hoosier basketball game …). So, when I was recently afforded the opportunity to attend the 2015 On Deck Conference (presented by SeatGeek), an event centered on sports technology, entrepreneurship and analytics, I jumped at the chance.
The Big Players
As you may imagine, the big names – NFL, MLB, NBA – stole most of the limelight. MLB Advanced Media demonstrated new technologies aimed at collecting real-time, passive (all produced from video as opposed to having players wear chips) data. This data is then transformed into new kinds of statistics, like a batter’s launch angle or a fielder’s first step quickness. These and many other previously unmeasurable statistics may then be visualized on a broadcast to create a more engaging experience for fans at home.
Similarly, Next Gen Stats showed their advances in creating new statistics for the NFL to measure performance, especially with regard to those positions that were previously very difficult to monitor. We can now quantify just how open Jordy Nelson was on a particular play. This could even play a role in fantasy sports, creating new categories in which a player may score points.
Wes Edens, owner of the Milwaukee Bucks and keynote speaker of the conference, opened the conference with a fascinating discussion on the recent revamping of the organization. He embraces the use of analytics as a crucial part of the effort and is pushing to be on the bleeding edge of technology. For example, he wants referees to have virtual reality technology on the court to quickly aid in ruling on high-pressure calls toward the end of a game.
The Smaller (But Very Impressive) Guys
While the above speakers were fascinating in their own rights, I was particularly intrigued by the smaller, scrappier organizations presenting at the conference. These projects didn’t have the same deep pockets as the big league projects, which translated into incredible creativity and innovation. Some of the highlights that I’ll keep an eye on:
- deCervo – How was the way Tino Martinez’ brain saw an incoming slider different than the way your or my brain would see it? The team at deCervo uses neuroscience to analyze just that, working with a number of collegiate and professional teams to capture behavioral and neural metrics to help with scouting and training. One particularly compelling visualization showed a clear distinction between major and minor league players based on the speed and accuracy of pitch identification. In such a multifaceted game, I thought it was interesting how discerning a particular line on two metrics could be.
- SportLogiq – Passively collecting over 3,000 events over the course of an NHL game is a quite impressive feat in itself. However, I was most impressed by SportLogiq’s hopes to empower anyone to collect statistics on sporting events using only their smartphone. Co-founder and CEO Craig Buntin gave us a demo of the software’s ability to gather hockey statistics (the company’s main focus … at the moment) from a video he took on his iPhone. The platform identifies individual skaters, notes when their behavior deviated from the norm (i.e. a bone-crushing body check) and logs the event for later analysis. The potential here is humongous, and I’m glad I was lucky enough to see the organization at this early stage.
- Edge Up Sports – A Kickstarter-funded project, Edge Up is along for the ride with the huge wave of fantasy sports and has people chomping at the bit (myself included!) to utilize their IBM Watson powered fantasy optimization tool. Using sentiment analysis on various football analysts, Edge Up helps fantasy owners see a larger picture on the outlook of their favorite players, all wrapped up in an easy-to-use and clean-looking app experience. Their goal isn’t to tell you to play or sit, but rather to show you the big picture to make more informed decisions. Take my money now.
Above: SportLogiq presenting. Photo credit @OnDeckConf.
Just a Start
This is only scratching the surface of the amazing people I was able to hear at this year’s On Deck Conference. I would encourage you to listen to the talks available on the conference’s website when they become available (last year’s videos are super interesting as well!). If you have any other questions about the conference, or really anything having to do with sports, data or both, please leave a comment below!