DORK-A-PALOOZA: Two Days At The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

Sloan conference Mark Cuban Wertheim

Photo: Dashiell Bennett/Business Insider

Last weekend, we attended our first Sports Analytics Conference, hosted by MIT’s Sloan School of Management.Click here to see photos from the event >

Now in its fifth year, the conference — dubbed “Dork-A-Palooza” by supporter and frequent guest Bill Simmons —is the go-to event for anyone interested in measuring, analysing, and predicting the future of sports.

In other words, anyone who calls themselves a fan.

Since it’s held in an intimate and relaxed forum, it’s also a great opportunity to rub elbows with sports media figures, team employees, coaches, entrepreneurs, the occasional athlete, and other nerds who love to argue and debate about the numbers behind the games.

We’ll have more coverage over the next couple of days, including interviews with some of the participants, but for now check our photo tour of two days spent knee deep in geeks in Boston.

The conference was held at the shiny Boston Convention centre on the south side of the city.

Here's the registration where participants pickup their badges and gift bags.

Look at all those gift bags! The conference claimed 1,500 attendees, up from 1,000 a year ago.

Here's the program guide with the full two-day schedule. Very handy!

The press room. Since the whole building was wired for blogging, no one spent much time in here.

BREAKFAST TIME: Muffins and juice for all to start the day

Folks begin filing in to mingle and grab breakfast before the opening keynote.

The schedule for one of the conference rooms. Even though the whole event took place along one long hallway, everything was well labelled and well organised.

EVERYONE was on Twitter throughout the conference. The event hashtag was trending worldwide by Friday afternoon. Recent tweets about the event (including this rather witty remark) were displayed on video screens in the rooms between sessions.

See? Even co-chair (and Houston Rockets GM) Daryl Morey can't look away from his phone.

New York Giant lineman Justin Tuck discussed the players he thinks could use some more practice time. He also agreed with the claim that defensive players are smarter than offensive players.

The room was packed. Standing room only in the back.

Morey and Van Gundy both named Tracy McGrady as a player who was so talented, he got away without practicing as much as he should have.

Here's where the real nerdiness takes place. A poster room highlighted some of the student papers being presented during the conference.

Scooter, the FOX Sports baseball makes an appearance.

Mark Verstegen is the CEO and founder of Athletes' Performance, which provides state-of-the-art training for top athletes.

Verstegen was also on the panel about athlete injuries with (l-r) ESPN's Peter Keating and John Brenkus, Sports Illustrated's Will Carroll, and Chris Nowinski, who is co-director of Boston University's centre for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.

Carroll reports on health and injuries of football and baseball players. Nowinski's lab has studied the brains of deceased NFL players to look for the effects of football concussions on long-term health.

LUNCH TIME! Participants and panelists mingle in the main hall. That's SB Nation's Rob Neyer on the far left.

Chad Millman of ESPN (left) moderated a panel on Sports Gambling with New York Knicks executive Mark Warkentien.

Warkentien and Ma were joined by author Michael Konik (left) and Cantor Gaming director Andrew Garrood.

Another packed house. Everyone wants to know how to beat Vegas.

Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach strolls the halls. (That's Quickish founder Dan Shanoff on the phone.)

Numerous students papers were presented at the conference. This one looked at the effect of foreign players on the MLB Draft.

The Boston skyline was forever hovering in the background.

Former Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini was also a panelist.'s Bob Bowman (far left) speaks on a panel about the future of the broadcast experience. He was joined by Sportsvision CEO Hank Adams, ESPN producer Erik Rydholm, NFL Network's Kim Williams, and Boston Globe reporter Shira Springer.

The running joke about rooms full of boys who can't talk to girls was sad, but sorta true. Williams was one of very few women to be featured on a panel. She's the COO of the NFL Network.


One of the more popular panels of Day One was Referee Analytics.

ESPN's Bill Simmons recreates David Tyree's famous helmet catch for Carey, who was the referee on the field during that famous Super Bowl play.

Simmons with SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) researcher Phil Birnbaum, who disputed Wertheim's theory that home field advantage is mostly the result of favourable referee/umpire calls.

Audience members mob Simmons, Cuban, and Carey after their panel.

Day One ended with a crowded cocktail party....

... with cheese!

Golden State owner (and Kleiner-Perkins partner) Joe Lacob chats with Bill Simmons before their Day 2 panel.

Joining them on the New Owners panel: Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, New England Patriots VP Jessica Gelman, and San Diego Padres owner Jeff Moorad.

Burke and Grousbeck discuss whether the GM or owner should really be in charge. (Guess which side Burke was on?)

Check out Grousbeck's World Championship Ring. That's a serious rock.


Simmons loses his microphone mid-panel, but recovers like a pro.

More mingling between sessions.

Teams of MBA students presented case studies for a business school competition.

Judges listen to the presentations. The case was based on a real world scenario for a company planning the 2016 Olympic Games.

PLAYING THROUGH INJURY! Microsoft's Bruno Aziza delivered his presentation despite having the walking boot on his left leg.

Students relax during the lunch break.

More presentations. Many guest speakers were invited to give individual talks over the two days.

STATS, STATS, AND MORE STATS! Another speaker makes his statistical case.

The goal of all this? To one day own one of these:

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