The biggest sports companies and teams use data to make better team decisions. How is it that your ESPN app is able to give you the latest basketball scores in real-time? What is the data behind this science, and how does it allow NBA owners to better market their teams and players?
Data-driven Sports Marketing!
In 2011, Moneyball, the groundbreaking sports movie, hit cinemas worldwide. This film served as most people’s first introduction into the world of sports data driven analytics. In the film, a baseball owner and an Ivy League student team up and develop a new way to assemble teams based on pure data. While controversial at the time, their strategy proved to be successful, and helped propel that baseball team to new heights. Fast forward, and sports analytics has completely taken over professional sports leagues today. Every professional sports league now has next generation stats or advanced stats.
Data Driven Strategy
For this article, the NBA will be used as a case study. Data in sports can be useful for so many things. From a competitive perspective, using data in sports can track performance of players, durability, help prevent injuries, better analyze opponents, and much more. How does the NBA do this? 2 years ago technology transformed the NBA. In the 2018 NBA 3-Point Contest, a new shot-tracking took analytics to the next level.
This shot-tracking technology was developed by RSPCT, an Israeli company specializing in basketball technology. According to them, their algorithms allow them to capture the entire trajectory of the ball: where it came from, how it flew in the air, and where it hit the basket. They can even determine how tall the player is, where he released it from, and where the ball hit the basket, and more.
Based on monitoring the trajectory, this technology can also predict how many shots players might make. Based on the release point, coaches can better train players on improving their shooting form. In addition, shot-tracking technology not only tells coaches and owners where players make shots, but their hottest spots on the court. How do coaches take advantage of this? In the NBA, the most exciting games are when the score is tied up in the 4th quarter, and the game comes down to 1 final shot.
By analyzing sports data, that 1 final shot can now be a targeted shot. In other words, your best player doesn’t have to shoot a bad shot. Coaches use sports data at the end of games to give their team the best chance to win. If you know the hottest spot on the court for your star player, you can draw a play up to get your player to that area where he has a better chance of making it.
What about player management? Load management has been a huge topic in the NBA over the last few years. Superstars have been criticized for resting during high-profile matchups in order to preserve themselves to make it through the 82 game season. Can sports data potentially solve this problem? The answer is yes. The next question is how. Companies like Catapult have developed sports data software specifically for player management. They work with some of the biggest professional basketball teams in the world like the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Duke Blue Devils, OKC Thunder, and more. Catapult’s comprehensive system comes with video analysis.
In their own words, “from live tagging and video capture, to multi game opponent scouting and presenting with integrated telestrations. Vision supports all of your core workflows in a single platform.” Their software is able to visually track all players, record it in real-time, as well as distribute it quickly. This helps coaches with better analysis, and makes those tough decisions in practice and in the game somewhat easier.
Catapult specializes in player management. Their software and technology are based on the principles of inertial movement analysis (IMA). We know that sounds like a lot, but don’t tune out. It’s a fancy word for tracking player performance. It is “the ability to analyze all movement executed by athletes is critical to enhancing elite athlete performance. Typically, these movements are important measures of motor control, skill execution, fatigue, recovery and can also aid injury prevention.” IMA gives you a deep breakdown of when players accelerate, decelerate, change direction, and how high they jump. You can also divide player movements into different categories. They can be classified as low, medium, and high intensity movements.
To make these concepts as simple as possible, let’s use an example. Imagine you’re the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and you just partnered with Catapult. With your new video analysis, you can now track Lebron James and help preserve him. It’s his 17th season, and you don’t want him doing too much work. Because IMA breaks down performance into 3 different movements, you can see which movements affect Lebron James the most. For example, if he drives to the basket for a layup against 3 people, that might be a high intensity movement. A regular jump shot might be considered low intensity.
How does this translate to more wins and more money? Continuing with the case study of Lebron James, knowing which movement affects him the most can potentially prevent injuries. If you’re a coach, you want your superstar player to be as efficient as possible without hurting themself. The goal is to find out which movements benefit him the most that result in more wins for your team without him risking his body and durability.
IMA is all about stopping the injury before it happens. On the backend, Lebron James sells tickets! People pay to come see him. Sure they want to watch a good basketball game, but they really want to see Lebron dunk and hit the game winning shot. All these things can’t happen if he’s constantly executing high intensity movements that result in him getting injured. The more time he spends on the court, the more money the Lakers make.
The technology in this field continues to advance. KINEXON also offers performance tracking, but it truly transforms the way sports. How does it work? This company has special jerseys, wristbands, and balls that all have the tracking technology embedded. “KINEXON’s iBall has a built-in Kinexon chip inside that tracks the movement and speed of the ball, and distributes data in real-time. The players wear KINEXON sensor-embedded jerseys, and their practice session or game is monitored by the coach in real-time.”
This company also tracks actual basketball plays. Due to the ball having the tracking technology, coaches can determine which plays work best for their team. Some of the plays KINEXON tracks are the Pick And Roll, Pick And Pop, Full Court Transition, and more. You can get as detailed as possible. Knowing which plays work can be the difference in winning games. The more games you win, the more people want to buy tickets.
Earlier we talked about injury prevention. KINEXON also specializes in data-driven technology, but adds a new twist to it. With their wearable technology, not only can they prevent injuries, but they make players return safer.
How does this apply to real world situations? In the 2019 NBA Finals, Kevin Durant came back from a horrible injury too soon, and ended up tearing his Achilles tendon. Between social media and coaches, everyone wanted Durant to come back. The Warriors knew that he was crucial to them winning, but at what cost? His premature season cost the Warriors the championship, and resulted in Durant leaving the team and having to sit a year out to rehab the achilles.
KINEXON would’ve helped with this dilemma. They realize that “if the athlete is not 100 percent healthy it could lead to a second, sometimes more serious injury. Our motion profiles compare the performance and movement of recently injured athletes with their performance levels when they are at full health.” Being able to prolong a superstar’s career benefits them and puts more money in the NBA’s pocket. Coaches and trainers no longer need to assume or guess when a player is healthy. This is why more than half of all NBA teams use this technology. They let the data lead their decision making. The longer players are healthy in the league, the more jerseys you can sell with their name on it.
Speaking of making money, NBA teams also have other creative ways to pull in money using data. Have you ever watched an NBA game and during halftime they have interactive contests? If not, these contests happen every game, and are designed to boost fan engagement at home and in person. Sometimes the promotion can say text this number and the 100th person will receive a $50 Atlanta Hawks gift card.
What is this? It’s a creative way of email/text marketing. By texting the number on the screen, teams now have some type of information about you. Because you texted for this specific promotion, marketers assume that you are an Atlanta Hawks fan. Now they can advertise specific products to you like discount tickets, Hawks gear, etc.
Major sports corporations use data driven strategies to be successful. Data driven technology in sports helps prevent injuries, rehab players, make better basketball decisions, and win games. Sports data technology is not a new concept. It’s used in other sports like baseball, soccer, and football, and this new field even broke through in the media with the 2011 blockbuster movie, Moneyball. We say this to say, if the biggest NBA teams like the OKC Thunder, New York Knicks, and more all use data driven strategies to win more which leads to millions of dollars, what’s stopping you from using data driven marketing to transform your business?