Analytics is (are?) taking over sports. Analytics is changing the way teams operate, the way fans consume information, the way players play and the way managers manage. None of that is exactly ground-breaking information. But what, exactly, is "analytics"? To find out, I asked various industry professionals for their definitions and thoughts.
Daryl Morey (Houston Rockets GM): “Increasing knowledge (prediction power) using data & analysis.”
Dean Oliver (Director of Production Analytics at ESPN): “It’s answering the same questions that fans, media, and sports professionals all answer, but using a systematic approach with data.”
Ben Alamar (Analytics consultant for Cleveland Cavaliers): “Analytics is the combination of tools from statistics, data management, information systems and data visualization to help organizations make more efficient and more informed decisions.”
Neil Greenberg (Sportswriter/editor for Washington Post): “It's using all available resources (data, video, scouting, etc.) in concert to reduce the gap between potential and reality in sports performance, at the team and individual level.”
Chris Anderson: (Soccer analytics, author of The Numbers Game): "The discovery, communication, and implementation of actionable insights derived from structured information in order to improve the quality of decisions and performance in an organization."
Jeremy Abramson (Sports analytics professor at USC): “The real answer is: “it depends on who you ask”. A more official definition might be "the discovery and communication of meaningful patterns in data”, which seems reasonable enough. One thing to note, though, is the part about communication … This is actually an important point, and I think the short term future of sports analytics lies less in the development of new mathematical techniques — very few of which are created in sports contexts — and more with coherent storytelling, information distillation and visualization. Regardless of whether you’re a media outlet, the director of analytics for a team or just an armchair statistician, “analytics" doesn’t mean anything if your results only reach as far as your computer screen.”
Sandy Weil (Director of Football Analytics at Baltimore Ravens): “For me, analytics is about both asking questions and finding answers. For me, it is about how my brain is wired. I'm constantly asking questions like "why?" and "how?" and "what would work better?". It is a way of life more than it is a job. For my employer, we can put the answers to some questions right at the fingertips of our decision makers. For other questions, we delve deeply into a topic to understand the question and all its components. Usually, the path from the questions to the answers goes through data. Analytics is about questions, answers, and data.”
Ed Feng (Founder of The Power Rank, Grantland writer): "Analytics is using numbers as a tool to better understand complex phenomena."