I am a big sports fan. I follow my Pittsburgh Pirates, my Penguins, my Steelers, and my Pitt Panthers. I watched the Cubbies series win (sic), and watch my team’s games as often as I can. Pittsburgh has been very competitive on the field, diamond, rink, and floor. But beyond the competition, I love the data of the game.
In most big-time sports, it is no longer enough to know your opponent’s general tendencies. Teams must have thorough data on their opponents. Successful teams have staffs of “data people” that collect, study, and analyze everything about the game and the individuals that play the game. The good teams take it further by focusing on situational statistics that would blow the mind of most “non-data” people. Situational statistics focus on “what will our competition do when the situation is …”.
The short tenure of Pittsburgh Penguins’ General Manager Jim Rutherford began with him bringing his “data person” with him from Carolina to fill the same role in Pittsburgh. Most of us, at least the hockey fans, know how well that has turned out (The Penguins were the Stanley Cup Champions in 2015-2016). A simple example of hockey data might include the tendency of certain player to shoot the puck at the goalie’s upper glove side off the face-off during the power play in the third period. This can be complex stuff.
The movie “Money Ball” focused on the Oakland Athletics hiring Billy Beane, a “data guy,” to turn around the fortunes of his baseball team using statistics and tendencies that were not typically monitored and exploited. There is a book written about how the Pirates used data to turn the team into the perennial contender we see today. Fantasy sports are all based on the data of the games and the players. Using data this way has become a way of life for many people and businesses.
Whether you are a bettor, a fan, a fantasy player, or a casual observer, the results of a game and the data therein plays a big role in sports. But there are other games with results that are also full of data and statistics.
There was a great game on the television recently that was not a sporting event. Perhaps calling it a “great” game is a misnomer. This game was something I considered the “Greatest Game Ever” or at least the most important game in my lifetime.
The “Greatest Game Ever” that I am referring to was the “election game” consisting of the painful release of results at the end of Campaign 2016 where we, here in the good ole’ U.S.A., voted for the next President of our great country. The “Greatest Game Ever” included incredible amounts of what turned out to be consistently incorrect data about the contestants, being shared before the game even took place. The true game – or the event – was the voting and the release of the voting data on election day and night.
When I spoke about the election result shows with my daughter who was voting for the POTUS (President of the United States) for her first time, she said that the networks were turning the television coverage into a game. The commentators constantly spoke of the percentage of votes counted in each district, the percentage of votes outstanding in each district, the percentage of registered voters from each party in that district, and how those voters voted in the last POTUS election.
This column will not even mention the debacle that is otherwise known as the Electoral College, the road maps to victory, and how certain states mattered more than others. In a lot of ways, this too was mind bending.
The election game got to the point that viewers like myself believed that the networks were manipulating the release of the data to maximize viewership and therefore advertising revenues. To make this happen would have required an incredibly synchronized data management effort with real-time decisions being made all directed at keeping the average American Joe and Josephine in suspense. There is a bit of me that still thinks this happened.
The strange thing about this game is that at the very end of this game, the competitor who won (in this game the number of votes is what counted) ended up losing the game. It’s the second time in the last quarter century and fourth time ever for that to happen. Go figure. It’s all in the data.
The visualization of election data and the ability to drill down into the results became a game itself. I firmly believe that there are many corporate executives that would love to drill into performance, finance and sales figures, and show results like that. I am certain that there are many that have that capability at great cost and great governance of data.
For example – it is not crazy to think that a retail company would want to be able to drill down into the data to learn how a specific sales group in a specific sales region has performed on specific days of the month when it comes to selling a specific product. It would not be amazing to think that an organization would want to know the profitability of product based on the demographics provided in the election example above.
Life is one big game. Life can be about sports or elections or days in the office. The truth is that the performance of your favorite team, the new President-elect, and your most important projects are all that matter. Using all available data to improve performance is the reason organizations must pay such close attention to their data.