- The Search
Next Yellow Line
- Protecting the World’s
Most Valuabal Human
- How Apps Might
Change Your Swing
- The Extinction of
In October of 1984, the historically great 104-game winning Detroit Tigers took on the San Diego Padres and their historically dreadful brown and orange uniforms in the World Series. It was a brutal mismatch that the Tigers exploited as ace Jack Morris pitched two complete games and star outfielder Kirk Gibson pounded two home runs for five RBIs in the decisive Game 5.
If you took the box scores from that game and every single major league game that year and every game in the three decades since then, you’d be looking at roughly 70,000 games and 10.5 million data points (at a fairly conservative 150 stats per game). That cache of strikeouts, walks, hits and other stats used to fill huge tomes, but these days it’s only a drop in the vast ocean of sports data. Just look at the scorekeeping platform GameChanger, a free app used by amateur and youth teams.
“This past weekend we scored the equivalent of 30 years of Major League Baseball in two days,” said Ted Sullivan, co-founder of GameChanger, which has scored more than 5.3 million games since its 2010 launch.
With more than 20 million kids participating in team sports, the sheer volume of this sports data at both the amateur and professional level has the potential to arm a new generation of athletes, coaches and scouts with player insights and even predict the future based on reams of information.
People gather data on amateur matches, at least initially, to keep their friends and family informed. “My intention with GameChanger was not originally about leveraging Moneyball analytics,” said Sullivan, a former baseball player at Duke who played in the Cleveland Indians’ system before going to Harvard Business School. “That was almost a side benefit. There were core efficiency problems at the amateur level that needed to be solved.”
Sullivan found that parents who couldn’t attend games had no idea what was going on. The best they could hope for were anecdotal reports on the games, since most coaches were still using archaic scoring tools. By contrast, the app uses a video game-like interface that scorekeepers use to enter game play. From that, the app generates an animated play-by-play for viewers following the game remotely (GameChanger is also rolling out a basketball app this fall).
At the end of the game, the app generates 150 different statistics and a recap story, something that used to take weeks or months for a single tournament. Coaches then use the statistics for player development and scouts use the database to track prospects for college and professional programs.
Golf, the other major sport that still relies on pencils for scoring, is also benefiting from an injection of digital data gathering and analytics. Broadcasters are engaging viewers of the major tournaments by using data to show what will happen next, according to John Kent, program manager of worldwide sponsorship marketing for IBM.
After struggling for years to cull new data that would be meaningful to viewers, IBM created a new feature called Hole Insights, which correlates statistics to outcomes. It borrows from the company’s data modeling that predicts what happens to sales of products like coffee when the weather heats up (it generally drops, telling retailers to target consumers with promotions during warm spells.)
In the golf context, the Hole Insights provided detailed data-driven insights about what was likely to happen when a player hit the fairway on the 10th Hole of Pinehurst Resort’s No. 2 course, the location of the 2014 U.S. Open. “Did they get a par? Did they get a bogey or worse? Or a birdie?” Kent said. “What we find is that the things that are simpler in nature tend to resonate more with the audience.”
A simple graphic told viewers exactly how much missing the fairway on that hole would hurt, since 75 percent of players who had gone into the rough in earlier rounds ended up with a bogey or worse.
For now, those predictions are only for the pros, but with apps like GameChanger revolutionizing the amateur game, it’s easy to see how they will soon show weekend duffers how woefully their games are lacking.