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Posted September 13, 2016 by

Sport analytics careers: 5 skills college grads should master for career success

Young businesswoman explaining graph to business team

Young businesswoman explaining graph to business team. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The field of sport analytics is growing, fast, and colleges, universities – and employers, are taking note. In fact, Syracuse University’s Falk College recently announced the development and 2017 launch of a new Bachelor of Science in Sport Analytics – the first undergraduate program of its kind in the country. The goal of the Syracuse University Sport Analytics program is to provide students with “a deep understandig of math, statistics, research methodology, sport economics, database management, finance, and computer programming integral to sport analytics. The degree also includes a mandatory foreign language requirement to prepare students for the global sport industry.”

The use of analytics in sport became popular with the release of the 2003 book Moneyball by Michael Lewis, which showed how Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane used analytics, statistics, and data to assemble and develop a cash-strapped baseball team. In 2011, a movie by the same name was released, bringing the use of sport analytics to the big screen and to the attention of sports fans everywhere. Today, sports enthusiasts are focusing on sport analytica careers as a way to gain employment with the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, WNBA, MLS, and other professional or minor league sports franchises, or businesses within the sports industry. The College Recruiter profile titled Sports analytics careers: Recent college grad discusses keys to success, provided an insight into what it takes to succeed in sport analytics careers. In addition, it’s no secret employers in all industries, in and outside the world of sports, are using analytics to recruit and hire college students and recent college grads. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the sport industry generated just under $500 billion in 2014-15 – making it the fifth largest economic sector in the U.S. economy. BLS data also revealed that jobs within the field of “data analyst” are growing at a rate of 27 percent per year – which is more than double the 11 percent national job growth average.

But when talking to Rodney Paul, a Syracuse University Sports Economics Professor and Sports Analytics Program Director who, along with Syracuse University Professor Michael Veley, researched and designed the curriculum for the Syracuse University Sport Analytics bachelor’s degree program, one thing stands out:

The focus of the program isn’t all about sports.

“To use a sports analogy, we want to develop a true 5-tool player,” says Paul. “We want graduates of our sport analytics program to be well-versed in a wide variety of core competencies relative to what is needed to succeed in a career in sport analytics.”

Those five key skills that the Syracuse University Sport analytics program will focus on include:

Mathematics: At some point, it became acceptable for high school and college students to stop challenging themselves with math, says Paul. That’s because math is hard, and requires strong analytical skills. But those who relish the challenges of math, and the analytical and critical thinking skills required to succeed in math, are on the right path to a successful career in sport analytics. “Math is difficult,” says Paul. “But the more you understand math, the more you can learn, and challenge yourself, the deeper one can dive into sport analytics.”

Computer/Information Technology Systems: Programming skills, knowing how to code, database management – proficiency in these areas and other industry technology/software programs is crucial. This is always evolving and will continue to change, but knowing the basics of key industry programs is a must. Showing one can apply these technical skills, and learn new skills/programs on an ongoing basis is going to be important for ongoing career growth.

Business Economics: A strong business acumen, and understanding of economics, and how it applies to sports is important.

Communication: Soft skills are important in the field of sport analytics. Professionals must have strong interpersonal, and communication skills to work within a team, with a diverse group of co-workers, clients, vendors, or colleagues. Being able to communicate data, analytics, and the theories behind sport analytics to co-workers, clients, prospects, senior management, and members of your team are integral to career success. This is true in any industry, sport analytics included.

Foreign Language: Sport analytics careers are available worldwide. Think about this, Paul says: The KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) is widely known as “the Russian professional hockey league.” But, in reality, the 29 teams are based in Belarus, China, Croatia, Finland, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Russia, and Slovakia, and expansion to other countries is likely. Major League Baseball has a large presence in Latin America. The NBA brand is exploding in China. The NFL is playing games in Europe. The NHL has a worldwide presence. Soccer? It always has been an international game.

“Sport industry executives repeatedly tell us that students who are bilingual are highly sought after, especially in growth areas including South America, China and India,” said Falk College Dean Diane Lyden Murphy.

The core curriculum of the Syracuse Sport Analytics program includes a focus on principles of research methodology, sport economics, database management, finance, computer mathematics, statistics and economics. Upon graduation, students will be prepared to think conceptually and analytically while applying these principles to real issues in sport organizations. The Syracuse Sport Analytics program prepares students for a variety of different possible analytics career paths on the player evaluation side, business side, or both, says Paul.

“Sports is the central part of all this and what ties students together,” says Paul, “but developing these skill sets is what is needed to launch a successful career in sport analytics.”

Sport analytics careers are growing at a rapid rate. Master these five key skills to get ahead in the fast-growing field of sport analytics. Want to learn more about trends in sport analytics careers? Stay connected to College Recruiter by visiting our blog, and connect with us on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

Rodney Paul, Sports economist and program director for the Syracuse University Sport Analytics bachelors degree program.

Rodney Paul, Syracuse University

Rodney Paul, is a Syracuse University Sports Economics Professor and Sports Analytics Program Director who, along with Syracuse University Professor Michael Veley, researched and designed the curriculum for the Syracuse University Sport Analytics bachelor’s degree program.