After two very interesting days at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference I am more convinced than ever that the most significant improvement teams can make, the area in which they can gain a huge competitive advantage, is in data management. Lets be clear, data management is not exciting. Creating great information systems is not going to get you in the draft room arguing about who to take with the 4th pick in the draft. It is however the skill that is most likely to get an analytic minded person employed with a sports franchise.
Students often ask what they can do to get a job with a team, and more and more, my answer is to acquire good data management skills. Front offices do not lack for people offering them the next great statistic that will tell them who they should be adding to their team. Some of these metrics may even be useful, but teams already have plenty of people telling them, so they probably won't know if yours is actually informative, and they are already bombarded with so much information, thinking about integrating one more type of information is painful to think about.
And that is exactly why data management is the key to the kingdom. Right now sports teams have more data than they know what to do with. The data comes in many forms, from scouting reports, contract parameters, performance data, practice data, injury reports, the list goes on and on... The problem teams have is not that they don't have enough data to consider, but that they don't have a mechanism to efficiently consider all of the data that they do have.
For most of the teams that I have spoken with, data sits in a variety of places. This may include a centralized database that has even a good percentage of the team's data in it, but there are still multiple data silos within the organization. They have their geek box who keeps reams of useful data on excel spreadsheets, they have a trainer who has a ton of health/training related data on their computer, a psychologist who has a host of data (both quantitative and qualitative) on their computer, the cap manager may have their detailed league wide cap model on their computer, and none of this data is collected and processed together. For a decision maker to truly consider all of the different sources of data that they ALREADY USE, even if they have access to it all from their computer, would likely have to have seven or eight windows open, and then scroll from window to window trying to connect the dots between the various data sources. This is a major time waster for people that place a premium on time.
Good data management which includes data structuring, processing, and front end information systems could easily save a group of top level decision makers for a sports team multiple hours a day. Any analytical professional that can demonstrate to a team that they can pull all the various pieces of information within an organization together, and turn it into information that a decision maker can access from one open window, or one app on their phone, would enable that decision maker to spend more time actually strategizing, processing information, and making the team better, instead of having to find and synthesize the data.
So all of you brilliant students desperate to work in sports, give up on finding the next PER or adjusted +/-, and get the skills necessary to help give decision makers back some of what they value the most: time.