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Sport and its analytics

Dynamic pricing; this technique involves changing ticket prices for a game in real-time based on a myriad of factors ...

By Richard Seymour . 18 April 2012

Dynamic pricing; this technique involves changing ticket prices for a game in real-time based on a myriad of factors that can influence demand or supply, such as number of tickets already sold, the weather, team form, opposition form, star players playing or not, etc.


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March’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference has the support of major sports partners, 2200 attendees, and over 100 panellists, presenters and moderators from across industry and academia.


ESPN is the headline sponsor, and its name is adorned on everything connected to the conference. ESPN writers, on-screen personalities and executives could be found on multiple panel sessions or otherwise in the audience, adding a journalistic and broadcast media edge. Bill Simmons, New York Times Best-Selling author and acclaimed writer for ESPN, even brought his award-winning podcast, “The B.S. Report”, to the main stage, where he concluded each day of the conference with a live recording of conversations with Bill James (the inventor of the statistics behind Moneyball) and Mark Cuban (owner of the NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks). Cuban’s lasting advice to students in the audience was actually not to go into the sports business directly out of school; he suggested to get some blue-chip experience before making the leap into sport – sobering, but wise counsel from the multi-billionaire entrepreneur.

Conference sessions varied on their analytical content. Some panels barely touched on the macro-level data in sport. For instance, the Media Rights Panel and the session on the Business of Sports were highly entertaining discussions whose main focus was to bring together top executives from around the world for once in a lifetime conversations. These two sessions alone hosted heavyweights such as David Gill (CEO, Manchester United), Jeanie Buss (EVP, Los Angeles Lakers), Steve Pagliuca (Co-Owner, Boston Celtics), and Scott O'Neil (President, Madison Square Garden Sports).

Other sessions felt more like the deep-dive into the world of data expected of an Analytics Conference. This year’s conference included a Soccer Analytics panel that delved into the different ways that Analytics are being used on pitches all around the world, and included panellists Steve Brown (First Team Analyst, Everton), Drew Carey (Comedian & Owner, MLS Seattle Sounders), Alexi Lalas (ESPN Analyst and Former US Soccer Team Member), Steve Houston (Head of Technical Scouting, Hamburg FC), and Scott MacLachlan (Head of International Scouts, Chelsea FC). There were also a number of sessions and research papers focusing on ticketing – inevitable perhaps, as Ticketmaster and Stub Hub were both sponsors this year. Executives from Ticketmaster talked about their new company, LiveAnalytics, taking advantage of 211 million customer records to help event organisers understand fans better and to develop more targeting ticketing strategies. Case studies from the NFL and NBA internal consulting teams showed they are now using analytical models to advise teams on ticketing strategies to maximise revenues, ensure venues sell out week-in-week-out, and analyse sponsorship opportunities to achieve maximum revenue.

Another topic that flowed throughout the conference weekend was dynamic pricing; this technique involves changing ticket prices for a game in real-time based on a myriad of factors that can influence demand or supply, such as number of tickets already sold, the weather, team form, opposition form, star players playing or not, etc. Ticketmaster showed how teams hosting the Knicks should have been increasing their prices dynamically due to the phenomenal demand to watch current League sensation Jeremy Lin. They told stories of how, in just a 10-day period, 50% of the entire leagues’ merchandise sales were Lin-related, but teams still had not reflected this new demand for ‘Linsanity’ in their ticket pricing. Ticketmaster also presented some survey results which showed that fans are generally open to dynamic pricing, with season ticket holders less so than occasionally buyers; this same survey also showed that the vast majority of people are worse off (i.e., pay over the odds) when they buy on the secondary market.

Digital Media and “Fanalytics” were discussed in almost every panel throughout the two days, and in a clear attempt to practice what it was preaching, the Conference supported and broadcasted real-time tweets about the Conference all weekend long. In fact, the our Club Twitter account (@LBS_SportsBiz) was ranked in the Top-20 most prolific #SSAC tweeters from the conference, and as a result, our online following has increased by 500% since we were picked up on the big screens at the conference and re-broadcast across the TwitterSphere.

The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was one of the best conferences I have ever been to, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for next year.

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