Breaking Down the Career Paths in Sports Analytics: Which One is Right for You?
When most people think of career options within the sports industry, there are a handful of obvious ones that come to mind: pro players, coaches, personal trainers, and maybe back-office managers. Past that, awareness about the vast sport industry career cornucopia is usually relatively threadbare — or at least surprising to most.
However, it’s true. The sport industry boasts an incredibly wide selection of career opportunities for people interested in pursuing a job in the sports industry. And some of the most exciting developments and opportunities that have become more prevalent over the past decade have to do with applying technological advances to sport. Meet sports analytics roles.
What is Sports Analytics Anyway?
The field of sports analytics applies the principles and technologies of data analytics, a quickly growing and diversifying area of professional knowledge and expertise that spans across multiple industries, to the world of sport. Data analytics captures large amounts of data from various sources and then analyzes that data to produce insights and greater understanding of the subject in question.
Data analytics is a mainstay in areas like business, finance, education, government, and more. It has now made inroads into the sports industry. It has quickly proven how immensely valuable it can be to sports organizations, fans, players, and other stakeholders alike when applied intelligently. Broadly speaking, data analytics can be broken into a few fundamental categories:
Descriptive analytics simply paints a picture of what is currently happening or has happened in the past. This kind of data analytics can show a sports venue what demographics are most commonly attending games, or a sports team physician how much load each athlete on the team is undergoing each week during practice.
Diagnostic analytics takes this a step further and attempts to answer questions about why the status quo is the way that it is. For instance, if a franchise’s season ticket purchases have decreased for the last three years in a row, digging into the data a bit further or beginning to collect new types of data to analyze could help the franchise solve the mystery and reverse that trend.
Predictive analytics uses historical data to forecast what might happen in the future to help inform strategic decisions. For instance, if a community sports center knows because of recent cost of living trends in the area that the continued cost of living increase will squeeze discretionary spending by X% in the next five years, they can anticipate any resulting revenue decreases and adjust their pricing models, staffing projections, or marketing campaigns accordingly.
And finally, prescriptive analytics attempts to take that a step further. Prescriptive analytics can present suggestions or suggested actions based on how it has analyzed available data. A professional sports team could use prescriptive analytics to generate suggested marketing techniques based on an analysis of marketing trends amongst other similar professional teams over the past five years, predicting with an educated degree of accuracy what type of marketing campaign might be most successful for your organization.
Examples of Different Sports Analytics Career Types Within the Industry
Within the world of sports analytics, there are a variety of different job types that apply data to sport in different ways. Fundamentally, the process of analytics that data analysts in any industry are responsible for involves a few similar elements. It starts with collecting data; then requires organizing it and “cleaning” it to make it processable; then analyzes that data for insights, and finally communicates the learnings gleaned from that process in effective, understandable ways. However, there are many nuances and differences that affect how various sports analytics jobs within the field play out:
Business Analyst for a Sports Organization
These professionals do essentially what a business analyst would do at any corporate or for-profit organization. They just happen to do it for a sports franchise or organization that has a business arm or for-profit model. Any professional sports franchise and countless other sport organizations will employ one or multiple business analysts to provide data-driven insights.
Statistical Analyst for a Team, Association, News Syndicate, or League
These individuals often manage the statistical tasks that come with trying to understand large amounts of sports data. By utilizing statistical modeling and analysis, these professionals look for patterns, anomalies, trends, and other insights made possible by large amounts of information.
Player or Team Performance Analyst
These individuals work closely with data pertaining to a specific athlete or team rather than looking at broad, industry-wide information. Performance analysts are often responsible for turning performance measurement information into insights that can help improve outcomes and performance over time.
Sports researchers more commonly work within either journalistic or academic settings than for sport organizations themselves. Whether for news publications or for more academic research, sports researchers often apply data in more rigorous ways to explore specific topics or questions. They might write for academic journals or in long form for published books or other works. Sports researchers often contribute to creating and furthering best practice ranging from training techniques, to performance regimens, to more high-level ideological or strategic insights for the sports industry as a whole.
Creating a Roadmap for Your Sports Analytics Career
Whatever area of sports analytics you’re interested in, there’s a career path that can get you to that type of work. For most sports analytics’ jobs, you’ll need to work on your knowledge of statistics and statistical techniques, your skills with analytical software such as SPSS and Excel, and your communication skills especially for sharing topics or insights that are based in mathematical data with those who are not mathematically minded. Above all, it can be extremely helpful to have an interest or passion in sport.
As data analytics software and tools become even more robust, sports analytics will likely take huge steps forward over the coming 5-10 years into realms we can’t even fully predict yet. Sports analytics is a fantastic career path for those interested in sport that brings analytic skills and curiosity to the table.
We hope you enjoyed the article “Breaking Down the Career Paths in Sports Analytics: Which One is Right for You?” Are you thinking of starting a career in sports analytics? Let us know!
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