Sports analysis has become a growing area of sports management; some colleges even offer sports analytics degrees and concentrations such as sports data analyst. Analytics can play a part in both on- and off-field programs. For example, a coach could use analysis of a football receiver to improve his catching capability and use data to implement optimized exercise programs for player durability and flexibility.
In this guide, we look at what is required to get a sports analytics degree. We will also look at what a sports data analyst does, their responsibilities, how to become one, and the career outlook for this field.
Why is it important to track a player’s batting average? Or a player’s reaction time to a ball hit into the field? Or the speed of a pitcher’s fastball? Or how much yardage a football receiver can obtain following a catch? Or how far a golf ball is driven?
For many years, this was information coveted only by fans or fantasy sports owners; however, over the past few decades, this data has come to matter to coaches, managers, recruiters, scouts, and other figures within a sports organization. Over the years, this data has been used in decision-making processes such as player selection, team position needs, performance enhancement, player health assessment, competitive analysis, and skills development.
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What is a Sports Data Analyst
Essentially, a sports data analyst gathers and monitors statistics relating to athlete performance. They also collect such data for teams and even specific games. This data is used to help managers assess player or team performance for improvement purposes or can be supplied to game announcers to relay detailed information to viewers. A sports data analyst typically begins by asking themselves the kinds of questions a team manager, coach, or general manager would want answered when it comes to a team’s success in player placement, game strategies, and play selection.
Data assembled by sports data analysts can also be published in sports magazines or on team sites to provide information about players for fans, college recruiters, professional scouts, or team executives such as general managers or team owners. These analysts will often study and interpret data for managers to assist in developing game plans, creating player scouting reports, and relaying information to players to help them play to their strengths. Such data can help teams come up with the best plays based on player abilities, opponent, and other factors.
In addition, data gathered by sports data analysts can predict or interpret fan behavior and consumer buying habits. For instance, player ranking data or performance statistics might drive consumers to purchase merchandise around those specific players.
Sports data analysts can contribute to fan publications, sports statistics reports, athlete evaluations, and team performance analyses.
Sports Analytics Degree
It takes at least a bachelor’s degree to start a career in sports data analysis. Degree programs in sports analytics are fairly new; Syracuse University boasts of being the first university in the United States to offer a Bachelor of Science in Sports Analytics, which began in August 2017. Other colleges and universities also offer such a degree; in some cases, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in sports management with a concentration in sports analytics.
You can also choose to earn a bachelor’s degree in business analytics. In such a program, you’ll take courses in marketing, management, economics, and finance, much the same as you would in a sports analytics program, and the concepts you would review in these classes would be applicable within a sports organization, company, or agency.
For those who wish to advance to senior management or executive positions in some organizations, a master’s degree could be required. In these cases, one could pursue a master of science in sports analytics or choose a master’s degree in sports administration or sports management with a concentration in sports analytics. A few postsecondary institutions offer graduate sports analytics or sports analytics and management certificates.
A Career As A Sports Data Analyst
One who pursues a career in sports data analysis can seek to become, in addition to a sports data analyst, a:
- Sports statistician
- Sports sales analyst
- Sports recruiter
- Sports market research analyst
- Sports advertising/promotions manager
In these roles, professionals would implement data analysis tools, statistical methods, and observation methods to measure player performance to determine that player’s role on a team. They can also research the marketability of player and team merchandise, come up with game plans, measure the possible sales of specific sports merchandise, develop team advertising materials, promote games, and summarize player and team statistics for TV and radio broadcasting purposes.
How To Become A Sports Statistician
Closely related to a career as a sports data analyst is that of a sports statistician. In this role, professionals focus more heavily on mathematical and economic statistics to analyze player value, such as current and future performance and game plans and strategies. Sports statisticians might work at the collegiate and professional levels.
To become a sports statistician, one would have to take several courses in statistics and develop strong technical, analytical, and quantitative skills. Abilities in data mining, technological integration, computer programming, and logistics would all be important for those interested in this career path.
Sports statisticians use data collected during games, such as that assembled through technological means such as baseball pitching velocity, the strength of a bat’s contact with the ball, the track of a pitch to the plate, and trajectory of a hit ball. This data can then be gathered and analyzed to import team and player performance information for coaching and game assessment purposes. Still, they could also be pertinent in player contract negotiations and even medical history records.
Among the benefits of sports statistical information is that it clarifies details for each player. Since performance evaluation, skills development, and ability improvement would differ from player to player, having extensive data for each player becomes essential not just for individual improvement but also for team improvement. Such data could help coaches decide how certain players will fit into specific game plans or schemes and how their abilities would best benefit the team against certain opponents.
In this career, sports statisticians can begin in sports management companies, sports talent agencies, newspaper sports departments, sports websites, television networks, or professional or college sports organizations. They might work in junior roles and work their way up into managerial positions.
Sports Statistics Degree
As with sports data analysis, one who desires to become a sports statistician can pursue a bachelor’s degree in sports management, sports administration, or sports analysis. A bachelor’s degree in sports science might also be acceptable but is not offered as readily as the previous degrees.
Taking courses in mathematics, statistics, business analytics, computer programming, and data modeling is essential to becoming a sports statistician. It is important to run digital simulations, conduct basic regression analyses, and use statistical classification tools.
For advancement in the field, as in many fields, a master’s degree could be required. A master of science in sports administration or sports management with a concentration in sports analytics would be viable options. Other possible graduate degrees that could be considered include a Master of Science in Data Science or Data Analytics.
Career Outlook and Salary for a Sports Data Analyst
The most recent salary and career outlook information for sports data analysts from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows a 27 percent job growth rate and a median annual salary of approximately $80,000. Job growth projections are thought to be based on the increased use of technology to collect data during sporting events to more thoroughly assess and improve game strategies, player skills, and other intangibles such as ball velocity, running speed, and reaction times.
For all types of statisticians, not particularly those focusing on sports, a 35 percent job growth rate is expected between 2019 and 2029, influenced heavily by increased use of digital data analysis for business (or, in the case of sports statistics, team and player) improvement, product design, and advertising. Opportunities are believed to be best for those who maintain updated skills in computer programming and statistical methods. According to the BLS, the median annual wage as of May 2020 for statisticians was reported as $92,270. Those working for colleges and universities earned a median annual salary of $74,730. Those who choose to work for collegiate sports teams might earn less than those who pursue positions for sports agencies or professional sports teams.