Imagine a quadrillion – it’s one followed by fifteen zeroes. Which is pretty big. But that’s the number of combinations that the US National Basketball Association is delivering to its global fan base as part of its ground-breaking, interactive website, www.NBA.com/Stats. In twenty first century professional sport, success isn’t just about beating your opponent. It’s also about building and sustaining worldwide fan engagement.
Personally, I like watching just about any sport played at a professional standard, but the speed and excitement of the NBA is hard to match. Teams can score against each other in a matter of seconds, and the courtside pace and atmosphere is electric. I think that’s why it attracts so many fans – 450 million of them worldwide. With that sort of audience reach, you want to feed and nurture their interest.
And that’s exactly what the NBA has done. By making their vast archive of data interactive and available online, teams, fans and the media are now able to access definitive stats about the NBA’s entire history – every rebound, blocked shot and penalty point, how fast a player moves, how many touches of the ball he’s had, and how many passes he threw. In fact, the statistics and video captured and used during NBA games flow directly back into the league’s database and can be accessed almost immediately.
With a treasure chest of historical information dating back to 1946, including numerous player and game data points, it’s a massively onerous task, that’s been made staggeringly simple – with appealing visuals and player tables that make fans feel close to the game, no matter where they are in the world. It’s also something the NBA had been striving to do internally for seven years but was struggling to open it up to a wider audience. (If you’ve got tens of thousands of fans online at the same time, you need snappy results). SAP HANA lets them split, filter and run combinations of statistics using powerful in-memory computing with data fed directly from the arena to the database in sub-seconds – almost as fast as the “swoosh” through the hoop.
As a result, fans are now spending more than twice the time on the NBA Stats website and engaging even more with the sport. The site contributed to the nearly 27 billion page views across NBA platforms last season. As a result, NBA content is now distributed and viewed in 215 countries and 47 different languages worldwide.
But it’s not just the fans that are benefiting from scalable analytics. There’s an elusive component in basketball called “hustle stats”. These are all the things apart from actually scoring points that help decide the outcome of games, such as diving for loose balls, being close enough to contest a shot, or dominate rebounds or steals etc. The correlations, if you will. When players win in the hustle areas, they tend to win the game.
So this year, for the first time in the NBA’s history, the so-called “hustle stats” will be officially tracked and the numbers will go into a formula, determining which players hustled the most in any given game. These statistics will also be distributed during live games to team personnel, media and broadcasters. Fans will have postgame access to the information by opening box scores posted to the NBA’s website.
The numbers are also being used for coaching and player motivation. It’s human nature to want to know why you’re being asked to do something a certain way. When you can put numbers on things, players understand the context of why they’re being asked to do specific things by the coaching staff and are more motivated.
The hustle-stats tracking project is still in its infancy, but it reflects the growing interest and reliance on analytics by the league and this is becoming apparent across almost all professional sport in the digital age – whether it’s shaping game strategy, feeding media content or fueling fan interest.
Of course, for players, statistics will never be a substitute for their own instinctive judgment, and every game is an opportunity to measure themselves against their own talent and potential. For the rest of us mere mortals, it’s an opportunity to gain unparalleled insight into the games, players, coaches, teams and leagues without breaking a bead of sweat.
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