Published on August 15, 2017 by Philip Poole  
Samford Basketball Player

The use of analytics to develop a strategic advantage in sports gained widespread acceptance over a decade ago with the release of the book Moneyball that detailed how the Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane used an analytical, sabermetrics approach to assemble a competitive Major League Baseball team despite a minuscule payroll. Today, professional and college sports teams across the globe employ an army of bright data scientists to assist with everything from setting ticket prices to preventing injuries to developing new fan engagement strategies.

Samford University has launched the first Center for Sports Analytics in the United States.

“Samford University, located in Birmingham, Alabama, is the ideal place for a center dedicated to advancing analytic decision making in the sports industry,” said Darin W. White, executive director of the center. “Birmingham is home to the Southeastern Conference headquarters, Hibbett Sports, Birmingham Barons, Knight Eady, Bruno Event Team, Colonnade Group and many other sports related entities. In addition, Birmingham has consistently ranked as the top television market in the United States for college football viewing. Birmingham has a long history of being at the forefront of shaping the sports industry in our country.”

The center’s mission is to promote the rational inquiry into issues at the intersection of big data, analytics and sports. “We hope to help transform the sports industry through data science, finding unexpected insights in unexpected places, and creating value for the world’s top sports brands, teams and leagues,” White added.

Thomas W. Woolley, Samford’s senior associate provost and award winning professor of statistics, echoed White’s sentiments, noting the impact analytics is having across the world of business.

“Analytics is fundamentally changing the way all industries strive for success. Sports organizations that derive value from analytics possess a significant sustainable competitive advantage,” Woolley said. “We are already starting to see the results in the performance gap from teams like the Houston Astros who were early adopters of using big data strategy development when building their team.”

“The natural marriage of science and sport is only strengthening. The insatiable thirst for a competitive edge, coupled with new technologies and advanced computing power (e.g., IBM Watson) is driving the evolution of sports from the analog to the digital era,” stated Christopher Wolf, a Goldman Sachs analyst, in a recent article in Business Insider.

White explained that Samford’s Center for Sports Analytics will capitalize on highly specialized institutional strengths to focus on emerging areas where analytics can have the greatest impact on sports, including areas such as sponsorship activation, dynamic ticket pricing, athlete performance, social media fan engagement and marketing optimization. Samford has internationally-renowned experts in the fields of sports management, sports media, sports marketing and sports medicine who have vast experience working with top sports teams and brands such as the Miami Dolphins, Bayern Munich, Nike, NASCAR, Adidas, SEC, Indy Car and Major League Soccer.

“We will seek to position the center as an international thought leader in the emerging field of sports analytics by providing a forum for industry professionals and students to learn about the increasing role of analytics in the global sports industry,” said White.

Woolley added, “Samford students already have the opportunity to prepare themselves to enter the sports industry through various sports industry–oriented majors, minors and concentrations that are offered in the curriculum in multiple schools at Samford. Coupling that preparation with opportunities brought to campus by the Center for Sports Analytics, our students will be uniquely prepared for a successful career in the sports industry.”
Darin W. White, Ph.D., executive director
301­H Cooney Hall, Samford University

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.