The Sports Professor’s Weekly Sports and Entertainment Dollar
March 7, 2014
By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
Major League Baseball spring training games are now underway in earnest, and sports stats geeks couldn’t be any happier. If you follow sports by the numbers, then springtime in Florida and Arizona is sheer heaven for you.
Last week, the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference drew over 2,000 industry leaders and fans to the Hynes Convention center in Boston to hear from everyone from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell. Next week, baseball-specific stat-heads will convene in Phoenix for the fast-growing SABR (Society of American Baseball Research) Baseball Analytics Conference.
Fans and team officials will spend two days hearing from the likes of Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, Seattle Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik, San Francisco Giants Vice President Bobby Evans, and high profile media analysts discuss the latest in the analytic space, for fans and MLB clubs alike. Organized by SABR president and baseball historian Vince Gennaro, the event is projected to surpass last year’s attendance of 1,000+ for the two days.
With no salary cap in place, big payrolls have long been the new norm in baseball, fueled in part by local TV rights deals, some worth more than $100 million annually.
At least 14 MLB teams will have payrolls over $100 million this season, with the Dodgers leading the way at $217 million. The Diamondbacks, Orioles, and Brewers are three teams that could post $100 million payrolls for the first time in franchise history.
With so much money at stake, choosing the right players for your roster has never been more critical, and no MLB GM would think of making a roster move without consulting the “Moneyballesque” analytics tools available to them.
These days, when teams are evaluating players, says Bill Squadron, President of Bloomberg Sports, “It’s not purely a bidding war. It’s really about finding players who fit particular rolls. What that means is figuring out a particular player who may not be as high profile, but may be exactly the fit a team needs in order to fill out the lineup, the roster, and all the pieces of the puzzle necessary to put a championship contender in place."
To aid the GMs and their staffs in this high-consequence task, Bloomberg Sports has created a fully integrated system. “Up until now,” Squadron says,”the challenge that clubs have faced is that they have to go to multiple sources for pieces of information. It’s inefficient. They may get video from a source, they may get a scouting system from a different source, they may build something themselves. What we’ve been able to do at Bloomberg, in part because we’ve built on the financial system that’s such a comprehensive one-stop shop, is to create a similar one-stop shop for baseball. Now, we’re looking to expand that into other sports. It’s fully integrated, the workflow is incredibly efficient, it frees up many hours of time that otherwise would have been spent digging through things and coordinating things. [It] has been a quantum leap forward.”
Sports execs outside of teams’ front offices need trusted tools as well, and this week, they’ll get another one via MVPIndex, launched at Austin’s South by Southwest conference by Dallas-based Stout Partners. The social media consultancy co-founded by PGA star Jordan Spieth’s father Shawn is launching an innovative new social media index that measures sports properties based on their social media reach, engagement, and conversation.
MVPIndex measures in real time more than 9,000 athletes’, teams’, and leagues’ social media rankings across the hottest platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Google+, using proprietary algorithms built specifically for each sport, in part based on engagement with fans, new followers, and how positively or negatively fans are talking about the athlete or property.
“The reason we built MVPIndex was twofold,” Shawn Spieth says. “One, to help athletes increase their brand value by optimizing the social and digital components. Digital advertising will surpass traditional TV ad spends within the next year or two. Athletes who use social media effectively can really leverage that to build their value, increase revenues, and help their sponsorship partners do the same – get the most ROI out of their spend on the athletes they endorse.”
The dual focus on brands is the second leg of the MVPIndex approach. “We can help brands identify specifically which athletes are best suited to leverage for more effective social media and digital campaigns,” Spieth emphasizes.
Echoing Squadron, Spieth acknowledges that MVPIndex “is really a big data play when it comes down to it – unique data around social media specifically tied to those brands, those agencies, and their athletes. A lot of tools out there measure different pieces of social media. What we wanted to do was complement those tools and really focus in a vertical. We’re starting in sports, but have the opportunity to take our model to other verticals.”
Subscriptions start at $1,000 per month, going as high as the low five-figures for customized packages. At launch, the MVPindex has three clients — Under Armour, Lagardère Unlimited and TaylorMade.
As of Friday, within MLB, MVPIndex’s top MVPs are:
- Derek Jeter, Yankees
- Yu Darvish, Rangers
- Mike Trout, Angels
- Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
- David Ortiz, Red Sox
- Matt Kemp, Dodgers
- Curtis Granderson, Mets
- Robinson Cano, Mariners
- Justin Verlander, Tigers
- Brandon Phillips, Reds
Spring Training excitement and brand ROI, finally, are not limited to the majors. As the El Paso Chihuahuas inch closer to their inaugural Opening Day, the team’s under-construction downtown ballpark has a name. Representatives from the Chihuahuas, Southwest University, team and the city of El Paso have announced that their new ballpark will now be known as Southwest University Park.
Founded in 1999, Southwest University earned official accreditation status in 2012. Its curriculum focuses on medical administration and health care support. The new 20-year naming rights agreement runs through 2033. Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.