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New ‘Counterpoints’ podcast uses analytics to put sports theories to the test

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Leave it to the analytical minds at MIT to come up with their own version of sports debate.

MIT Sloan senior lecturer Ben Shields, and Paul Michelman, editor-in-chief of MIT Sloan Management Review, are diving into data-driven decision making on their new podcast “Counterpoints.”

The show’s format follows Shields and Michelman discussing a central thesis for each episode, and then exploring that theory with a guest expert who’s charged with presenting data to either support or reject that idea.

MIT Sloan Management Review editor-in-chief Paul Michelman, left, hosts “Counterpoints” with MIT Sloan senior lecturer Ben Shields.

“We are really trying to satisfy and pique the curiosity of sports fans who love numbers, and also help people outside of sports understand how data-driven decision making operates in sports,” Shields said. “And in doing so, they might pick up a tip or two on how to use data to solve their own problems.”

MIT Sloan management review launched “Counterpoints” Nov. 15 with two episodes. Future episodes will be released every two weeks. The first guests are Jessica Gelman, CEO of Kraft Analytics Group, and Ben Alamar, director of sports analytics at ESPN. The co-hosts have also taped an episode in which they interview an executive from a wearable technology company, and debate whether sleep offers athletes the best legal advantage in sports.

“It is different from other versions of sports debate, we would argue, because other versions of sports debate use other types of rhetorical appeals to settle an argument,” Shields said. “Whereas in this show we are relying on science and data to settle those arguments.”

Shields said he’s also making a point to ask each guest what data is needed, but isn’t currently available, to better understand a particular thesis.

“My hope is that each show will tee up new research opportunities in the fields of sports, technology, and analytics,” he said.

There will be 26 episodes for this first season, and while some shows might focus around a subject that’s more timely given the sports calendar — think March Madness in the spring — the hosts said they wanted to retain some flexibility for their episodes.

Michelman said Counterpoints at its heart is a sports podcast, but there wasn’t much of a stretch to tie sports analytics to business and management ideas.“Sports is already seen as the pioneer in analytics — people naturally turn to sports as a way to look at what the most progressive data-based decision making is,” Michelman said. “The connection’s already there, so we don’t need to force it.”

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