““What’s the difference between a customer and a fan?” asked Vivek Ranadivé, leader of the ownership group of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, during the keynote kickoff to Stanford GSB’s inaugural Sports Innovation Conference, held in early April. “Fans will paint their face purple, fans will evangelize. … Every other CEO in every business is dying to be in our position — they’re dying to have fans.”
While fan passion is as old as sport itself, leagues and franchises are now using cutting-edge technology not just to build winning teams but also to capitalize on the ardor of their customer base to grow another revenue source — corporate sponsorships. Here are a few of the business trends that emerged from the April conference.
Big data is changing basketball management — and the game itself
More than a decade ago, the Oakland A’s Major League Baseball team (and the book and movie Moneyball) popularized the notion of using statistics with predictive modeling to build a winning team. Teams in the NBA, such as the San Antonio Spurs, have similarly used big data sets to help owners and coaches recruit players and execute game plans. But the 2013-2014 NBA season is the first for all teams to have SportVU tracking, a system of six cameras in each arena that measures the movements of the ball and every player on the court, generating an entire database of performance information. “This is the first year we have more data than we can analyze,” said Ranadivé, noting that more data had been generated this season than in the league’s previous 67-year history.
The data are changing the way the game is played, shifting emphasis from how many total points a player scores to measures of player efficiency, productivity per touch, and defensive effectiveness. “It has been hard, historically, to quantify defense,” said Brian Kopp, senior vice president of STATS, the company that developed SportVU player tracking. “Now we have four camera views helping you do that.” In addition, the data have influenced the types of shots players take on the court.”
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