Masters in Sports Analytics 2021
What is Sports Analytics?
Sports analytics is as old as sport itself, invented the first time two competitors decided to keep score. Modern sports have always had hobbyist statisticians–for generations, young fans have obsessed over batting averages, ERA’s, passing yards, touchdowns, goals, etc. of their favorite childhood athletes. In recent years, the demand for these advanced statistics has exploded thanks to pioneering front offices, fantasy sports, and the gaming industry. These days sports analytics provides the metrics that power decisions, training, and strategy amongst all collegiate and professional leagues, both in the head office and on the playing field.
We all remember the back office heroics of Billy Bean – immortalized in the movie Moneyball – but these days, the data driven approaches to transforming sport have been utilized around the world, from the English Premier League to the UFC. Sports analytics has emerged from the shadows of the back office and to become a critical part of the world’s top sports organizations. Nowadays there are international conferences on sports analytics such as the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which is the largest of them all. This massive–and still growing–event brings leaders of the sports analytics industry together and features workshops, guest speakers and presentations about current and future trends within the industry. Simply considering how quickly this single conference has grown to such a huge event with major players contributing shows what a growing field sports analytics is.
The professional sports industry in the United States alone accounts for billions and billions in annual revenue, so it’s no surprise that cutting-edge data analysis and statistics are increasingly a fundamental component of professional sports. Across the globe, organizations, leagues and professional teams increasingly look for patterns from math and physics to determine strategy and the most efficient use of financial resources. Graduates with a master’s degree in sports analytics who are able to combine an in-depth knowledge of sports with an understanding of how to apply state-of-the-art data analysis techniques will find themselves incredibly marketable to a wide array of sports industries.
Sports analytics goes well beyond simple statistics. It involves organizations to re-examine virtually every aspect of their operation through a number of different lenses. Analytics allows teams to assess their infrastructure, personnel, and strategy from the top down in order to discover the very best version of themselves. By synthesizing and assessing data indices on a variety of levels, they can improve efficiency, profitability and the competitiveness of a team or organization.
With a heavy foundation in math, computer modeling and statistics, sports analytics is at the forefront of utilizing advances in remote sensing, data mining, accounting, computer modeling and statistics, leading to a rapid growth in this evolving field.
Broadly speaking, sports analytics can be separated into two separate areas: on field and off field metrics. On field metrics include player fitness, tactics, environmental conditions, anything that will increase the competitiveness of a team on the field. Off field metrics include player transfers, ticket sales, marketing, and anything else within the control of the back office to improve the profitability and bottom line of the organization’s business practices.
Technological advances – particularly in the processes of data collection – have generated an incredible amount of data that organizations can use to their advantage. From dynamic heat maps that show where a soccer midfielder has run over the course of a 90 minute match, to a heart-rate graph of a basketball player resting for the 4th quarter of a playoff game–the examples of how sports analytics is changing the game abound. Subtle metrics like these are now considered key data points which factor into the bigger picture of winning games and staying profitable for every professional sports franchise.
Tangential to sports analytics, the sports gambling industry–with revenue approaching 150 million dollars a year in the US alone–has also had a significant impact on professional leagues. This entire industry of sports gambling is now driven by sports analytics, and is growing across the globe with large gambling centers like Macau and Las Vegas and online gambling sites allowing action neary every single sporting event across the world. With the sports industry, the gambling industry, and the lucrative world of fantasy sports, it is clear that the demand for sports analytics experts will continue to grow at a rapid rate for years to come.
What can I do with a master’s degree in sports analytics?
There are few fields out there today which are growing as quickly with as many opportunities for graduates with advanced degrees as sports analytics. As mentioned above, professional sports teams are employing more sports data analysts all the time, with media organizations, sports gambling, and third party consultants also competing for qualified graduates.
Professional sports has been transformed in recent years by the application of sports analytics. Gone are the days when the coach reads the tea leaves before games or goes with his “gut” to decide important team decisions. Modern professional sport clubs are now driven at every level by sports analytics professionals who are charged with analyzing various aspects of the operation.
Graduates with master’s degrees in sports analytics will quickly find themselves contributing on teams working to analyze huge sets of data searching for subtle advantages that could make the difference between mediocrity and bringing home a championship. With a few years of real world experience, professionals with advanced degrees in sports analytics will be as qualified as anyone else for upper management positions within the sports industry. With the future promising to only involve sports analytics at every level, the value of a master’s degree in sports analytics will continue to increase for the foreseeable future.
Media organizations employ teams of sports data analysts to crunch the numbers and stats that are so pervasive in modern sports broadcasts and print media. Classic media outlets like ESPN and Sports Illustrated and new school fantasy and gambling sites like FanDuel and DraftKings alike use statistics and analytics to break the game down to amazing levels of detail. Sports analytics allow the game to be explained in ways that fans are increasingly fluent in, as the stats can tell fascinating stories behind “games within the game” including story lines that are sometimes obscured from view.
Many professional sports organizations also hire sports analytics professionals in their head office to help with the business side of the operation through marketing, ticketing sales, and various kinds of fan engagement. Applied through the business lens, sports analytics is used to assess the success or failure of marketing campaigns, expand ticketing sales, pick team mascots and color combinations, playing an important role in a company’s ability to fully capitalize on its brand and reach.
Third party consulting is another growing industry in the sports analytics field. The mountains of data generated from sports events have spun off an entire industry that focuses on collecting stats and crunching the numbers to make obscure models comprehensible to team managers and GM’s. Pro Stats, Opta Stats and Sports Analytics Pro, are some of the companies at the forefront of this new frontier in the sports industry. These third party vendors offer their services as consultants to professional teams, leagues and media outlets, giving them the statistical content and the predictions of their proprietary predictive models.
Sports analytics has also impacted the sports science disciplines, with the analytical techniques and data being applied to a range of health metrics. Nutrition is one such example, it wasn’t too many years ago that professional sports organizations were offering pizza, Coca Cola and even fried chicken at team facilities. Today’s professional teams employed sports analytics professionals along with team dietitians to crunch data related to nutrition and training to revolutionize the diet and nutrition protocols of their teams. Calories are counted along with Body Mass Index (BMI), and injury recovery times to create complex and custom nutrition plans for today’s star athletes. This helps keep athletes at peak physical condition and helps them recover from injuries quicker than ever before, thanks to data analysis that simply did not exist a generation ago. This intersection of sports analytics and the sport sciences is one area in which a great deal of growth can be expected in the next decade and beyond,
Professor Dan Matheson, who is the Director of the Sports & Recreation Management Program at the University of Iowa, recently spoke with SportsDegreesOnline.org about the topic of analytics in sports. Here is what he had to say about what to expect in the near future:
“I think you are going to see continued growth in the use of analytics as an important element of the decision making process, in all areas of sports. Analytics gets a lot of attention on the player personnel side, on the field and on the court but analytics will play a big role in all aspects of an organization from sponsorship deals to social media and game presentation. Another area I think you’ll see continued growth in is gambling. With the legalization of sports gambling by so many states and so many more to certainly follow, you’re already seeing teams creating new opportunities for fans to engage with their product and their brand through gambling.”
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What types course topics should be expected in a master’s in sports analytics degree program?
Specific course syllabi will depend on the school, but here is a general outline of common topics taught in a master’s of sports analytics program:
Math for Modelling: Learn how to define your favorite sport in terms of numbers and then how to build and interpret mathematical models to draw conclusions. Some of the mathematical techniques employed include, matrices, linear programming, auto-correlation, probability, and calculus, with the goal of bringing the numbers to life to explain real world phenomena in sports.
Statistical Analysis: Process and interpret data from various sports industries using statistical techniques. This includes probability, descriptive statistics, regression analysis, and how they can be applied across the sports industry.
Sports Performance Analytics: Expand on the statistic and modelling concepts previously covered to evaluate individual player and team performances. Learn how to assess and rate team competitiveness, strength, likelihood of injury, based on constructed, data driven simulations that look at specific players in different positions, environment, body type, attitudes, etc., and how the metrics and analysis vary between different sports.
Comprehensive list of master’s in sports analytics programs
Below, we have compiled a list of every university in the US currently offering a master’s degree in sports analytics. We hope that this information will serve you well as you search for the program that best suits your needs.