The Future of Sports Statistics

Thus far, we have discussed sports statistics from a historical perspective, and examined how statistics play a role in sports today. This all begs the question, "What is the future of sports and statistics?" I believe that with the increased digital convergence occurring in all areas of media, the amount of statistics being utilized will begin to move closer to the vast amount of statistics available.

 

With the increasing popularity of fantasy sports, it seems only natural that watching a game as a fan and watching a game as a fantasy participant will begin to become a singular experience. Currently, fans can watch a sport on television for the game action, while simultaneously using their computer to go online and check their fantasy stats. However, as in the case of FIOS TV, many television providers are beginning to incorporate the online and television-viewing experience.  This technology exists now on a "push" basis, meaning fans have to manually select the option of logging on to the internet through their television to check on their fantasy team. Down the road, I believe that stat updates on your television can be automated, and the user will be able to customize their viewing experience so that on-screen fantasy graphics can pop-up in the same way that they do during a broadcast.

 

Another development in sports statistics which appears to be on the horizon mirrors a trend which has been occurring throughout media. The once-mighty print media is being moved to the side, in favor of an online experience. Just as newspapers and magazines are decreasing their focus on printed publications, in favor of a more digital experience, I believe that we will soon see some of the mammoth printed statistical tomes transition to a fully-online resource. 

 

Consider the case of the baseball almanac. These books have long been a source of exhaustive statistical information about baseball, and are updated each season to include the most current information. The 2009 printed version of Baseball America's almanac checks in at 468 pages, and weighs 1.5 pounds. While a book of this size can certainly contain large amounts of information, it is also rather unwieldy. It seems to be far more convenient to access a website where all of the information is contained on your computer, and one does not have to flip through hundreds of pages to compare two pieces of information.

 

As we have discussed, statistics are updated in real-time, and this poses an additional problem for an annual publication. While an yearly baseball almanac presumably contains the most current information as of the date of publication, as soon as the first game of the next season is played, vast amounts of information in the printed almanac is now out of date. To look back at the statistical data from the 1990s, one can either find space for 15 pounds of books, or simply click on a bookmark on their computer. 

 

Another issue for statistical publications is the inexorable race to "build a better mousetrap." Technology has made the formerly exhaustive task of compiling, analyzing, and packaging data much more convenient. Simple programs can be designed to automatically accomplish what used to take countless man hours. The Internet generation is not known for its loyalty, and if what you provide for a fee is available somewhere else for free, the outlook is bleak. Baseball-Almanac.com even includes a solicitation on its website. Since they do not advertise, and rely on book sales (diminishing) and banner clicks (unreliable) for their revenue stream, they have been forced to seek out alternate means for keeping afloat.   
 
While the accessibility of statistics for the regular fan, and the huge fantasy sports population will see an increase, the niche statical follower will also see advances in stats technology. Already, we have begun to see statistics transformed from numbers on a page to eye-opening visualizations. Sites like statsheet.com provide a wide range of statistical measures for college basketball, and allows users to see the information charted in a variety of ways. They also offer an option where customized charts can be created which track specific stats. In a nod to the ubiquity of Twitter, @statsheet is now an option for the users of this popular web/mobile tool to receive updates on the advancements of the site. They alos offer team-by-team "tweets", where users can receive direct information regarding only thier favorite team. For example, @Celticsstats will deliver information for just the NBA franchise in Boston. This level of interactivity is indicative of what can happen when modern technology is coupled with statistics.
 
Popular websites have begun to follow the trend of statics and visualization. ESPN offers a feature called Accuscore on its sports scoreboards. AccuScore runs over 10,000 simulations of a particular game, based on the statistics of the participants, and then produces a prediction of the game outcome and the stats from the game. The result is then made into an image which displays the prediction and the expected level of accuracy. The sports columnist and the televison analyst can now be compared with a statistical engine which can provide a reasonable approximation of probable outcomes which takes myriad factors into consideration.
 
As new technologies emerge, and the level of sophistication in sports analysis increases, we will see a new horizon for statistics which will provide customized on-demand information. Our involvement in statistics has moved from mostly passive to increasingly interactive. The reamls of the die-hard sports fan and the statistics egg-head are rapidly converging.  
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