MSDS Students Travel to Boston for Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

Chris Longchamp
May 12, 2023
Students at MIT Sloan Conference

One of the great advantages of the Master of Science in Data Science (MSDS) program at the University of Virginia is that the School of Data Science is very supportive of students attending different conferences. One of the biggest sports analytics conferences in the country is the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference held in Boston, Massachusetts. Sports industry professionals converge for two days to discuss the latest innovations in sports analytics. The conference is also an opportunity to network and connect with different professionals in the industry, and students, faculty, professionals, and enthusiasts from all over the country attend. Hear from current MSDS student Chris Longchamp as he and his friends made the trip up to Boston and his experiences at the conference.  

The Journey to Boston | 3/2/2023

The students took many different modes of transportation to get from Charlottesville to Boston. Some opted to fly out of the local airport to Logan Airport in Boston, while some decided to take the over 12-hour car ride between the two destinations. The students that took the car ride saved money as compared to the students that flew, but both modes of transportation ended up with students getting from Charlottesville to Boston. I elected to take the drive since I am from the Boston area and knew how to maneuver a car around the city (trust me, this is not easy at all). The road trip from Charlottesville to Boston was smooth. The trip started at 7 AM, with the hope that the group would reach Boston around 7 PM.  The group really enjoyed traveling through eight different states on the drive. One fun group activity was taking photos of the welcome signs from every state we passed through. The group also lucked out as we were able to get to Boston earlier than planned. The group’s mission was to get there as fast as possible and thus we only took one stop for gas to refill the tank. My friends were able to take some time to rest as I drove. The playlist for the ride ranged from rap to country, and we vividly remember Taylor Swift appearing at least ten times during the ride.    

The Travelers make Their Entrance or Diving into the Conference | 3/3/2023

What an opening day to the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference! The first panel of the day, “Bet On It: A Conversation on Innovation in the Sports Betting Industry,” did not disappoint. The CEOs of FanDuel and Caesars were on the panel and they were discussing how they were going to guide their companies to greatness in the future. The sports betting environment is ever-changing, and the companies must adjust to the market and provide what consumers want. I think that my favorite panel from the first day was, “Performance Under Pressure,” which featured Sue Bird, Brad Stevens, and Steve Magness. They had a great rapport and comprehensive discussion: Bird thoroughly described the pressure from the player’s perspective, Stevens spoke to the pressures coaching, and Magness described the effect these pressures have on the brain. To have these three different and complementary viewpoints at once was so informative with its 360° of perspective. One comment I found particularly interesting was when Sue spoke about how she could tell when a teammate could not perform in the clutch. she said that some of the physical tells that a player was not going to deliver was gripping the ball tighter than usual, tensing up during a timeout, and other behaviors that she saw during the last two minutes of the game.  

Another great part of the day was the Career Conversations event. During one-on-one time with professionals working in the industry, I was able to ask questions relevant to my job search and talked with representatives from Kraft Analytics Group and the Dallas Mavericks. I later followed up with the people I spoke to at Sloan. I don’t know if any opportunities will appear from the interviews, but I see these connections as valuable for the future.  

The Golf Simulator was also cool because it allowed me to take a mental break from everything that was going on and enjoy something new. I took a ten-minute break to visit the golf simulator. It was great to pivot from the conference for a second and remind myself why I got into sports in the first place. Overall, I learned a lot today and cannot wait to see what tomorrow has in store.  

Living Up to the Hype   | 3/4/23

The second day of the conference may have been even better. My favorite panel was the panel about the NHL and roster construction. There were two assistant general managers on the panel, and having their insights was great. It also helped that their two respective teams were in very different positions in the league. One team, the New Jersey Devils, was chasing the league’s top teams, and the other, the Florida Panthers, was on the cusp of making the playoffs.  

The two other panels I enjoyed were the keynote panel and the NFL player tracking metric. The NFL player tracking metric talk was great because it walked the audience through what they did to develop the metric. The metric consists of three different scores, an open score, a catch score, and a yard-after-catch score. The open score is how good the wide receiver is at creating separation and being able to get open from a defender. The catch score is how likely the player is to catch a ball based on the conditions of the defenders, field, and other factors. The yards-after-catch score are how likely the player is to get more than their expected yards-after-catch. The metric is a combination of these three statistics. The keynote panel spoke about the future of sports moving forward. The panelists described which sports they thought would gain popularity over the coming years and which sports would lose popularity. They also discussed which sports they wanted to see gain popularity. One answer really caught people off guard, which was women’s volleyball. Volleyball has such a great pace of play and can be a very entertaining sport to watch. The panels offered insight into Women’s sports and how they saw those sports rising in popularity over the coming years. Both panels were very in-depth with their analysis, and both were excellent.  

I was also surprised by the golf panel. As a casual player and viewer of the sport, I did not really know what to expect. This panel was very easy to understand even for a recreational player like me. It was also great to see less prominent sports host panels and hold discussions at the conference as well.  

Looking back, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was an invaluable experience for my development in the sports industry as I was able to connect with people that I never thought I would.