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SAS, Samford University team up to generate sports analytics talent

Image source: Samford University

Sports teams try to squeeze out every last bit of talent to gain a competitive advantage on the field. That’s also true in college athletic departments and professional team offices, where entire departments devoted to analyzing data hunt for sports analytics experts that can give them an edge in a game, in the stands and beyond. To create this talent, analytics company SAS will collaborate with the Samford University Center for Sports Analytics to support teaching, learning and research in all areas where analytics affects sports, including fan engagement, sponsorship, player tracking, sports medicine, sports media and operations.

The collaboration was recently announced at a special event on campus hosted by Michael Hardin, Samford University provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, and Darin White, executive director of the Center for Sports Analytics.

“Samford anticipates future skill sets needed by its graduates, and seeks to prepare students today,” Hardin says. “Analytics and digital literacy are clearly important areas in which to develop new expertise and capabilities.”

Students at the Samford University Center for Sports Analytics work with real-world data provided by partners from the sports world to provide customized solutions. Many top sports properties will provide data, including teams from major international soccer leagues, the NBA and NFL, college athletic conferences and some of the world’s largest apparel companies.

“Samford can be an international leader in the emerging field of sports analytics,” Hardin says. “Industry professionals and students learn about the increasing role of analytics in the global sports industry, equipped with powerful analytics technology already being used by many teams.”

SAS has helped the New York Mets, Orlando Magic and Boston Bruins, among others, gain deeper insights into athletes, as well as fan engagement and revenue. Many athletic organizations are collecting data on ticket sales, fans, games, attendance, athletes, mobile apps and web traffic, venues and much more. However, they struggle to pull this disparate information together and use it to improve performance on and off the field.

Samford students will have access to SAS machine learning, data visualization and other technologies as they tackle projects that span all aspects of sports. In addition to the data-driven player analyses made famous in “Moneyball,” students work with data from teams and companies to better understand fan engagement and sponsorships. Samford students do not just analyze data from sports franchises, but from the companies that want to maximize the value of athletic sponsorships.

“By applying industry-standard analytics to a breadth of sports challenges, graduates of the center will gain analytical fluency that will give them a wide variety of opportunities in the world of athletics,” Hardin says.

The potential of sports analytics is just beginning to be realized. For instance, the University of North Carolina Athletics Department combines data from UNC’s alumni club and the school’s marketing, creative services and ticket sales groups to tailor campaigns to engage with fans most likely to buy season tickets, donate to the university or take other actions. This approach led to record ticket sales in 2017 of $24 million. UNC sold nearly 5,000 new football season tickets.

On the field, Dutch sports analytics company SciSports uses streaming data and applies machine learning, deep learning and artificial intelligence to capture and analyze a variety of soccer data, making way for innovations in everything from player recruitment to virtual reality for fans. The company’s SciSkill Index evaluates every professional soccer player in the world in one universal index, using machine learning algorithms to calculate the quality, talent and value of more than 200,000 players. This helps clubs find talent, look for players that fit a certain profile and analyze their opponents.

“It’s an exciting time to enter the world of sports analytics,” says Sean O’Brien, vice president of SAS Education. “People with the skills offered by the Samford center will be greeted by a dynamic and opportunity-rich job market.”

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