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USF Sport & Entertainment Analytics Conference Attracts Hundreds; Features Speakers, Panelists from Across the Nation

By Keith Morelli

Conference Speaker and Crowd

TAMPA (March 30, 2017) -- Kevin Kelley is a man of numbers. The highly successful head coach of the Pulaski Academy football team in Arkansas knows not only how to get data and analyze it, but how to apply it in creative ways. While his unorthodox formula works for his football team, his message resonates in the world of business.

He was among a list of influential speakers at the third annual University of South Florida's Sport & Entertainment Analytics Conference this week, where the behind-the-scenes side of sports and entertainment marketing took center stage.

Kelley is best known for his use of analytics in his approach to coaching, particularly his no punt and onside kick philosophy, in which guts and intuition take a back seat to data and analytics. He has built a database of his own team's performance over the past 14 years and he has studied the data compiled by college and professional football teams.

Interspersed into his presentation were clips of this past year's Arkansas championship game in which he always "went for it" on fourth down no matter the field position, always attempted two-point conversions after touchdowns and always  executed onside kicks.

"All this is unconventional," he said, "but it has all the numbers to back it up."

After 14 years of gathering data, he has found that his team converted just over 50 percent of their fourth-down attempts, while only converting 38 percent of third downs. So, he said, on average, every other fourth-down attempt is successful, an acceptable risk.

Kelley's talk was spot on with other speakers who discussed the use of data and analytics in the business of sports and entertainment, rather than making decisions often unsupported by the numbers.

Initially, Kelley had a hard time convincing his coaching staff and players to go along with his wild-hair notions, he said.

Getting the numbers is one thing, he said, analyzing them and applying them to the game – or to business – is another. People are skeptical of new ideas. But once positive results start coming in, more and more people get on board.

The coach, who was the only one in the room dressed in a pull-over shirt and shorts in a room filled with sport grad students and business leaders eager to learn about data analytics, has been featured on such national media outlets as, HBO Real Sports, ESPN's First Take, Sports Illustrated, Fox News, Fox Business and NFL Films. His method was recognized by Time Magazine as the 33rd best invention of 2009.

The two-day conference, held in the USF Alumni Center, featured speakers and panel discussions of the latest trends in the rapidly evolving field along with the growing importance of analytics.

"When we began the SEM graduate program five years ago, analytics was a focus area for us," said Bill Sutton, director of the sport and entertainment management program. "Three years ago we established the conference and it has grown every year attracting attendees and speakers from throughout the United States.. We look forward to continuing to play a leadership role in the business intelligence space in the Muma College of Business, the university and in the sport industry.

"The feedback on the conference has been overwhelmingly positive and we look for continued growth providing great exposure for the university, the college, and most importantly our students who have been very successful securing business intelligence positions in the sport industry," he said. "Our graduates specializing in business intelligence are employed at Feld Entertainment, Seminole Hard Rock Casino, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Red Bulls and Wasserman Media Group."

The keynote speaker was Jessica Gelman, CEO of Kraft Analytics Group, a technology company based in Boston, which does much of the data analytics work for the NFL's New England Patriots and the MLS' New England Revolution.

Gelman, who was presented with the conference's inaugural Innovator in Sports Analytics Award, said methods of analyzing fan data are ever expanding to the point sports teams want to get more and more personal with their fans.

"The goal," she said, "is to know everyone who is in your seats."

Gelman has built a team and implemented the technology that transformed her business through analytics. In the beginning, using the emerging science of data analytics was not an easy sell, she said.

"We had to shift the whole organization to buy into this," she said, "and it took years to do that."

She uses several methods to gather fan data including surveys and about 40 sweepstakes a year. Her group publishes 25 different newsletters, some internationally, and each year her company sends out about 54 million emails to fans and potential fans.

"Our fans are incredibly engaged," she said, and that makes some of her work a little easier. Fans are eager to participate in surveys and focus groups and freely offer opinions because they feel they are being heard by the organization.

"We do a ton of surveying and have a ton of analytics," she said, "all to improve the communication and engagement with our fans."

Gelman was named to the 2014 Sports Business Journal "Forty Under 40," which honors the most promising young executives in the business of sports under the age of 40. She also was named to the 2012 Sports Business Journal's "Game Changers,″ list, which honors innovative women in the business side of sports.

The future, she said lies in mobile ticketing, which not only will become more convenient for fans who want to buy tickets over their smart phones, but it will expand ways of providing more and better data to analyze.

"Even now," she said, "rarely do I have an actual ticket to a game."

Kicking off the two-day conference was Chris Kamke, the senior director of business strategy and analytics for Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment where he has helped build and promote a data-driven business philosophy for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He has led team operations such as social media, database marketing, ticket pricing, sales and retention analytics, data integration and business strategy and his talk focused on maximizing ticket sales revenue.

That task takes a lot of data analysis to determine how much to charge for tickets in different sections and for different games.

"It was a companywide decision to embrace data and analytics," he said, "and each year we are getting better at it."

Kamke's talk focused on the Lightning ticket inventory management strategy and how it can change each year depending on a variety of factors, including the success of the team and demographics of who shows up at the games. He said the past 109 home games have been sold out, so the analytics are working.

"We've gotten pretty good at it," he said.

Business analytics leaders came from all over the country to attend the conference. Among them was Karlis Kezbers, director of business intelligence and ticket strategy for the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder.

One reason for his visit: recruitment, which was good news for near graduates of the Muma College of Business Sport & Entertainment Management program.

"We will be hiring two data analysts," Kezbers said, "come the off-season."

But, the main reason for his attendance, he said, was to learn about the cutting edge of data analytics and creativity and figure out ways to apply it to his organization. He said data analytics is relatively new in the world of sports.

"It's a growing field," he said, "and right now it's important to know what you don't know."