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Sports Analytics Degrees?  Yes, These Are Happening

Tuesday, June 07, 2016


It’s becoming more obvious to industry insiders and to fans that sports and technology go hand-in-hand.  I’ve now been writing this column since October, and since then, I’ve touched on a number of sports and tech related topics.

One thing that’s been sorely lacking is a discussion about sports tech education.  There are plenty of sports marketing degrees and coaching programs out there today.  Even the University of Washington has gotten in the game, literally, with its pioneering startup project VICIS, about which I’ve written before.

With data analytics practically taking over the world, it was only a matter of time before schools began offering sports analytics degrees and specializations.  It was recently announced that one North East university will be offering the first bachelor’s degree in Sports Analytics.  Another university offers a Sports Analytics Specialization in its Master’s of Sports Administration.  How will these degrees influence the sports industry of the future?

Global Sports

The geographical landscape of college and professional sports in the United States has changed dramatically.  Major League Baseball has long been a global sport.  Last season, there were 230 players born outside the U.S.  The NBA features 100 players from foreign countries.  The NFL is expanded its international profile with 42 foreign-born players.

What does this mean for anyone wanting to study sports tech of any kind?  Look for a program that incorporate a foreign language requirement, like Syracuse’s, as you will not only be working with international players, you could parlay your degree into a job in a foreign country.

Global sports analytics will also allow professionals in this realm to help their teams reach larger audiences.  Just as the rosters have gotten more international, so have the fanbases.  Applying general marketing analytics is a great start for a sports marketer, but being able to take a class in Sports Management Analytics will help a potential sports professional with niche-specific models.

Greater Innovation Opportunity

Because sports analytics degrees can afford professionals with niche-specific education, this will only bolster the innovations in multiple aspects of sports and fitness care.  Athlete performance and rehabilitation is one of the biggest platforms for the use of sports analytics.

Startups like VICIS and Blast Motion, which is a California company, use analytics to determine optimal performance for both their products and the athletes who use them.  For Blast Motion, the data is used to improve performance.  For VICIS, it’s to improve protection.

It can also lead to greater innovation in the use of data to connect teams in a league to each other and to their fans.  The NFL’s Senior Analyst for Business Intelligence and Optimization, Allison Brown, uses software from Seattle-based Tableau to manage the media analytics for all 32 teams.  According to Brown, data in the NFL is everywhere:

“We see the need and the desire for more data every single day. It's almost more than we can handle. You know, we have to go out and get more resources and I think this is industry wide, but it's becoming kind of the key to digital media and advertising and marketing. Everyone is really pushing towards more and more data-driven decision making.”

The more sports analytics professionals in the industry, the better able it will be to handle the desire for data.

More Like Healthcare

Yet the sports analytics programs and specializations that exist now have significant gaps in their curricula.  With so much of data in sports involving the personal medical data of athletes, it’s either telling or disturbing that there are no requirements in ethics or healthcare legal policies.

As illustrated by this resource from the University of Cincinnati's Online Master of Health Administration, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act covers information like medical records and biometrics.  Many athletic performance applications are designed to measure biometrics, and if sports analysts are not careful with their clients’ data, they could be in serious legal trouble.

Before investing in sports tech education, be sure to check for one that includes a course on ethics or integrates healthcare management.  This way, a sports analytics professional will cover all the bases of working with data in sports and fitness.


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