On May 5, the Arizona Coyotes appointed then-26-year-old John Chayka as their new General Manager, making him the youngest GM in sports history. As expected, the media has focused on Chayka’s age—and that to the detriment of a much larger and more significant story. The Coyotes’ decision is not an attention grab and it’s not about age. It’s a sign that multi-million dollar sports franchises are starting to bet bigger on digital.
Let me explain.
John Chayka, who is now 27, is not just a former junior player with a business degree. Yes, he is that, but he’s also a co-founder of Stathletes, a hockey analytics company providing exclusive data, reports, insights, and visualizations to all major North American hockey leagues. Stathletes, which Chayka started in 2010 with friend Neil Lane, boasts an unparalleled level of in-game statistical insights, “over 100x the statistical resolution of existing tracking methods,” according to the company’s website. In 2015, after helping build Stathletes into a company with over 50 employees and $1 million plus in annual revenue, the Coyotes came calling and Chayka, 25 at the time, became the team’s Assistant GM and analytics whiz kid.
The Coyotes are not the first NHL team to invest in young, data-savvy talent. Other teams, like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, and New Jersey Devils, have done so too, but never to this degree. Chayka is now wholly responsible for the on-ice direction of a storied franchise on the ropes. The Coyotes could have made a safer hire, bringing in a seasoned GM to get the team onto thicker ice, at least from a player/personnel perspective. Instead they hire an unseasoned twenty-something with a sports analytics background and give him control of what is ostensibly the team’s fate in the Arizona market.
That is why the Chayka hire is so revolutionary.
While analytics are certainly a fairly recent adoption in the NHL, it’s uncertain if other franchises are willing to invest so heavily. When asked in a recent interview about the state of analytics in the NHL, Chayka responded,
“Is it in the infancy stage? Maybe, comparative to the more established sports. Is it in the infancy stage compared to where it was five years ago? It’s definitely not. As we continue to evolve or understand the game and learn more you realize there is more and more to learn. Just because the information continues to evolve and become more complex doesn’t mean you go back to the infancy stage. It’s a natural evolution of how change occurs. For me, I’ve been part of it since essentially day one and I see huge growth and more coming.”
The bottom line is, sports teams are businesses, and they aren’t immune to the digital transformation that’s going on.
The NHL is on board with digitalization. Listen to what NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has to say about Running Live with SAP .