paraag marathe

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 2

This is part two of RDM’s running diary of both day 1 and day 2 of the Sloan Conference. Going forward OWS will have a number of conference inspired posts in the coming days.

Morning Panel 1: “Sports Bookmaking And Gambling”

Sports and gambling. This could easily be one of my favorite panel topics on paper. But, as they say, that’s why you play the game. Could this panel live up to the hype?

It most certainly did. This might have been the best panel of the conference. The panel was moderated by Jeff Ma. He is the basis for the main character in the book Bringing Down The House. The panel was comprised of Chad Millman, the editor in chief of ESPN the Mag, Mattew Holt from Cantor Gaming, and Bob Stoll, one of the more famous sports handicappers.

At one point Millman asked/stated that when Stoll released a pick to his website, the line often moves. Holt balked at this. “Maybe,” he said questioning the statement. Stoll fired back saying of course they do due to the market shifting. Holt once again chimed in, “Maybe.”

It was a brilliant exchange between the guy who creates the line and the guy who is trying to beat that line.


Morning Panel 2: “Franchises In Transition”

If you haven’t noticed, this year’s conference was infested people from Bristol. Not a terrible thing, really. This frachises panel was moderated by Around The Horn’s Tony Reali. Joining him were Rockets GM Dary Morey, George Postolos, President & CEO of The Houston Astros, Paraag Marathe, COO of the 49ers, Rita Benson LeBlanc, owner of the Saints and Drew Carey, owner of the Seattle Sounders.

Carey is last, but definitely not least on that list.

Drew really stole the show. It wasn’t just his wit, though. He actually had some of the more interesting perspectives and ideas. I will spotlight Carey later.