This book was a blast: Well-written and informative with a clever conceit: What if we applied Moneyball principles on the field to the business putting people on the field. I especially appreciated the difficult dilemma of optimizing for wins vs creating a fun night at the park as well as the reason you didn't want to treat fans like customers (because customers don't come back after a poor experience, but fans do). These discussions made me think of how half the problems companies have is with optimizing offices, running lean and being just on time: they've cut costs to so deeply to maximize profit, they made their companies as unattractive to work at, unable to stay the course, and doomed by any schock to the system. Hopefully someone can figure out how to measure fun and put it in a spreadsheet. (And all hail the pitch clock!)
Now to read MVP MACHINE.
Fans of professional sports are certainly aware that analytics are now an important part of their favorite sports, no matter which one(s) they prefer. While many do see the change in the games on the field due to the use of data, they may not be aware that the same type of analysis is used by many team owner for the business side as well. This book by Bruce Schoenfeld does a good job of explaining this use of data both on and off the field.
I found the discussions on the business aspect of analytics most fascinating. Items that are mentioned cover mainly Major League Baseball and the English Premier League but they are certainly applicable to most professional sports franchises. It is especially interesting to read about the Premier League franchises who used data to determine how they may be able to sell more merchandise, for one example. Another excellent example of this was how John Henry, the owner of baseball’s Boston Red Sox, arrived at the decision to buy the Liverpool Premier League team.
For teams in the United States, one of the more interesting concepts on the business side of analytics was something that anyone who has attended a professional sports event in the past few years can see – the many options outside of the game itself to bring fans (and their money) to the area. The Red Sox are one example given – Henry was looking to open Red-Sox themed pubs around Boston but was discouraged from doing so by then-Commissioner Bud Selig. The reason was that this might also be something the rival of the Red Sox would do, the New York Yankees, and help them bring in more money and therefore more wins. The other interesting business analytics example was also in baseball. The owner of the Chicago Cubs looked to partner with Draft Kings to open a gambling parlor at Wrigley Field to bring that aspect (growing in leaps and bounds) to their business model as well. Both of these stories made for great reading.
Analytics that affect the games also are included in this book, but it wasn’t as compelling as the sections on the business side. The best of this writing was actually about an “anti-analytics” manager, Ned Yost of the Kansas City Royals. Schoenfeld does a nice job of explaining how he had success with the team during the 2014 and 2015 seasons (in the latter, the Royals were champions). There is also some good discussion of the 2020 World Series between two teams who do embrace analytics, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays. The most compelling discussion here was about the Rays’ decision to pull their starting pitcher, Blake Snell, early in the decisive sixth game. But overall, while good, this isn’t quite as good as the business side of this discussion on the use of data analytics in sports. It is a book recommended for any fan of any professional sport.
I wish to thank W. W. Norton & Company for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The views expressed are strictly mine.
Thank you to NetGalley and W. W. Norton & Company for the ARC.
Schoenfeld ties together 10 different essays into 1 volume about how analytics and business interact with today's landscape of professional sports, and how the interactions will possibly proceed in the future. Focused mostly on MLB, NBA and international soccer, he does a solid job of mixing story telling with quotes interviews conducted specifically for this book.
As a baseball fanatic, I found most of the MLB related essays to be retellings of stories I already was familiar with, but I learned a lot about how analytics has invaded the NBA and international soccer (especially the Premier League).