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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.

Posted August 31, 2016 by

Sports analytics careers: Recent college grad discusses keys to success

Group of analysts reviewing data

Group of analysts reviewing data. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

It’s no secret that analytics and data are driving, and changing, the world of sports, at all levels. From high school to college, and the pros, individuals, organizations, and teams are using analytics to drive decisions on and off the field. The rapid rise in the use of sports analytics led to the creation of the popular MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, called “a forum for industry professionals, students, and fans to discuss the increasing role of analytics in the sports industry.”

The growth of sports analytics has also prompted Syracuse University to launch the first-ever sports analytics bachelor’s degree program in the United States. Launching in the Spring of 2017, the Syracuse University sports analytics bachelor’s degree program will focus on computer programming, statistics, math, and of course, sports.

In May of 2016 Zack Sims graduated from the University of Georgia with a double major in Digital and Broadcast Journalism and Statistics. He also earned a certificate from UGA’s sports media program, preparing him for a career in sports, or sports analytics. While at UGA Sims wrote for a few sports web sites, covered live events, and practiced analyzing sports data on his own. He was also a Division I athlete, participating in track and cross country. An informational interview helped Sims earn a sports analytics internship at Competitive Sports Analysis (CSA), an Atlanta, Georgia-based sports analytics company.

Below, Sims talks to College Recruiter about how he landed his sports analytics internship, what he does as a sports analytics intern, the type of technical and soft skills needed to succeed in sports analytics careers, what he knows now that he wish he knew while in college – and much more:

Informational interview led to sports analytics internship

Sims was required to complete an informational interview with a sports industry professional as part of a sports media class at UGA.

“I told my professor that I wanted to work in sports analytics, and he told me he had recently met a woman named Diane Bloodworth, who owned her own sports analytics company in Atlanta,” said Sims. “I interviewed with Diane and got an understanding for how she got into the industry. She told me to stay in touch, so I called her shortly before graduating and asked if she had any openings. She offered me an internship, and I started working shortly after.”

Sports industry background

During the informational interview, Sims was able to discuss how his previous work in sports prepared him for a sports analytics internship. In the summer of 2015 he served as the Broadcast Intern for the Sunbelt Collegiate Baseball League, where he did play-by-play and commentary, and wrote game stories. He also wrote for three different websites covering college football. During his time at UGA, he covered a multitude of sports (swimming, softball, basketball, baseball and more) for the UGA sports media program. Two of his assignments from that program got published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Athens Banner-Herald.

Day-to-day duties of a Sports analytics intern

At CSA, Sims works as an analytics intern. CSA currently offers two products. scoutPRO is for fantasy football players. This product provide projections, access to a fantasy football expert, and insights into player data. CSA also offers scoutSMART, which is an analytics based recruiting software. It shows college football coaches how well a recruit will fit into their program. CSA currently only works in college and pro football. Its clients are fantasy football users (scoutPRO) and college football coaches (scoutSMART).

Sims’ day-to-day duties go far beyond the job title, because CSA is a startup company. Sims said this internship has provided him with experience in a lot of different areas beyond sports and analytics. He uses math, business and communication skills on a daily basis. He helps with CSA marketing efforts, managing social media, and analyzing NFL data. He manages software databases and much more.

When you work at a startup, you aren’t tied down to specific duties,” says Sims. “You really help in any way you can. I help manage our corporate website, run our Twitter accounts, head up our email marketing campaigns, manage the database for our scoutSMART, and create some visual analytics for our scoutPRO users. I’ve been able to work in so many areas during my internship.”

Software skills crucial in sports analytics careers

To succeed in a career in sports analytics, one must be able to have much more than a knowledge and interest in sports. They must be analytical, and be able to understand, learn, and use a variety of software programs, and have a variety of technical skills.

Prior to this internship, Sims used Kaggle, a social media site for data analysts, to practice analyzing sports data. He primarily looked at Major League Baseball data on Kaggle. Now, at CSA, R, Tableau and Excel are the three main programs Sims uses for conducting data analysis.

“They are great for breaking down large data sets and producing something meaningful,” says Sims. “I also use Constant Contact for managing our email marketing campaigns.”

Coding/programming skills important in sports analytics careers

“The one thing I wish I would have known was how important coding/programming is,” says Sims. “If you want to get into analytics, you really need to be proficient in a few programs. I was exposed to R and SAS while at UGA, but I didn’t really start learning them in-depth until I started teaching myself the last few months.”

Sims expanded on the technical skills needed to succeed in a sports analytics career, saying “I think you need to know R (or SAS), Tableau, and SQL to land some bigger jobs in analytics. Each of these plays a very big role in any analytics job. The good thing is there are plenty of places on the internet where you can learn these tools (W3Schools, R for Everyone, Tableau Website, Kaggle).”

Soft skills are crucial to sports analytics career success

You can love sports, and be an analytics genius, but soft skills are still crucial to succeed in sports analytics careers.

“I definitely think you need to be effective at communicating to work in analytics,” says Sims. “There are a lot of people who can break down data, but there aren’t many people who can do that and clearly explain what the data is telling them.”

From college classroom to the real world

Sims says the sports media and journalism classes he took at UGA helped prepare him for his internship.

“These classes made it easy to tell a story from the data I work with,” says Sims. “I think my statistics classes taught me what to look for when analyzing data.”

The future of sports analytics careers

Since starting his internship and searching for jobs in sports analytics, Sims has noticed just how fast the field of sports analytics is growing: “I’ve learned the sports analytics market is growing like crazy,” he said. “There are so many opportunities emerging, and this should continue for the next couple of years. This excites me, because I know I can work my up in the industry.”

Passion for sports important

Most college students or recent college grads who pursue a career in sports analytics are likely going to have a passion for sports. And that is another valuable trait to showcase with employers, when interviewing for jobs in sports analytics.

“I definitely think you need a passion for sports to be successful in this field,” says Sims. “When I’m trying to analyze data for our fantasy football users, it helps that I know what kind of metrics are important to them. I love football and I also play fantasy football, so it helps me know what our customers will want to see.”

Being a well-rounded college graduate is valuable

“I’m a believer that the more versatile your background is, the better,” says Sims. “Being passionate about sports is great, but if you can also break down data and draw important meaning from it, you can definitely find a job in sports analytics.”

The importance of a sports analytics internship

An internship is crucial to success.

“It’s really hard to just land a sports analytics job when you come out of college, unless you’ve done a lot of work/projects on your own,” says Sims. “Internships are a stepping stone for you to get a job with a sports team, sports technology company, or other sports organization or business.”

The future

Sims would welcome the chance to stay at CSA once his internship is complete. He also still dreams of working in an analytics role for a professional sports team/organization, or sports media company. For now, he knows he’s getting some of the best on-the-job training he can to pursue his passion and dream of working in the fast-growing field of sports analytics. Sims calls working at CSA “a great experience,” adding that he “gets the freedom to explore projects that I might not get a large company.”

Sports analytics careers are not the future, they are the present. Zack Sims is prepared to take the next step in his career. Current college students, recent college grads and entry-level job seekers can prepare for the next step in their career by staying connected to College Recruiter to learn about careers in sports analytics. To do so, visit our blog, and connect with us on LinkedIn, TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

Zack Sims

Zack Sims

About Zack Sims
Zack Sims graduated from the University of Georgia in the srping of 2016 with a double major in Digital and Broadcast Journalism and Statistics. He also earned a certificate from UGA’s sports media program and was a member of the UGA track and cross country teams.