Interview with Ben Alamar (Analytics Consultant, Author, Professor, & More)
Though Ben Alamar wears many hats as an analytics consultant, professor, author, editor, and more, his career can be aptly combined into one profession - analytics guru. Simply put, Ben is one of the leading minds of the industry. A professor of Sports Management at Menlo College, Ben also has consulted with NBA (previously OKC & currently CLE) teams. Ben is the Founding Editor of the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports and is the author of the recently-published book Sports Analytics: A Guide for Coaches, Managers, & Other Decision Makers.
While we could have asked Ben hundreds of more-specific questions, we chose to focus more broadly. Ben shares wonderful insights about his path to sports, what he loves most about working in sports, and his advice for others.
SA Blog: What made you decide to switch from “Corporate America” (where you worked for PwC) to the sports industry?
Ben: I switched careers as soon as I realized that I might be able to create a career in sports for myself. I grew up as a sports junky, but not a baseball fan, so it was not until after I had finished graduate school that I became aware of Bill James and the use of statistical analysis in baseball. Once I saw what was happening in baseball, and I had the good fortune of working with Aaron Schatz, Roland Beech and Jeff Ma at Protrade, I was sold. The possibility to apply these tools in football and basketball were too exciting to me to pass up.
SABlog: Can you talk a little about the Journal of Quantitive Analysis in Sports which you founded? What does it entail and what inspired you to start it?
Ben: When I decided to work in sports, I also wanted to pursue an academic career. Professors have to publish their research in academic journals in order to progress in their careers. I knew that there was really no field of sports statistics in academia, thought there were researchers all of the world that had done a paper or two in the area. I started the journal to provide a consistent place to publish high level statistical analysis of sport. I needed the journal myself and I felt that others would appreciate the outlet for their work as well.
SABlog: Why did you choose to work in the NBA as opposed to another sport?
Ben: My work in sports is not the result of a carefully executed career plan. I just kept doing projects that I thought were interesting and talking to as many interesting people as I could. Through this process of continually saying yes to interesting projects I was presented with the opportunity to work in the NBA so I said yes – and I’ve been very happy that I did.
SABlog: What is your favorite part about working with sports?
Ben: There are two aspects to my work which are incredibly exciting to me: breaking new ground and winning. Finding new data sets and technical approaches that have never really been utilized before in the context of sports is incredibly gratifying to me. Also, being part of a group that has built a winning team is exhilarating .
SABlog: What advice would you give to students and young professionals trying to break into the industry?
Ben: Develop skills in statistics and data management, and then spend some time trying to determine questions that coaches and general managers would want to know the answers to. Once you can identify these questions, answer them analytically and find a way to present them that makes the results clear and engaging to people who don’t have your training in statistics but know a lot more about the sport than you do.