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Big Data’s Transformation of the NBA

November 19, 2013 No Comments

The way we play, view and monetize sports hasn’t changed dramatically for a long time. In fact, aside from maybe the creation of fantasy leagues, the last huge transformation was the invention of the TV and the live broadcast of sporting events from around the world. Now, big data is promising a whole new transformation in the sporting world.

Last month, the NBA began its season by equipping all 29 of its arenas with high-tech cameras that throughout the season will monitor each player’s’ movements. The cameras use motion-capture technology called SportVU, which can capture the position of the ball and every player 25 times per second. That means if a game has 48 minutes of action, the cameras will capture more than four million data points in a single game.

These cameras won’t be used to get better views of the game, but rather will be used for detailed analysis of a player’s performance. For example, does your favorite player run faster on certain days or what percentage of the time does a certain player score after being passed the ball? Naturally, with so much data available not just about individual players but overall plays, team dynamics and other factors, this data will change not just how coaches and managers view the game but fans as well. Let’s look at some specific examples.

Player Valuation

Naturally, having more data about their players will give team managers an even better view of how valuable each player is to the team. Traditionally, certain performance indicators were hard to measure because they were dependant on the actions of other players. Assists, for example, are used to measure passing ability, but traditionally a player is only awarded an assist if their teammate actually makes the shot. While missing the shot could indicate a poor judgement call, the player passing may be doing everything right and the player shooting may be the real problem. Better data can shed more light on each player’s performance, indicating the best and the worst matchups.

New Apps for Fans

Stepping away from the game, let’s imagine the possibilities this data creates for entrepreneurs. From apps that let fans compare the number of shots they make to their favorite player to chips that are placed in shoes that can monitor a fan’s entire game and offer a complete comparison, fans have a lot to look forward to in the new apps that will be created out of this technology. For fans looking to play the odds, checking out stats could help them to determine which team is most likely to win as well.

A Deeper Viewing Experience

Sure, there are some fans who simply want to watch the game in HD and yell at the screen every once in a while, but many viewers, especially younger viewers, want a more in-depth and interactive experience. While watching a game online, fans could pull up data about how well a player is doing that game, what a player should have done differently or any number of questions the fan feels like asking. This interactivity can be expanded to live events as well with fans pulling numbers on their smartphones and tablets, and of course, ESPN and other sports channels will be sure to find their own ways to use the data.

Content Marketing and Sponsorships

Of course, the NBA itself will benefit significantly from this data as the content marketing possibilities abound. The data is used on NBA TV, and the infographic possibilities are endless. Social media engagement and video advertising will be enhanced by the data as well. Adding a new element to the NBA, of course, brings in new sponsor opportunities. Right now, SAP, a business software brand, will sponsor the data.

It seems there isn’t an area of our lives that big data hasn’t touched in some way, and the influence of big data won’t stop in the NBA. Other sports will be evaluating how they can benefit from big data as well, and as big data technologies, such as Hadoop as a Service, continue to develop, these kinds of stories will only become more common. What are your thoughts on the NBA’s new technology? How else will sports benefit from big data?


Gil Allouche is the Vice President of Marketing at Qubole. Gil began his marketing career as a product strategist at SAP while earning his MBA at Babson College and is a former software engineer.



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