A Balanced Conversation

balanced

Over the past 10 years, the use of “big data” to evaluate decisions has grown in importance in nearly every industry, with the public assembly facility industry being no exception. It seems that the majority of IAVM marketing seminars and articles emphasize the present and future use of computer programs to enhance the sale of tickets, concessions, luxury suites, and licensed merchandise. Though acquiring and processing information has always been important, it appears that data is now often seen as the “be all, end all” and that investing in infrastructure and software and hiring people who can utilize “modern” equipment will rapidly enhance facility revenue opportunities.

As a sport and entertainment management professor, I certainly embrace and advocate the use of research to enhance productivity. Much like many other undergraduate and graduate sport and entertainment management programs, at the University of South Carolina an emphasis is placed upon data collection and analysis when making decisions. Students, even if they initially fail to understand the value of “analytics” as they undertake their coursework, are expected to know how the modern world of data functions and how it can improve performance in the public assembly industry. Unfortunately, I am increasingly beginning to worry that much like other industries, as academics and practitioners we are failing to teach and value the ability to effectively communicate big data solutions. This has far too often resulted in “experts” with answers being ignored in the workplace.

In a 2014 article on Grantland.com, author Ben Lindbergh extensively discussed the use of data in Major League Baseball (MLB) since the release of Michael Lewis’ seminal book, Moneyball. Lindbergh notes, “For most teams, the effort to revamp the traditional player-evaluation process into a sophisticated synthesis of scouting and advanced stats has followed a three-part plan. The first and second steps are hiring a general manager who’s receptive to statistical analysis and surrounding him with the resources (both human and technological) to make sound decisions” (para. 3). To even casual baseball fans, this is not surprising. Though there was considerable debate in the immediate aftermath of Moneyball’s release concerning the appropriateness of utilizing non-baseball playing “nerds” to help construct rosters, now nearly every MLB team, and well as most others in the NBA, NFL, and NHL, employ at least one full-time person whose job primarily revolves around player and team performance evaluation through the use of “new school” data analysis.

Lindbergh also notes, “To make the most of their R&D dollars, teams are increasingly focusing on figuring out Step 3: minimizing baseball’s upstairs-downstairs drama by ensuring that front offices and field staffs are on the same page” (para. 4). Though the public assembly facility industry does not typically involve as much publicized “drama” between old school promoters and facility operators and new school data-driven marketers as the ones that have occurred in high-profile professional sport franchises, there have been reports of friction, especially as consolidation has occurred and former “authoritarians” have been forcibly integrated into more egalitarian environments.

No one likes to hear that the methods they have been utilizing for many years are now being augmented or even replaced with new ways of doing business, but aspects of every industry change, and in a dynamic environment, significant changes that used to take a generation or more to develop now can occur in a matter of a few years. However, like any other industry, if the new, highly skilled employees enter our field without the ability to communicate effectively, their enhanced analytical skills will not be fully utilized and might be completely ignored. Though it is incumbent upon the established industry professionals to create an environment where new employees and ideas can be integrated, it is also vital for new employees to understand workplace dynamics and how to demonstrate their expertise in an effective and “proper” manner. In that 2014 Lindbergh article, Dan Fox, director of baseball systems development for the Pittsburgh Pirates, commented about 26-year-old quantitative analyst Mike Fitzgerald, “For a guy who is so sharp analytically, he has tremendous feel for situations and what to say and when to say it, and rapport with people. That’s not easy to find” (para. 21).

Hopefully, the future of our industry will involve the proliferation of well-trained “Mike Fitzgeralds” who not only know how to do a myriad of computer computations, but also know when and how to speak to others inside and outside the organization. If our academic institutions can emphasize analytic AND communication skills among graduates and our established industry professionals can effectively integrate new ideas and techniques into current protocols, our future will be bright. FM

Reference

Lindbergh, B. (2014, September 23). The Pirates’ Sabermetrics Road Show. Retrieved from http://grantland.com/the-triangle/pittsburgh-pirates-mike-fitzgerald-mit-sabermetric-road-show/