High-powered statistical analysis is changing the game for many professional sports.

Big Data’s Big Impact on Professional Sports

  • Big data is a major buzzword in business today. Launching a startup, attracting customers, and remaining competitive depends largely on information. The volume, variety, and velocity of data is now at higher levels than at any time in history.

    Aside from the ways that big data is revolutionizing how we get products into customer's hands or streamline a supply chain, it's being leveraged in some unique industries. Professional sports organizations today use big data to analyze players, improve games, and boost revenues. Here are three example of big data's big impact.

    Big Data Analytics and Baseball

    Sabermetrics, which is the empirical analysis of baseball statistics, isn't anything new. In fact, a sportswriter in the mid-1800's was the first to use boxscores with the game, launching an analysis of what was up until then an unstudied pastime. Today, however, we've gone far beyond boxscores and even standard metrics with the availability and use of big data in baseball.

    MLB's Statcast is now producing mountains of data about nearly everything that happens within a baseball diamond. Exit velocity (EV) is a measurement that comes from the system, where radar and high-resolution cameras measure the speed of a ball after it's hit by the batter. For pitchers, the system can measure Spin Rate (SR), Velocity, and Extension.

    The Statcast system is installed in 30 MLB parks, and analysts can use the stats to predict accuracy, performance, and even to diagnosis potentially unreported injuries in players.

    Big Data and Your Golf Swing

    If you thought that you had to hire an expensive golf pro to improve your swing, you might have other choices. A company called GolfTEC has released a swing study where they've tapped big data to determine what makes the perfect golf swing.

    GolfTEC's study used monitors, cameras, and sensors to capture 225 terabytes of data on 13,000 golf swings. The techniques of golf pro's down to the newest amateurs were studied to come up with some key metrics for a perfect swing. These involve hip sway, shoulder tilt, hip turn, and shoulder bend at various intervals of the swing.

    While some experts believe that part of success in sports is intuitive, the more data points that are collected, the better argument analysts will have that the most successful players have certain points in common.

    Computer-Assisted Horse Betting

    If you've ever tried and failed at online gaming, this isn't the same thing. A recent study of computer-assisted horse betting took a look at how some professional gambling groups are using big data to affect their outcome with the house and other bettors.

    For example, with pari-mutuel racing, where money bet is put into a central pool, quantitative strategies used with computer-assisted betting analyze as many as 100 variables. These include the track, horse, jockey, and weather.

    Computer-assisted bettors also have data about the betting pool that enable them to place more profitable bets. In some cases, this benefits regular gamblers because the size of the pools increase, boosting their payouts. Other betting experts argue that normal gamblers might also have an advantage due to "local wisdom," as opposed to relying on raw data.

    On the contrary, others suggest that the use of predictive analytics in horse racing is nearly as old as the sport itself. Pete Laverick, Director of Marketing for BetAmerica recently responded to a request for input on this subject with the following reply:

  • “You could say that predictive analytics have been in play for horse racing more than any other sport; for hundreds of years people have studied the past performance of horses and make wagers based on their research.”

    Big data is revolutionizing not only business but professional sports in a variety of ways. The analytics now available allow greater insight into games that were once thought to be driven by instinct and raw power.