Derided a generation ago by old-time scouts and coaches (“why do I need analytics when I have my own two eyes!”), and then introduced into the popular culture by the bestselling 2004 book and the 2011 film, ‘Moneyball.’
Fast forward to 2023 and analytics, still dismissed by some, is now entrenched in all aspects of sports, from scouting to betting; from in-game strategy to fantasy and more. It is a growing and increasingly popular academic discipline at top college campuses around the US and beyond.
Analytics was also a subject I never imagined I’d write about in GreenSportsBlog. That is until I learned about an innovative, new Green-Sports-themed partnership between the inaugural National Collegiate Sports Analytics Championship (NCSAC) and GOAL (Green Operations & Advanced Leadership), a community of sustainability-minded sports and entertainment venue operators founded by Oak View Group and a team of sports-sustainability leading lights.
Think of NCSAC as the March Madness of collegiate sports analytics, except that the final rounds, hosted by the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center, will take place in February. Top undergraduate and grad school students from more than 30 schools who will have made it through preliminary rounds will be tested to determine the best sports business analysts for 2024. They will also meet with prospective employers from various corners of the sports industry.
GOAL (Green Operations & Advanced Leadership), which in addition to OVG, is led by the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena, Fenway Sports Group, and green building expert Jason F. McLennan, will supply the test questions for the competitors — and those questions will be environmentally focused.
“We will provide students with environmental data from venues for them to analyze, compete with, and ultimately gain a hands-on understanding of the intersection of sports and sustainability,” offered Kristen Fulmer, OVG’s head of sustainability and director of GOAL. “And we hope this competition is a harbinger of deeper athletics-sustainability department collaborations going forward that result in reduced carbon emissions from sports. Right now, in many cases the relationship between university sustainability offices and athletics departments are broken – they don’t engage because their worlds are siloed, and they are seen as so different from each other. … And honestly, it’ll never be successful if the drive toward sustainable actions are only led by the university’s sustainability office and not the athletics department too. We see great similarities between the two —and hope that the combination of sports analytics and environmental sustainability will be a vivid example that shows the value of athletics department-sustainability department collaborations.”
GOAL will also facilitate a 90-minute training session for the students on sustainability in sports, help judge the competition, and offer the winning institution a GOAL membership for its sports and entertainment venues.
Competitors at NCSAC will, after analyzing a venue’s environmental data sets, create and deliver five-minute presentations in the championship round. The main goal for the senior undergrads and grad students is to impress the 30 judges with their analytic, visualization and communication skills. Those judges, who work at major league sports teams, venues, and essential sports industry partners will be looking for top talent to staff their analytics departments.
Two sports analytics stars from the University of New Haven lead the preliminary rounds of the NCSACs graduate student standings
NCSAC is the brainchild of renowned professor and founder of Baylor University’s Center for Sales Strategy in Sports & Entertainment (S3E) program, Kirk Wakefield.
“We are glad to partner with Oak View Group to set the GOAL for sustainability in sports & entertainment, and to help venues operate efficiently in a way that benefits society,” he asserted. “Our focus on integrity — defined as the courage to face the demands of reality — syncs with the objectives of member clubs and venues. We look forward to collaborating with GOAL, GOAL’s members, and the wider Oak View Group network, including participating directly in the championship.”
The partnership between GOAL and NCSAC extends beyond the championship, providing a much-needed first step into sports-sustainability for the competitors.
“Students reach out to me all of the time, asking about how to enter the sustainable sports space and my answer is always the same: Hands-on project experience,” Fulmer pointed out, “This partnership provides students with practical learning and work that prepares them for the professional world while potentially making a significant impact on their school’s contributions to sustainability. We hope that students that were previously focused on Sports Management analytics generally might be inspired by the specific focus on environmental analytics.”
Currently, more than 30 schools are registered to compete at NCSAC, and there is still time for more individuals from more schools to register at no cost: https://sites.baylor.edu/baylors3/ncsac/
GSB’s Take: The NCSAC-GOAL partnership holds a great deal of short- and long-term promise for the Green-Sports movement.
In real time, the program will help break down the athletics and sustainability department silos and foster necessary collaboration. And the competition will hopefully provide the spark that leads to the embedding of environmental analytics into sports analytics.
Down the road, I’m confident that some of the young sports analytics students in the competition will embrace the #ClimateComeback as they advance to key decision-making roles at teams, venues, and leagues. That’s a winning scorecard metric in my book.