December 10, 2021

SBJ Atlas Newsletter – December 10, 2021

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NBA strategists stay ahead of a fast-moving data industry

As the industry rebounded from a generational pandemic this summer, Michael James, the NBA’s head of data strategy and analytics, began tracking the number of analyst positions posted on LinkedIn. The results were eye-popping: “Another 51 Sports Business Strategy and Analytics roles were posted in October alone, bringing the total number to 355 for 2021 thus far — nearly double our previous high of 187 posted roles in 2019,” James wrote in a LinkedIn post in early November.

Those results are not a blip on the radar; they are indicative of the importance of data to the industry at this moment.

“In general, when we look at the [analyst] job market, it’s very strong everywhere,” James said. “One of the things we’re excited about is a sense of where this market is going. … Our Future Analytics Stars program, for example, is a way to fill the pipeline of talent. Tracking these postings is all about trying to understand this new way of looking at data strategy and analytics, what we need to do from a league level to support our teams and how do we get in front of that demand.”

Matt Wolf, NBA senior vice president and head of global strategy and innovation, emphasized the importance of being quick to evolve while still holding on to core values.

“The pandemic is changing the way we’re working more quickly than what some might have anticipated,” Wolf said. “Our job is helping change the businesses that we’re in as we continue to migrate to a more digitally focused, direct-to-consumer model. So when we think about all these new digital products — Top Shot, NFTs, blockchain — that opens up a new segment of fans to address and collect data on. The data is more robust and you have to bring in the types of people and skills that can be most helpful. But the focus on developing a better relationship with the fan will always be at the center of what we do.”

The NBA has long been considered among the most innovative leagues and is a trendsetter in terms of how it uses and shares data among its franchises. That means that data teams are more diverse than ever, with new use cases coming online every day and opportunities opening up unexpectedly.

“What I’m excited about are the new kinds of roles and titles popping up in the industry,” James said. “If you look at our league — the Jazz are looking for an analytics and tagging specialist, the Spurs are hiring for a corporate process and strategy director — and when you think about data engineering and architecture, there are new positions in that space that teams like the Cavs are filling. It’s a great time to be an analyst in sports business, no question.”

 As for the crowded market of data providers in the industry, Wolf said that’s just a case of supply catching up with demand. “It’s a signal of how much the industry has grown,” he said.          

State Farm has most deals around CFB title games

This weekend’s Power Five conference title games with showcase not only the 10 teams in those games, but 243 unique sponsors that will have a stake in the matchups through either a conference or school affiliation. State Farm is leading the way with 12 deals by sponsoring the Big Ten and Pac-12, as well as all 10 teams in P5 title games. The insurance category is well-represented in the list, with three (State Farm, Geico and Blue Cross) in the top 10. Tied for second at 10 deals apiece are Gatorade and Nike. Gatorade operates as a supplier of all five conferences and half of the P5 teams playing this weekend, while Nike is an apparel provider of the Big Ten and Pac-12, in addition to eight of the 10 competing schools.

On the conference level, 10 sponsors have a marketing trifecta by holding deals with all three entities (conference and both competing teams). Meanwhile, Dr Pepper is a sponsor of both the Big 12 and SEC title games themselves.          

Lions attendance continues to dip amid poor season

Paid attendance at Ford Field for yesterday’s Vikings- Lions game “came in at just 45,691,” marking the fifth-lowest attendance figure in Ford Field’s near-20-year history (not including last year’s pandemic season). All of the other games with less “came in 2009, when the team averaged just 49,395 paid attendees and was coming off an 0-16 season.” With two games left on the schedule, the Lions are in a “stiff competition with Washington Football Team for the league’s worst home attendance numbers.” The Lions are ranked 31st and averaging 51,705 — a 15% drop off from an average of 61,342 during ’19 — and Washington comes in right behind, with an average of 51,523 paid attendees ( DETROIT NEWS, 12/6 ). The Lions picked up their first win of the season yesterday, moving to 1-10-1 ( SBJ ).

Below are attendance figures from Week 13 of the NFL season, including Thursday’s game in New Orleans and all of Sunday’s matchups.         

Allegiant Airlines reaps benefits of Golden Knights partnership

Allegiant Airlines became the official airline of the Golden Knights in 2018, partnering with the team a year after their inaugural season, writes SBJ Atlas’ Michael Cupello.

In 2019, the airline debuted a Golden Knights-themed plane, which added to their rising brand affinity. Currently, fans of the team are seven times more likely to follow Allegiant Air on Twitter than the average NHL fan.


Their partnership reached a new height early this year when Allegiant became the away helmet partner of the team. Additionally, the brand has acquired several location assets throughout the team’s home facility, T-Mobile Arena.          

Golden Knights fans are seven times more likely to follow Allegiant Air on Twitter than the average NHL fan.