Quick Hits from the 2020 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

Let’s get frictionless.

Sports 2040

Beginning at the end: this lively and occasionally quite awkward final panel is worth watching, especially Morey’s unvarnished thoughts on crazy soccer rules and Bill James on the looming crisis for baseball.

Facial Recognition

In the “How Big Is Your Jumbotron?” session, there was speculation that some level of facial recognition technology could be deployed in 75% of pro stadiums and arenas in as little as 5 years. And it would be used in myriad ways: gate admission, food/beverage purchasing, security.

The New Realities for Venues

It’s easier than ever to not go to a live sporting event. The at-home and online experiences are slick, plentiful, and easy, so why slog out to the Meadowlands?

Cashierless Purchasing and 5G

The drive to cashierless purchasing is moving quickly too. Long lines are still a pressure point, and some stadiums are looking to pilot “grab and go” food and beverage services over the next year (again, using facial recognition tech). Amazon and Major League Baseball have been circling around a tech licensing deal for months

Random Stuff:

New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson had over a million Instagram followers when he was in high school.


Talk about betting was fairly subdued this year, but a few panels tackled it head-on (read this nice thread about the Sports Gambling Innovation panel from Sportlogiq).

Personalized Games

One of the interesting concepts bubbling up from Google Cloud’s panel “Innovating for the Next Generation of America’s Pastime” was the idea of mining a baseball game for personalized content.

  • A particular batter or pitcher
  • A particular section of the lineup
  • Situations where runners are on base
  • Statistical anomalies or curiosities (no-hitters, batting streaks)

The NBA Schedule

Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin’s idea about starting the NBA season in December got a lot of media and Twitter attention (and created buzz in the room). The chatter was both familiar and tinged with lament about both the logic of it and the difficulty of change:

  • “The season doesn’t really get going until December anyway.”
  • “The NFL and college football schedules dominate October and November anyway.”
  • “In July and August you’re really only competing with baseball.”


Are teams and leagues creating emergency plans for canceling/rescheduling games, or revamping health and sanitation protocols at venues? Are they thinking about how globalization makes sports properties subject to the same supply chain pressures that consumer products face. Or how Covid-19 will affect Tokyo 2020 or the NBA’s plans for China?



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