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.
For those wondering why it took me so long to get this posted, last week (March 4th- 10th was National Procrastination Week), and I was… er… celebrating until this past Sunday. So anyway, here is the entry…
Ah, day 2. This conference couldn’t get any better, right? Well, it didn’t. It simply maintained its awesomeness from the first day, but before we delve into the events of the second day, here are some items I got on the first day that I would like to share. First, here is the ID I used to enter the convention center. It might look familiar to those of you who follow me on Twitter (If you don’t follow me on Twitter and would like to do so there is a button to do so over there —> It is near the top of the page):
Pretty self-explanatory, right?
At the door, in addition to giving us those spiffy IDs, we also got a “goodie bag” of sorts:
The lower right item is the bag all this other stuff came in. The labeled items going clockwise from the bag are: an ESPN the magazine you may recognize from my introductory entry to this conference, the “handbook” is really a book that explains everything about the conference. Mostly, it has all of the panels and bios of each of the participants, a list of all of the participants in the conference (about 2,200) sorted by organization, and finally, a mouse pad that is basically a square cut out of some thin plastic sheet ( I actually don’t know if it is a mouse pad, but I assume so with how it looks). The other two things are a metallic bottle and some book I still haven’t figured out the theme of.
So anyway, NOW let’s get to the action of the day. There was no common panel for everyone to watch this day. It was just “go directly from breakfast to your first session”. That first session for me was “Measuring Belief in Sports Performance Research”. Since it wasn’t Baseball-related, here are only a few of the slides:
Just to give you an idea of the “globality” of this conference, the talk was given by this guy, Peter Blanch:
Yeah, well he’s from Australia.
The next talk was sort of a spin-off of a talk I had heard the previous day in that Peter Fadde helped research for this company.
Anyway, it was “Training Above The Neck”. The company was Axon Performance and the talk was given by their vice-president, Jason Sada:
The idea of the company is to enact Malcolm Gladwell‘s idea of getting mastery of something with 10,000 hours of practice, but instead of having a player go on the field and wear down their body’s mileage and risk injury, the athletes master the mental aspect of the game through their products. An example of the mileage thing being the case is, for those who pay attention to football, Quarterbacks will almost always say after they’re retired that once they started figuring out the mental part of the game, their body started failing them. An example of the usage of these products is that Minor League Baseball Players, who have eons of time traveling on buses, could actually see 5,000 pitches and practice identifying the first 1/8th of a pitch’s flight instead of just being bored out of their mind. This really was a presentation meant to be experience and not read, so I actually won’t post any of the slides. For example, the presentation started off with a movie about the company.
Not to belittle the other sessions, but next was by far my favorite session of the day and quite possibly the conference. Actually, though, it wasn’t as easy a choice as you might have thought. Right up until the end of Axon Sports’ presentation, I still didn’t know whether I was going to either: Franchises In Transition, or Box Score Rebooted. Right at the end of the session I thought to myself, “Hey, doofus, what are you even debating? You are a stat-oriented Baseball fan. Go to Box Score Rebooted!” So not only did I go to that one, but it was boxed lunch time so I was able to out-race people and get in the first row of seats. Check out the view I had:
Mind you, this shot was taken with the camera zoomed all the way out.
You may be able to recognize one of the panelists, but let me introduce them all:
John Walsh (moderator):
– Executive Vice-President ESPN.
– I already introduced him in the previous day‘s entry.
– Director of Production Analytics ESPN ( if you have seen TQBR in football used, he was part of the team that invented it).
– The founder of STATS Inc.
– Official Historian for MLB.
Trust me when I tell you they had some very interesting things they talked about, but unfortunately I don’t have my notes with me as I lent them to someone else who wanted to know about the conference. Like the Ron Shapiro video, I’ll tweet it out when I update the entry. However, here is a video if you want to watch the whole panel:
Also, here’s the panel I was thinking of going to. You can tell me if you think I made the right choice:
Next up was a session that I really didn’t expect, and it was disappointing as a result. It was a competition between business schools when I thought it was going to be a presentation or panel on business. So, I’ll show the competitors and that’s it.
Here are the three people from the first school I forgot the names of, even though they were sitting right next to me prior to, and during the competition:
University of Chicago Booth School, the eventual winners:
So anyway, after that it was time for “Building the Modern Athlete: Performance Analyitcs“. This panel was made up of:
Peter Keating (moderator):
– Senior Writer for ESPN the Magazine.
– CEO of Athlete’s Performance.
– Co-Founder of BASE Productions.
– Legal Analyst for Sports Illustrated.
– Director of Player Personnel for the Indiana Pacers.
– Four-time Olympic Ice Hockey Medalist.
This panel really didn’t talk a bout Baseball at all, so I’ll refrain from writing about the content of it.
The next panel I went to was entitled, “Fanalytics“. It was either that or “Fantasy Sports Analytics”. The deciding factor was that the former was held in the Ballroom, so I would have an easier time finding a good seat for the closing ceremonies. So, I left the previous session a tad early and managed to grab a seat in the section directly in front of the stage. Unfortunately, it was towards the back so all of my pictures were taken through the heads of people in front of me and some of the “good” pictures were ruined as a result, but anyway, here are the panelists:
Bill Simmons (moderator):
– Writer for ESPN. Listed, though, as the editor-in-cheif for Grantland, which is that mysterious book in the middle of the second picture of the entry.
– President of the Kraft Group.
– I already introduced him in this entry.
– CEO of Ticketmaster.
– Executive Vice President of Business for MLB.
It really wasn’t a Baseball panel per say, but I think its better moment came from the Baseball related banter going on between Bill Simmons and Tim Brosnan. For example, Bill complaining about the fact that you can’t watch Baseball clips on Youtube and then Tim responding to it. If I ever get around to posting the footage I have of this panel, I’ll tweet it that the entry has been edited, but it’s pretty crumby because of all the people’s heads I had to constantly move my camera out of the way of. So if you want to watch it just for the entertainment value of that (and it was entertaining to those of us present), here is the video if you want to watch:
Next up was the First Annual Alpha Awards, which were awards in the field of analytics made for the conference. There were a bunch of them, so I’ll just highlight the most notable ones.
First (I believe), was Bill James winning the “Lifetime Achievement” Award. Here is a video I took of the occasion. I apologize for the blurriness, I had a telephoto lens all the way zoomed-in, so I wasn’t exactly close, and the camera was feeling heavy at this point:
Next was the Tampa Bay Rays winning the prize for best-run organization (this being in terms of analytics, of course):
The last notable award was for the University of Chicago Booth school winning the business competition I was at earlier:
I really have no idea whether those events actually took place in the order I presented them, but I do know that after the awards, there was a “Live B.S. Report” with Mark Cuban.
First of all, it was a completely non-baseball “session”, so I won’t share anything besides the pictures, but it was a unique situation that I want to describe in that this was Mark Cuban’s only session of the conference (it was the last session of the conference period). Even though he was supposed to be there the whole weekend. So he basically flew out from wherever just for this session. The only other panel I attended he should have been in was the “Fanalytics” panel. So, here are the pictures:
After the BS Report itself ended, Cuban and Simmons got mobbed on the stage by all of the MIT students who organized the event and personally thanked/ shook the hand of each one of them. If you are a Basketball or aspiring Sports Business person, it may be a session to listen to as both involved are “personalities”. So for those of you who do want to take a look/listen, here is the video:
They were then nice enough to pose for me to take a picture. Don’t let their eyes fool you, the whole set-up was for me:
Oh and when I say “mobbed” it’s not that much of a stretch. The stage was pretty small and there were a lot of people. This next picture is just me moving the camera to the left to show all of the people outside of the shot, and that’s not including the people out-of-frame to the right:
…and that was your conference. I went out in the halls to film a video you will probably never see and went back to my hotel room already planning to comeback next year.
So obviously, I extremely recommend this conference if you are really into sports and live in the North-eastern region of the United States. Even if you don’t, it might be worth it. It was just THAT amazing for me.
Lastly, there may be a few more entries regarding this conference coming up, so if you’re waiting for the rest of the “Offseason Recap and Preview” entries, bear with me. I wanted to keep writing them all the way up until the beginning of the season and this conference provided the perfect excuse to do so. I will actually be doing an in-school internship involving this blog, so expect entries done during the month of April to be a tad more developed along with me experimenting with a few things. Also, if you want to check out the video page, here, is the link. They used some of my pictures as the shots for the videos. See how many you can pick out that are my pictures from these two entries.
P.S. I really didn’t want that to be the last word, just because the conference was so awesome so here are the final word: What a way to spend two days.