Sports analytics minor is ‘Moneyball’ for sports business

When one thinks of analytics in sports, what usually comes to mind is the “Moneyball” method of player evaluation in which stats and data are crunched to determine personnel decisions.

In George Mason University’s new sports analytics minor, students are taught to use big data to enhance an organization’s business directives.

“The industry is looking for people with a data analytics base,” said Craig Esherick, associate director of George Mason’s Center for Sport Management. “It used to be they were looking only in the area of how you value athletes. That has morphed into looking for data analysis in relation to how to sell more tickets, more suites, how to engage with fans, which has created jobs for people with that talent.”

“We’re on the cutting edge here,” said Bob Baker, director of the Center for Sport Management, who believes Mason is one of the first universities nationally to offer such a program. “We’re pulling something together that will give our students a competitive advantage.”

The minor is a collaborative effort by the Center for Sport Management (part of the Division of Sports Recreation and Tourism in the College of Education and Human Development), the School of Business and the Volgenau School of Engineering, which offers the required statistics class

Other classes include business analytics, decision and risk analysis, and research methods.

“What we’re trying to do,” Baker said, “is help train individuals who understand sports business dimensions but also what questions to ask, what measures work and how to utilize analysis once it’s made.”

For example, Baker said, Twitter scraping can help determine marketing and sponsorship decisions. Purchasing habits of prospective fans can inform future sales strategies.

Though such efforts are not new, Baker said few individuals in the sports industry have formal training in spotting, analyzing and acting on trends.

That is what Mason wants its sports analytics students to provide.

“It’s big data for sports organizations and it’s pretty darn forward looking,” said senior Griffin Gissendanner, who is majoring in individualized study with a concentration in sports management. “What’s really attractive is the avenue you can go down in sports business. It seems like sports analytics is the best way to get into the industry.”