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Sports & entertainment professionals talk data at USF analytics conference

Conference Attendees

Whether sports teams want to connect with fans, entertainment companies work to develop a ticket pricing structure, or are trying to figure out the peak time to hold a hot dog race in order for fans to be primed to buy more hot dogs, big data and analytics can hold the key.

That was the basis of many discussions and lectures as the University of South Florida Sport and Entertainment Management program hosted the inaugural Sport and Entertainment Analytics Conference powered by Ticketmaster on April 9 and 10. But the discussion was about more than analytics: it was about balancing analytics with customer relationships.

"What predictive analytics does not do is tell you why," said Rich Luker, creator of ESPN's sports poll. To get the "why" answer, he said, you need to talk to the fans.

That theme -- analytics as an essential add-on to customer relationship management rather than a replacement for it -- continued throughout the conference. The conference provided a platform for national industry leaders, students, and local industry professionals to discuss the growing role of analytics in the global sport and entertainment fields.

Matt Wolf speaking

Matt Wolf, an associate vice president for the NBA's Team Marketing & Business Operations department, compared data analytics to the $200 bowling ball that, at age 14, he thought would make him a bowling superstar. Data analytics are a great tool, he said, but unless teams have a plan for dealing with the fundamental human element, the tools are superfluous. But with that personal connection in place, analytics become indispensable.

"Part of the glue that holds everything we do together is strategy and analytics," Wolf said.

For example, he said the NBA uses data to retain some of its most valuable customers -- season ticket holders.

"When we see a ticket not being used, we can say, 'This person has missed two straight games, what can we do to get this person back to us,'" Wolf said.

Thursday's sessions also included a panel of local and national entertainment industry leaders. Ticketmaster, Live Nation, Feld Entertainment and Seminole Hard Rock Casino representatives discussed how analytics have impacted everyday business decisions and contribute to their increased success. Leading professionals from all four of central Florida's professional sports teams then joined the conference on Friday for a sport analytics panel.

"Five years ago there were five to six teams experimenting with dynamic pricing, and now it's 75-80 percent of pro teams," said Rick Johnson, vice president and and general manager of Pricemaster, Live Nation's dynamic pricing tool.

Speakers also discussed how analytics help provide quicker, more accurate reporting of data, which allows businesses to react quicker than ever.

"Ready, fire, aim ... there's a first mover advantage to information today," said David Coletti, vice president of digital media research & analytics for ESPN.

Other speakers at the conference included: