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MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference 2013- Day 1
Hey. Sorry this entry is up a little late, but you know, National Procrastination Week was the week right after the conference, so I put off celebrating until the week of the 11th to start celebrating… and so, here we are. Here goes the entry of a truly great experience:
Another year, another year having a blast at MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. If you didn’t read my last entry (which may be privatized by the time you read this entry) the difference in this year was that I got to attend the conference this year for free thanks to the conference’s organizers for taking pictures that they ended up using last year.
Anyway, the conference began the same way it did the previous year with opening remarks in the main (ball)room with the main four people responsible for the conference taking about the conference itself:
Left to right that is:
1. David Schmittlein- The dean of the MIT Sloan school (of management).
2. Daryl Morey- The GM of the Houston Rockets who graduated from Sloan in 2000 and is the co-chair for the conference.
3. Jessica Gelman- The other co-chair of the conference who is the Vice President of Customer Marketing and Strategy for the Kraft Sports Group (the group that owns the New England Patriots).
4. Jordy DeFelice- One of the two conference’s student co-leads.
5. Jonathan Katz- The other of the two conference’s student co-leads. The conference is a completely student-run operation, so these two are the leaders of that team of I believe around 50 student organizers.
The opening remarks consisted of many things from Jaws music to unloading trucks. But mostly bad jokes that people had to laugh at because they were so bad. You know those ones, right?
Unfortunately I was late for being early, and combined with this being the event people showed up the earliest for the whole conference, this was probably my worst seat for the whole conference. What I forgot is that not many people leave for other rooms during the first time block of the day, so it ended up also being my seat for the Revenge of the Nerds panel that took place immediately after the opening remarks in the ballroom.
That panel consisted of these following people. I will first write the name of the person and then the picture of that person afterwards. I felt the need to clarify that because I often get confused by that myself.
Michael Lewis (moderator):
This should be a familiar to most people reading this blog. He is a best-selling author most notably in the sports world for Moneyball and The Blind Side.
The COO of the San Francisco 49ers.
Founder of Fivethirtyeight.com. He is probably most famous for correctly predicting the outcome of all 50 states in this past year’s presidential election, raising him–briefly–to an almost Chuck Norris-esque internet adoration.
Owner of the Dallas Mavericks.
It was a really interesting panel on a variety of levels. I don’t remember exactly what I was mesmerized by, but I’ll be sure to put the video of the panel when it goes up on YouTube like last year. In addition, with my focus on taking pictures this year, I think I’ll be re-watching a lot more panels than I did last year.
I should also add that, like I mentioned on the Twitter machine during the conference itself:
Nate Silver is being an awesome person by staying to talk to people until the organizers kick him off the stage for the next panel. #SSAC13
— Mateo Fischer (@observebaseball) March 1, 2013
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Nate Silver was the awesomest of the panelists on Revenge of the Nerds by staying to talk with people almost until the next panel began twenty minutes later. Here is photographic evidence of this:
I think my legs would hurt at that point.
The next panel required no movement on my part as it was also in the ballroom. I however did move to be at a better picture-taking angle since a lot more people left between these two panels than between the opening remarks and Revenge of the Nerds. What was the panel? It’s Not You, It’s Me: Break-Ups in Sports. Here are the panelists:
I definitely took several pictures of her, but I was at a bad angle for taking pictures of the moderator’s chair, so I guess I kept erasing the bad pictures of her and never realized that I never actually got one to put on file. A shame. Anyway, she now works for ESPN, most notably appearing frequently as a panelist on their show Around The Horn. She made her fame, however, in her twenty years at the Boston Globe. She has also published several books such as When the Game Was Ours–which spoke of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson’s rivalry. She also co-authored Shaquille O’Neal’s autobiography.
Co-Owner of the Boston Celtics.
Senior Advisor to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who was on this panel because he recently got fired from his position as President and General Manager of the team.
Stan Van Gundy:
Former head coach of the Orlando Magic.
NFL Analyst on ESPN, who was on the panel because he was the former General Manager of the Indianapolis Colts.
Host for Sportscenter on ESPN.
This panel added to a great start for me this conference. It truly was another great one. Bill Polian had some great words of wisdom while Stan Van Gundy was entertain but at the same time informative of his whole situation with the Magic and Dwight Howard, where contrary to expectation, he gave Dwight Howard respect for having played with the most pain he has ever seen a player play with.
In addition to that, it was interesting hearing Brian Burke essentially trash the statistical evaluation of players. I even overheard a “And that’s why you got fired” from the crowd. I wish I had been at the front of the crowd so Burke might have heard that. (Burke, for the record, is on the Honorary Executive Board for the conference–as is Bill Polian. It’s more than likely because his daughter is on the Alumni Executive Board. She even introduced this panel:
Sorry, Katie. That’s the only picture I got of you.)
Then came time for boxed lunches. As last year, there was only one vegetarian option, so I went with the grilled vegetable wrap. It would have been great, but it’s just not my thing. Whatever. It was a good lunch, so I’m not going to complain.
For the next time block–That’s how the conference worked. There were a maximum of five events going on for each hour-long time block with twenty-minute breaks in between them–there really wasn’t one event that I really wanted to attend, but I wanted to take in as much as I could so I went to Big Data Analytics in the Wide World of Sports. The speaker for it was Will Cairins, a senior data scientist at HP. So here is Mr. Cairins along with a couple of slides from his presentation, which I honestly still have no clue what it was about other than an amazingly big database’s applications to the world of sports:
Mr. Carins from my way-too-close-to-the-stage-seat. (My biggest challenge was getting a picture that wasn’t looking straight up his nose or blocked by the podium in the middle of the stage.)
A second shot of Cairins that wanted to get just to have the cool background he spoke in front of.
A couple of slides from the presentation.
After that I headed off to one of the research paper presentations. It was entitled Live by the Three, Die by the Three? The Price of Risk in the NBA. The presenter of it was Matthew Goldman of UC San Diego:
I guess it was an interesting presentation. (If you want to read the whole paper, click here.) But the most notable part of it for me was that Mr. Goldman, the presenter, was by far the hardest person–with Mr. Cairins from the previous presentation as a close second–to get a good picture of. First of all, he made so many small, ridiculous facial expressions that weren’t detectable to the naked eye but kept showing up on camera. That and he moved back and forth on stage more than anyone else I saw at the conference, so even if he wasn’t making a ridiculous facial expression on camera, the picture would come out blurry. I don’t know exactly how many pictures I deleted of him, but it was closer to the number of all other presenters/panelists combined than you might otherwise think.
Sadly, though, I had to seem like the biggest douchebag in the room as I had to leave extra early from my front-row seat to get a front-row seat for the Baseball Analytics panel in the Grand Ballroom. That panel consisted of the following:
Lindsay Czarniak (moderator):
Anchor for Sportscenter on ESPN.
Senior Writer for NBC Sports.
Staff Writer, Grantland; Author – “The Extra 2%”.
Vice President of Product Development & Sales, Baseball Info Solutions.
Statistical Analyst/ Writer.
Director of Baseball Operations, Oakland Athletics.
All in all, I would say that it was a pretty good panel. Someone who was new to the conference would have loved this panel. I, however–and this is not the panel’s fault–couldn’t stop comparing this year’s panel to last year’s amazing Baseball Analytics panel, so that took away from my enjoyment of it. If you weren’t reading my blog at this time last year, you can click here and scroll about half-way down the page to see last year’s all-star panel.
Next up it was True Performance & the Science of Randomness. This panel consisted of the following panelists:
Daryl Morey (moderator):
President of the Cleveland Browns.
CEO, tenXer, who you may best recognize as the person who the movie “21” was based off of, and who not surprisingly revealed that he can no longer play blackjack.
Professor, Menlo College, whose connection to sports is through him being a consultant/researcher in the field of sports analytics as well as authoring a book on the subject.
Editor, By the Numbers.
This was a very interesting panel to listen to. The brilliance that emanated from its panelists can be seen in the fact that it took half the panel simply to understand the terms they were using to describe the process of deciphering true performance from inherent randomness that occupies any performance and measurement thereof. Oh, and the panel had approximately 1,245 references to Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise. It was initially just thrown out there as a moving reference, but it quickly became the running jokes of the panel to see how many times they could mention the book in the span of the panel and that the rest of the panel would thus forward receive royalties on any book sales for the number of times the book was mentioned during the panel. (No, it wasn’t actually 1,245 times, but it almost seemed like it.)
Next up was, in that same room, the Ticketing Analytics panel. (I really suspect they tried to make as many panels follow the Analytics format as possible, because–at least this was the case in the panels I attended–way more followed it this year than last year.) The panel was comprised of the following panelists:
Shira Springer (moderator):
Special projects reporter, Boston Globe Sports. Oddly enough, she was the only moderator who sat in the middle of the panel. In I believe EVERY other panel I attended, the moderator sat to the far right seat of the panel. I don’t know if this was done unintentionally or to strategically segment the group, but for whatever reason she was in the middle. She was also one of the least active moderators on any of the panels, but I think that was more of a testament to the panel and the direction the panelists took it rather than on her job as moderator.
President, San Jose Earthquakes.
Senior Vice President of Business Operations, Kansas City Cheifs.
Executive Vice President – Team Marketing & Business Operations, NBA. Or at least that is his title in the biography on the website. I recall him speaking extensively about his work with the Indiana Pacers, so I want to say he was in a high-up position with the team.
Global Head of Business Development and Partnerships, Stubhub.
Sr. Vice President, Development & Strategy, NBA/NHL & Arenas – Ticketmaster.
This panel was mostly an entertaining debate between Granger and Kaval as to what the repercussions/benefits of dynamic pricing are with Kaval taking the more fan-friendly perspective and Granger taking the more business-y approach. In my opinion, this comes from the differences between their two leagues, with Kaval having to rely more on the fan experience and Granger having an unconditional fan base (to a certain extent). What I mean by that is that someone is way more likely to “just go” to an NBA game than an MLS game. The other interesting part of the panel was hearing Chapin talk about the Cheifs have implemented paperless ticketing for their season ticket holders through the use of a season ticket holder card. As a dedicated sports attendee myself it both excited and frightened me.
The final panel of the day was the Business of Sports panel. That was the following panelists:
Jessica Gelman (moderator):
Previously mentioned. (I think. Right? Right.)
Executive Vice President, ESPN.
Senior Vice President of Global Sports Marketing, PepsiCo.
President & CEO, Houston Astros.
President, Soccer United Marketing.
Phil de Picciotto:
Founder and President, Octagon.
I can’t really remember much at all from this panel. I think it was one of those I-could-have-enjoyed-this-so-much-more-had-it-been-earlier-in-the-day situations. Anyway, that was my very full day at the conference after which I exited through the lobby from whence I came earlier in the day. (The convention center is three floors. The lobby is on the lowest of them and the conference itself took place on the two upper levels.):
Anyway, that was my day, so check back for the account of the second day. I plan on having a video tour of the entire conference grounds, but even so I hope it doesn’t take me half a month to get that out. (Or even over a week for that matter.) I plan on writing less in that entry, though. This entry was 2500+ words, just for reference. Then I plan on doing whatever it may be that I do on this blog next week. After that regular season baseball comes back to Minnesota–hopefully with some snow to accompany it. That obviously means I will shut down “offseason” mode and get into writing about the games I attend.