A year ago, University of Notre Dame student AJ Meyer
traveled 700 miles to Chapel Hill and slept on a friend's couch, all to hear from the top sports analytics experts in the nation at the first-ever UNC Basketball Analytics Summit.
This year, Meyer was invited to speak and share his expertise as the analytics manager for Notre Dame basketball. His accommodations did not include couch surfing in a dorm room this time.
Edgar Walker, a sophomore journalism student and Summit organizer, says this is proof of how transformative the event can be.
“From year one to year two this guy goes from being an attendee, taking some lessons and applying them to his work at Notre Dame and is now one of the leaders here," he says. That's the big mission of Dr. Debby Stroman and her small team at the Kenan Institute for Sport—to introduce students from UNC and around the nation to the opportunities that exist in sports business and to inspire at least some of them to enter the industry or start their own businesses.
Meyer was joined by leading basketball experts and professionals earlier this month to discuss the game and business of the sport, with a focus on the use of science and analytics. Panelists included marketing gurus, statistics experts and media leaders, many of whom returned to the Summit for the second year in a row. Students from UNC and other Triangle schools were able to talk one-on-one with these experts, giving them an opportunity to build their networks in an industry that can be difficult to break into. Here's our preview of the event.
Stroman was elated by the attendance and conversation. “It was a wonderful event,” she says. “I think success in events like this are the people—in having the right speakers, the right attendees. I think the blend was nice; everything from students, staff, faculty, practitioners, coaches, analysts and I think it all came together very well.”
Many of those people are world-renowned basketball, business and marketing experts, including John Skipper, president of ESPN and a UNC alumnus. Other ESPN employees in attendance included college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla who emceed the event for the second year in a row and espnW vice president of content programming and development Carol Stiff.
Other notable panelists included Ken Pomeroy and Dean Oliver (who holds a Ph.D. from UNC) two of the most renowned and respected basketball statisticians in the world.
Other topics of discussion included marketing, ticketing and sport science with representatives from Google, Coca-Cola, the Charlotte Hornets, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs.
Organizers say the thing that makes the Summit unique is how accessible these experts are to students and members of the public. Stroman says the wants to keep attendance numbers relatively small moving forward because she wants to maintain the intimacy that smaller numbers allow. There were around 200 attendees this year.
“People talk about getting bigger and bigger and I don’t necessarily want to do that,” said Stroman. “I think there’s power in having a smaller group in the sense that you can actually touch and feel our speakers.”
Moving forward, organizers say they plan on making the experience even better for attendees. “I want to keep building out its presence for students and individuals like me who are trying to initially break into that industry,” said Bryce Parrish, a first-year MBA student at UNC and event organizer.
“I think we have a little bit of work to do on that front but I think we’re getting there year after year.”
Sports business opportunities abound
Stroman says that business opportunities abound in the sports world and that the industry is constantly being disrupted. For instance, she estimates that a few years ago only a third of NBA teams had a full-time analytics expert on staff. Today, every single team has an analytics department and college teams have picked up on the trend as well, opening opportunities for students like Meyer.
“People are looking at data in another way,” says Stroman. “We know that sport definitely has an art to it, but also now we’re applying the science.”
Stroman believes the next big business trend emerging in athletics will be in sport science. Innovations in safety, rehabilitation, injury prevention and performance enhancement will continue to revolutionize the industry.
“You’re getting some of the brightest minds in terms of how the body works and now we’re adding it with people who can design, build and create things that help the performance of the athlete,” she says.
Stroman says recent advancements in the field of prosthetics are a perfect example of this. Medical experts and designers can now build artificial limbs for disabled athletes that allow them to compete on a level comparable to their able-bodied counterparts.
Stroman said that she and her team are getting feedback from attendees to look for ways to improve for future events. Her main focus is to ensure that attendees are getting the most they can out of the Summit by bringing in people who are passionate about basketball.
“I really want the intimacy of a close-knit group that cares about the business of basketball. That is what my goal will be.”