You’ve heard of Billy Beane, or at least his work. The inspiration behind the book “Moneyball,” Beane used sports data to beat out competitor teams with far bigger budgets (the Yankees, anyone?). The business application is obvious—but it’s also a bit flawed.
The problem with the baseball-to-business analogy is that the game of baseball is, by nature, formulaic, rigid, and predictable. The pitcher always pitches to the batter, players run in the same direction to four pre-determined destinations on the field, and playing sequences are fairly predictable. I don’t know about you, but “predetermined” and “predictable” aren’t words I’d use to describe any business situation I’ve seen.
Meet Kirk Goldsberry, the Harvard and Michigan State adjunct professor with two passions: displaying data on movement through space and time, and basketball. Goldsberry combined these two passions and initiated a new age in analyzing basketball.
Doing something new with old data.
When it comes to analytics, basketball is truly unpredictable. Players are on the offense in one instant, then defending a few seconds later. Movement on the court is a constant flow, and players play from literally any space on the court. Since each second of gameplay is different, it is impossible to account for all the factors that influence a player’s scoring tendencies—or so people thought.
Tracking players in constant motion proved incredibly difficult, so Goldsberry started simple: tracking basketball shots—who took the shot, from where on the court, and whether or not it went in. With every recorded shot in the previous five years of NBA play, he started plotting player hot zones on the court and mapping spaces where players shot best.
Describing his side-project-turned-sports-phenomenon, Goldsberry said, “I wanted to find a way to get this data to sing a new song, to tell us things like where Kobe [Bryant] is good and where Kobe [Bryant] is bad.”
Well, the data did begin to sing a different tune. Goldsberry presented his findings, and the basketball world freaked out. With newfound interest from sports analytics companies, his data collection got a lot more sophisticated. A company called Stats approached Goldsberry and offered him access to all of their basketball data. At the time, Stats was using an offshoot of Israeli missile tracking technology they called SportVU. They began installing special cameras above basketball arenas which would three dimensionally capture every second of NBA gameplay, including the location of officials, players and, of course, the ball.
With this new data, a brave new world of basketball analytics opened up. Coaches could know virtually anything, from which player passed most efficiently to who ran the most during the game. Previously dark and obscure aspects of basketball were completely exposed, and players could be judged on any facet of their game.
It’s not an isolated incident.
Goldsberry’s work is phenomenal, but making better use of data you already have isn’t necessarily a phenomenon. It starts with a highly specific question and some great visualization. And if it stopped with Goldsberry’s initial charts, then there would have been a lot of great info from which to work. But there’s more, especially when you can see data from multiple sources in one place, and get the right visuals around them.
The great news is that businesses don’t need a Goldsberry. They just need to be able to make better use of the data they already have. For you, business is a lot like basketball—fast paced and chaotic.
Domo can help you do with your business what Goldsberry did with the NBA: use existing data in a new, game-changing way. With broad connectors and real time data visualization, the platform opens up a brave new world for your business.