This morning in Boston marks the start of the 14th annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (SSAC), a two-day cavalcade of information which, according to their own site, “bring[s] together the leading figures in sports analytics, business and technology.” The conference draws thousands of professionals and students interested in the advancement of sports and sports business with roughly 90 sessions and events offered across the two days. The wide range of topics facing attendees this year span from “The Sports Learning Curve: Why Teams Are Slow to Learn and Adapt” to “USA Swimming: The Analytics Driving Olympic Performance.”
Research papers will be presented too. They include: “Dynamically Predicting Shot Type in Cricket Using a Personalized Deep Neural Network,” “Learning Future Representations from Football Tracking” and “NBA Lineup Analysis on Clustered Player Tendencies: A new approach to the positions of basketball and modeling lineup efficiency.”
For the second consecutive year, representatives of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation will be attending SSAC, seeking insight as to how other sports and professionals are plotting a new future for, essentially, old sports. The ideas shared are thought-provoking, the networking rich and the energy amidst the vast convention space is palpable. SSAC attendees crave the insight on offer.
The only “representative” of the North American racing industry on the SSAC speaker roster is Kip Levin, President and Chief Operating Officer of FanDuel Group, and Chief Executive Officer of TVG. Levin is a panelist in a main ballroom session titled “Sports Gambling Innovation: Betting on the Future.” The description of the panel is below:
“In the 18 months since the Professional & Amateur Sports Protection Act was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, revenue generated across states offering legal gambling has reached an astounding $15 billion. This is just a drop in the bucket as the market for illegal sports gambling has been estimated upwards of $150 billion. As gambling comes closer to being completely legalized across the United States, businesses and leagues are taking innovative approaches to make betting interesting and more mainstream to maximize the seemingly limitless revenue pool. This panel will discuss the mechanics behind the legislation, technology, and implementation.”
Levin, quite clearly, isn’t on the panel for his racing-related role, but we should at least note that FanDuel is attempting to attract their sports and fantasy players into racing, with a new app (download at this link) featuring a modern platform, which resembles more traditional mobile sports betting sites.
Horse racing is the original gambling sport. Volumes of the American Racing Manual, a bound tome that incorporated results, dividends and minute details of racing in America date to the early 1900s. Have they been digitized? No. The University of Kentucky and Keeneland have partnered on archiving old editions of the Daily Racing Form – a noble task that should excite any racing fan wishing to take a trip down memory lane and learn about the sport’s past.
But is it “usable?” Not really.
A hover and one mouse click can get you to a hyperlinked database at Baseball-Reference.com of every score in a Major League Baseball game dating to 1904.
The Chicago White Sox beat the Philadelphia Athletics 6-5 on July 30, 1920 in a 10-inning game that lasted 1 hour 48 minutes. Red Faber improved his record to 15-6 for the White Sox pitching all 10 innings, yielding 11 hits and five runs, three were earned. Faber had a 20-year career with a record of 254-213 and a lifetime earned run average of 3.15. Faber pitched a career high 351.2 innings in 1922 for the White Sox, with whom he spent his entire career. That year’s team went 77-77 and drew over 602,000 fans to Comiskey Park. Eddie Collins had the highest salary on the ’22 White Sox, earning $15,000.
Collins had a 25-year career that ended with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1930. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1939. His nickname was “Cocky.”
Surely, you get the point?
American racing stakeholders have no rights to their own data – not owners, breeders, trainers or jockeys.
The organization that compiles it does so as a financial venture for itself and those who host the races. Those registering horses relinquish those data rights in order to register a foal. What do they receive for that? A wonky website, charts in PDF formats and generally lackluster detail...not to mention outrageous prices for the data they seek. Want a deeper history from the past? Good luck with that.
Racing can do so much better, but those who remain in charge of its data have woefully disappointed those involved in the modern day sport. It is no surprise that racing does not get a run at this year’s SSAC. Why would it?
Where would any researcher start, let alone finish a massive study of some element of the sport? How can racing attract new generations of data scientists when the data is kept under a technological hammer lock? American racing trudges through while the rest of the sports world evolves, racing well ahead of the original gambling sport.