jessica gelman

Sloan Sports Analytics Conference 2013 A.K.A. Dorkapalooza IVV


The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is the baby of Daryl Morey (Rockets GM) and Jessica Gelman (Gillette marketing executive). As the story goes, Morey wanted to start the conference after taking the  Rockets job because he could no longer lecture back in Cambridge. “This is Daryl’s class,” Moneyball author Michael Lewis said.

Morey is a Sloan alum. Although the conference is held across the Charles River in Boston, this  year’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference started the way us non-Ivy-Leaguers assume most conversations in Cambridge start. That is, with an MIT/Harvard joke. Morey jabbing at Gelman, a Harvard alum, that the Crimson aren’t much known for quantitative competencies.

From there the weekend stayed highbrow. It is after all Dorkapalooza, per Bill Simmons.

Oddly, this year’s conference didn’t open with one blockbuster panel. Last year’s sole opener was a panel headlined by Malcolm Gladwell. Although 2013 opened with multiple panels, there was one which was  clearly the “big show” of the bunch. It was aptly titled “Revenge of the Nerds,” and had a truly stellar cast of characters. Moderated by Michael  Lewis, the panel included Mark Cuban (Mavs owner and perennial Sloan Conference attendee), Nate  Silver (FiveThirtyEight), Paraag Marathe (49ers COO) and Daryl Morey.

This is the kind of panels this conference has repeatedly put together. The men joining the conference c0-chair were some of the most celebrated of the year. Lewis’ book was made into a blockbuster movie. Cuban, after winning the NBA title the previous year, joined a primetime ABC show called Shark  Tank. Nate Silver was easily the most talked about blogger (and statistician) in 2013. And Paraag’s Niners came within yards  of winning an NFL title.

What ended up being the main theme of the conference first surfaced here. Mentioned over and over was the challenge that those involved in analytics face when trying to get their message across to the traditional decision makers and influencers — general managers, coaches, players, etc.

Another interesting addition to the conference was Bob Haralabos. Haralabos is the most well known NBA gambler today. Haralabos talked at length about the gambler and bookmaker relationship. Or lack there of. There was a classic confrontation between Haralabas and the Sportsbook Director at Cantor Gaming, Matthew Holt. It all boiled over when Haralabas brought up Holt’s comment from last year’s conference that they would take “any bet” from any player. When asked what bet Cantor would take from Harabalos gleefully responded, “Ten thousand.” He then went on to essentially egg Holt on to lift that limit. That said, regardless of your opinion on him, Haralabos proves that william hill bookmakers aren’t the only ones making money in the gambling business.

Another underlying theme was writing. Or at least it felt that way to me. So many of the great minds in analytics have written about their sports. Of course, this idea starts with Bill James. In the opening panel alone, Lewis and Silver’s respective pens have as much  firepower as any two men over the past several years. Then there are the cases like Dean Olive. Oliver is currently the Director of  Production Analytics, ESPN Stats & Information. It’s a role that seems to be getting more and more  influence in Bristol. You see the analytics becoming more  prominent in the programming and publishing. Before Oliver was officially in the hoops world, yes, he was an academic writer and also wrote “Basketball on Paper.” Simply put, he’s a writer, too. Maybe it’s just me missing daily writing, but along with celebrating numbers, this past weekend turned into a celebration of words.

Whatever the case may be, the written word is clearly alive and well.

MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference 2012 — Day 1

RDM will offer up a running diary of both day 1 and day 2 of the conference. From there OWS will have a number of Sloan Conference inspired posts in the coming days.

I arrived Friday morning just before 8:30AM. Of course, fashionably late. The opening address was to begin promptly at 8:3o. But, unbelievably I made it into the main ballroom just as the first panel was taking the stage.

Before I entered the ballroom I had my first encounter with an ESPNer. This place was crawling with them — much more so than last year. The WWL even had a recruitment booth on the concourse. The ESPN personality I ran into was Matthew Berry. We were on our way to get our media credentials at the same time. When I got to the table to pick-up my badge, I was kindly greeted by a few of the conference’s organizers. One of which said he was a big fan of OWS.

I didn’t hear anyone tell Berry that they were a big fan of his cameo on FX’s The League. I’m just saying.

As I walked into the main ballroom, I realized that this thing was indeed substantially bigger than last year’s conference.

There were 2,200 attendees. That was about a 50% increase from the 1,500 in 2011. As a measuring stick; in 2007 the conference had just 175 attendees when it was founded by Daryl Morey (GM, Houston Rockets) and Jessica Gelman (VP, Kraft Sports Group).

Going to this conference, for the second consecutive year, showed me just how much many things have changed in just 365 days.

OWS has changed — hopefully for the better. The Sloan Conference has change, too. And the world in which both these entities exist has evolved from the 2011 conference to now. Twitter was a new thing to the masses in March of 2011. It wasn’t altogether new, but it was new to the mainstream. Even for me, an ole twitter pro (or something), using the #SSAC (Sloan Sports Analytics Conference) hashtag that weekend put the power of twitter in a new light.

This year twitter is still all the rage, but how to use it is getting less confusing. For example, the organizers had flat panels which they would use to promote the best tweets about the #SSAC. It’s a rather simple concept, but one that works to bring the attendees together to promote the event on twitter.

It worked, too. During day two, “Drew Carey” was trending in the US — but more on Drew in part two.