Last Reviewed/Updated: September 24, 2020
Sports analytics is a concept of using various data points in production, performance, and sales to gain an advantage over the competition and maximize potential revenue.
What is Sports Analytics?
Collegiate teams and professional organizations in the world of sports are gaining further advantages through big data innovation. Sports analytics positions are growing on a constant basis, reviewing data received in various aspects of the organization. They also give their input on how to put a successful roster together, and optimize revenue with better services and products to fans and customers and adding cost-cutting methods in the budget.
As more information becomes available, teams are looking to gain an advantage in any aspect to attract more fans to their games and bring in further talent with a higher budget. Analytical positions are valuable by creating data structures and algorithms that sort this information, and then analysts will determine the best course of action to managerial roles in the front office.
When looking at degrees to gain higher education in sports analytics, there are no specific disciplines to choose from in this category. This specialized education can be found in degrees that focus on business, data science, and sports management. There are electives that students can choose from to customize their degree and focus on analytical skills and the application of these concepts into sports organizations.
Sports Analytics Degrees
Online Master's Degrees in Sports Analytics
There are limited opportunities for students to pursue an emphasis in sports analytics completely online. In some cases, there are courses that will be available both on-campus and online, but the bulk of the program must be completed on campus. A hybrid format that combines both versions of courses may also be available if the institution allows it.
When reviewing analytical programs, prospective students should review if they have gone through the regional accreditation process. This ensures that the curriculum has been verified by an established association and students will receive proper education in sports analytics. For example, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accredits universities in 19 different states in the North and Central portions of the country.
In terms of technical requirements, institutions will have their own set of standards and needs based on learning management system utilized and how their courses are structured. Students will generally need a modern computer with high-speed internet access. Some programs have implemented an application through mobile devices gives students more flexibility to access course materials and lectures.
Featured Online Data Science Programs
Johns Hopkins AAP
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One of the online programs students can consider in sports analytics is the Master of Science in Sports Analytics and Management. This is a 30 credit-hour program that requires approximately 20 months to complete. Students will learn how to discover trends in sports topics over social media, evaluate and decide proper data to analyze that makes the biggest impact, and improve brand awareness for the organization being represented.
This is an exclusive online program, meaning that students can pursue this program in a virtual environment only. Students that live in proximity to the campus can partake in optional face-to-face meetings, but these are not required. The curriculum does not require students to have a background in sports, but they should have foundational understanding of computer science and data science.
Nine courses are required in the curriculum, such as Innovation Through New Technologies, Project Cost-Benefit Analysis, and an Evaluation of Quantitative Methods. Some courses will focus on strategic management and consultation topics within the sports analytics field. One elective is chosen by the student for customization, including expanding on qualitative methods, health care, and evaluation theories.
Prospective students should have a Bachelor’s degree with high academic marks prior to applying. Submission items needed include a professional resume, statement of purpose, two letters of recommendation, and a transcript of previous education. There will also be a phone interview conducted with the program advisor.
As an alternative, students can consider the graduate certification of this discipline. While the program still takes over a year to complete, this is geared toward working professionals that can take four courses on a part-time basis to get their expertise in sports analytics. It is possible to take the Data-Driven Decision Making course on-campus, and completing this certification will count as credit toward the Master’s degree if the student chooses to pursue the full program.
The online-exclusive Sports Analytics specialization can be pursued with the Master of Arts in Sports Administration. This optional opportunity gives students the techniques required to analyze player and team information that will be helpful to those in management positions. 11 total courses represent the curriculum, including three elective options and a capstone or thesis project culminating the program.
Seven courses in the base curriculum consist of Sports Research Methods, Sports Marketing, and Legal and Ethical Issues. These traditional concepts will help eventual professionals get the analyzation techniques needed to make proper decisions and how this can impact various parts of an organization, such as marketing and public relations.
Various electives gives students the opportunity to specialize the degree to specific sports professions. For example, NCAA Compliance will provide case studies to see the rules and regulations in action for college athletics. Digital Media in Sports looks at the impact new technology has had in distribution of products to fans, social media communication, and fantasy sports value.
In the application process, the statement of purpose should detail why the individual is a perfect candidate for the program and what their career goals are. Multiple letters of recommendation are needed, with one source emphasizing academic accomplishment. Official transcripts should be submitted from all educational background where applicable.
The School of Sport, Tourism, and Hospitality Management offers a Master of Science in Sport Business with a concentration in Sport Analytics. This is a specialization that gives students the ability to use quantitative analysis and prediction techniques in order to make top-level organizational decisions. Courses are offered conveniently in the evening and students enter an internship opportunity 100 percent of the time.
Courses required in the Sport Analytics concentration will explore foundational concepts in looking at player performance and pricing, and how to apply various tools to basic concepts in the analytical process. Afterwards, more advanced skills will be explored in these processes that impact managerial decisions. Finally, an independent portfolio is the capstone project that demonstrates what was learned in these courses.
While this concentration emphasizes the analytical aspect of sport management, there are other concentrations that are focused on the marketing and event management aspects of the organization. This gives students the ability to fully customize their experience to prepare themselves for specific positions in a front office.
In order to be considered for the program, applicants should hold a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and a 3.0 cumulative GPA or higher. Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores should be at or above the 50th percentile. Other requirements in the process include the submission of two letters of recommendation, personal statement, and current resume.
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)
The School of Informatics and Computing at IUPUI offer a Master of Science in Applied Data Science with a Sports Analytics concentration. 10 courses are required to satisfy curriculum requirements, which includes six required courses with the remainder being elective options. Some of these courses are available online, but the majority of them are only offered on the Indianapolis campus.
Four terms are needed to complete the program, including a summer term that features one course. Three courses are taken in the fall and spring semesters, with one of those terms taken in consecutive years. Students are administered into the program in either the fall and spring semester, and they cannot begin their pursuit in the summer.
In order to be administered into the program, students should already hold a Bachelor’s degree with at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA and have completed prerequisites in calculus and matrix algebra. GRE scores must be submitted, along with a personal statement of up to 750 words on why the student chose this program, graduate transcripts, updated resume, and three letters of recommendation.
The Sports Analytics specialization combines resources with the School of Physical Education and Tourism Management for an enhanced experience. Students taking the program in the Indianapolis location have the benefit of working with local professional and collegiate teams. It is also the location of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) headquarters.
An option of full-time or part-time enrollment is available when considering the Master of Science in Sports Management through the School of Professional Studies. Students capable of committing to a full-time education can complete the program in as little as one year. Those looking toward the part-time route will require between two to four years depending on course load and work obligations.
36 total credit hours are needed to complete the degree, and both formats can only be completed at the Columbia campus in New York City. The curriculum requires an internship or an independent study over a topic approved by a program advisor. There are numerous sports topics to consider when pursuing this program, including analytics, business intelligence, event management, and ethical and legal issues.
There is a Sports Analytics concentration available, and some of these courses are available in both an on-campus and online format: Fundamentals of Sports Analytics, Soccer Analytics, and Applied Business Intelligence in Sports. These online opportunities are limited as the vast majority of courses must be completed on-campus, but there is some flexibility for students to complete particular course work.
In addition to an online application with fee, prospective students should submit transcripts showing evidence of a completed Bachelor’s degree, resume, two letters of recommendation, and essays for a personal statement and situational analysis. GRE or GMAT scores are required for applicants that have recently graduated in the last three years. New students are admitted into the fall only for full-time enrollment, and a spring option is available for part-time enrollment.
Sample Courses in Sports Analytics
Students will discover many different research methods when looking at player information, team spending, marketing budgets, and more. They will use regression methods to determine any outliers or trends in the information, or qualitative analysis that subjectively explains the data they are analyzing. In some cases, there may be separate courses that will explore programming languages to create and implement these research processes.
One of the most important abilities in data analysis is being able to translate data into consumable information for managers and executives that make decisions for the organization. These courses will explore the best charts and graphs that best represent the story an analysis wants to tell. Topics often include how to make this information clear and persuasive, and what decisions can be made to improve any trends or maximize profits.
A common course in the sports analytics and sports management discipline that gives an overview of concepts in how to market merchandise and event tourism in stadiums and arenas. Topics include how to implement sponsorship deals, how to organize various activities at an event center, and the observation of consumer behavior through previous activity.
Legal and Ethical Issues
With many rules and regulations in place for organizations and colleges to follow, it is imperative to know these in the analytical process. Teams must not exploit athletes or put them in dangerous positions by following injury protocol when they are hurt in the activity. At the collegiate level, there are numerous recruiting rules and regulations set in order to minimize unfair advantages for different institutions.
It is important for a team to manage their expenses wisely to attract top talent to their organization, be it experienced players or top executives in the front office. These courses will focus on the business of sports analytics and how they can be utilized to develop the budget. Students will learn to work with any salary cap restrictions or costs required to improve facilities.
Career Opportunities in Sports Analytics
Various aspects of sports analytics can lead to jobs in analyzing player and team performance, organizing venue events, and implementing coaching and management strategies. According to employment information from ZipRecruiter, the national average salary for sports analytics positions is estimated at $93,110 annually. This figure jumps to over $136,000 within the top 25 percent of the industry.
This director position at a university or high school system has the highest responsibility in maintaining the athletic department. Typical duties include hiring the coaching staff of various sports within the program, work out scheduling needs and connect with other schools, and help promote games and events to improve resources that the program can offer. A Master’s degree is often held by athletic directors.
Public Relations Manager
An image of an organization is developed by marketing and public relations, and management is imperative to keeping the company at a competitive advantage. Duties for this management role include authorizing the distribution of press releases and creating a team that is able to market the goods and services offered by the organization. They often work with these teams to review and select advertising and promotional campaigns that will help the company thrive.
Sports analytics is not limited to just organizations within a professional league. There are stadiums and arenas that must bring in revenue to continue maintenance and pay for various licensing fees. Venues are often shared and hosts various activities, or there may be multiple sports teams that play in one location, and coordinators will set up these unique events to avoid conflict and maximize profit.
Organizations and Associations in Sports Analytics
Data science has entered into sports, one of the most profitable industries in the entire world. While the concept of statistics and attempting to gain an advantage through them has been around for a long time, the use of analytical methods is continuing to evolve. A number of professional teams from Major League Baseball and the National Football League are looking for experts that can bolster their chances to win a title.
One of the most popular teams that have been open on their use of statistics is the Houston Astros, who won their first World Series ring in franchise history back in 2017. The Chicago Blackhawks were able to find undervalued players and bring them onto their team since 2009. Not limited to just teams, the leagues themselves can review consumer data to expand outreach and market their products more thoroughly.
There is an increased effort at providing exposure of sports analytics at various education levels, from middle school to collegiate status. The Sports Analytics Club Program (SACP) is a nonprofit organization based in Delaware with an idea to enhance these topics in sports journalism and sports science. Many high schools in the northeastern portion of the United States have adopted sports analytics clubs, and participating institutions include Johns Hopkins University, University of Virginia, and UCLA.