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All our takeaways from MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

How the Patriots manage salary, why not to invest in video, and giving your people some time.

By Meredith Somers and Brian Eastwood  |  March 1, 2018

maverick-carter

"I want to focus on the things I know I can have an effect on," Maverick Carter said. Photo: Kubica & Nguyen

Sometimes it's the little takeaways. Here are the smart, helpful, and occasionally funny bits of knowledge our reporters took away from the 2018 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

It's OK to pass
Investors and entrepreneurs have to be comfortable with the fact that they will pass on products or services that end up succeeding, said Maverick Carter, CEO of SpringHill Entertainment and the digital media platform Uninterrupted.

"The risk taker in me always wants to take a bit in case it turns into something great, but I'm not going to just spray and pray," Carter said. "I want to focus on the things I know I can have an effect on."

New York who?
Today's businesses need to think about how to push their content directly to consumers.

Alex Rodriguez, baseball player turned founder and CEO of investment firm A-Rod Corp., said his partner Jennifer Lopez has roughly 150 million followers across her social media accounts — and 75 percent of them millennials.

"When you press that [share] button, it could be more powerful than going on NBC or being in The New York Times," Rodriguez said.

How the Patriots think about salary
Salary caps in professional sports create three tiers of players, New England Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio said: elite players, minimum-salary players, and a middle class of role players.

Teams such as the Patriots successfully manage their rosters under the salary cap by identifying a player's role on the team and the salary cost associated with that role.

"If the player continues in that role, and the salary is commensurate with that role, it makes sense," he said, according to ESPN. "If for some reason there starts to be a gap there, there has to be some sort of an adjustment."

This strategy helps the Patriots decide whether to let a role player become a free agent if the team thinks his salary is approaching that of an elite player.

R.I.V(ideo).
There's not a lot of consensus about business models in the media industry that work, said Nate Silver, founder and editor in chief of the FiveThirtyEight blog.

Well, there is one universal truth, he said: "Don't pivot to video. It's a euphemism for, 'I'm going to die now.'"

Give good people time
Los Angeles Clippers owner and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the success of a team cannot be measured on a 1- or 2-year basis.

reporters-notebook-ballmerFrom left: Rachel Nichols, Steve Ballmer, and Nate Silver. Photo: ESPN Images

This bodes well for NBA legend Jerry West (member of the Clippers' executive board) and Lawrence Frank (executive vice president of basketball operations), both of whom are less than two years into their tenure.

"It's like assessing a new product development in tech," Ballmer said. "It could be a 4-year or 5-year process."

Silver, who interviewed Ballmer, agreed: "A lot of dumb decisions are made by people with short time horizons."

Test drive possible star employees
With Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum, the Boston Celtics have hit the jackpot in the NBA draft the last two summers.

Both were top picks (No. 3 out of 60 total pics) but both also showed cause for concern in college — difficulty driving to the basket for Brown, and trouble with deep shots for Tatum.

Director of Player Personnel Austin Ainge said context played a key part in evaluating both Brown and Tatum, according to a report in Celtics Wire. Rather than simply study on the players' college performance, Ainge said the team designed pre-draft workouts to see how well the players would fit into the Celtics' open and free-flowing offense.

As of today, both Brown and Tatum are regular starters for the Celtics, who have the fourth-best record in the NBA.

Don't get stuck on digital transformation
Phong Le, MBA '05, senior executive vice president and CFO at analytics platform MicroStrategy, said a digital transformation strategy isn't always a technology solution, it's got a lot to do with technique.

phong lePhong Le


"Companies are all scrambling to not be taken over by Amazon, they're all confused on what to do," Le said. "We tell everybody take a step back, figure out who your customers are, who are you trying to serve, what is the business problem you're trying to solve. Get away from this buzzword 'digital transformation.' What are you really trying to do? Then talk about the software. Then talk about the people you need to hire. A lot of companies are just rushing into this digital transformation without any strategy, hoping to catch up."

Athletes and activism
And finally, no matter how much data is used to improve player performance team performance, remember this: "They're not robots."

That's a quote from Katrina Adams, chairman of the board and president of the United States Tennis Association, discussion athletes and activism.

"I think society looks at athletes as being robots and not being able to speak their minds and really understand the social issues," Adams said. "I think it's great, it's an opportunity to open up people's eyes. If you're back on your heels when they speak, if you're uncomfortable, then they're talking about the right things."