Behind The Scenes

ESPN continues to innovate at the “Super Bowl” for sports analytics

As the presenting sponsor of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (March 3-4) in Boston, ESPN had a major presence throughout the event with executives, talent, reporters and writers on various panels. They discussed topics ranging from the growth of analytics to sports business, career growth, breaking news and more.

Executive Vice President Marie Donoghue,’s Nate Silver and NFL analyst and former New England Patriot Tedy Bruschi led the panelist contingent. ESPN’s sponsor panel, presented by the Sports Analytics Team, focused on player tracking data’s impact on the fan experience.

“The panels are fun and interesting, but the real work happens behind the scenes for us,” said VP, Stats and Information Group, Noel Nash. “We are there collaborating with third-party vendors and potential new clients, who are helping us drive better analytics storytelling for all sports.”

Also, ESPN’s Sports Analytics Team organized and executed the 3rd Hackathon (see sidebar) in advance of the conference — presented by ESPN and Ticketmaster. Both ESPN Sports & Information Group and FiveThirtyEight also gave attendees the opportunity to meet their teams, speak with recruiters and have their sports analytics questions answered by the pros themselves. ESPN’s Human Resources Staffing was right alongside the content teams, speaking with recruits.

“The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference is like the Super Bowl for ESPN’s Sports Analytics Team,” said VP, Sports Analytics and Business Operations, Jeff Bennett. “We prepare for months for this conference, because the top present and future leaders and innovators in the profession are all there.”

Inside the Hackathon
Hackathon participants attempt to "measure the immeasurable" through sports analytics. (Tiffany Doolittle/ESPN)
Hackathon participants attempt to “measure the immeasurable” through sports analytics.
(Tiffany Doolittle/ESPN)

Sponsored by ESPN and Ticketmaster, the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference Hackathon took place with members of ESPN’s Sports Analytics Team onsite to mentor participants throughout the process. Participants used a sample of data from five NBA games and were given the challenge to “Measure the Immeasurable.”

Hackathon by the numbers:

  • 180 applicants
  • 47 accepted to participate
  • 6 finalists (3 students and 3 open division)
  • 2 winners (one from each division)
  • 6 hours given to analyze data and develop presentations
  • 90 seconds given for first-round presentations
  • 5 minutes given for finalist presentations on the conference agenda

Hackathon Winners:
Student Division Winner: Melanie Lewis, University of Oklahoma
Topic: “Good Soldier Syndrome” – The act of sacrificing one’s own performance to benefit the team as a whole.

Open Division Winner: Devin Pleuler, Toronto FC
Topic: “The Posterize Effect” – Measuring mental toughness by tracking behavior after being scored on.

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