A Special Event
On the official Swiss Digital Day, The Center for Research in Sports Administration (CRSA) invited academics, data journalists, and experts from media and industry to the conference on Sports, Data, and Journalism at the University of Zurich to discuss the use of data science in sports.
At the sold-out event, over 100 participants from around the world listened to more than 35 interesting talks, participated in data science workshops, and exchanged ideas on sports. Helmut Dietl (University of Zurich) opened the conference, making clear that both academics and data journalists are dealing with the same data and face similar issues in their day to day work, and thus, can learn a lot from each other.
Costas Bekas (IBM Research) talked about IBM Research' role in providing Artificial Intelligence to the world of sports, while Sefton Perry (UEFA) and Mark Kassis (UEFA) discussed how their Intelligence Centre delivers balanced insights directly to UEFA policy makers, decision makers, and key stakeholders.
Journalists need to learn to code
Barnaby Skinner (Tamedia) opened the first data journalism session, making clear why journalists of the 21st century need to learn how to code. Jure Stabuc (Office of National Statistics, UK) presented his automated football match reporter, while Haluka Maier-Borst (NZZ Visuals) presented his Machine-Learning algorithm to spot the next football star and discussed how the algorithm was used to create data-driven stories at NZZ for the FIFA World Cup 2018.
"But just as physicians mistrust these miracle tools, journalists should do so too. If they don’t understand what these machines do, then journalists and readers will be at the mercy of the machines. But journalists can only report on the algorithms if they understand how they work."
Management Dismissals, Judge Biases in the Olympics, or Daily Fantasy Sports
In the afternoon, junior researchers presented their posters in the atrium. Participants had the chance to walk around, ask questions, and discuss research findings with the authors of the papers. The papers ranged from media research to psychology, economics, and business. Jeremy Losak's (Clemson University) work on "Daily Fantasy Sports: Chance or Skill, Applying The Efficient Market Hypothesis" and Bruno Caprettini's (University of Zurich) on "Does hosting a sports team boost the visibility of a city among tourists?" stood out.
John Templon's (Buzzfeed News) investigative report on ice skating gave a perfect insight into how heavy data and technical work can be combined with classic investigative reporting to produce great stories that have lasting impacts. Indeed, the International Skating Union added "national bias" to its constitution in its June 2018 meeting and two Chinese figure skating judges were suspended for biased judging during the Olympics. In the same session, Angelo Zehr (SRF) presented a descriptive work on Roger Federer's last 20 years on the tennis court and went into the details of the research hypothesis, data gathering, and data analysis process of his story. Later, Paul Bradshaw (BBC) and Alex Homer (BBC) talked in detail about the process of working on a data-intensive story. This included getting unstructured data to a structured format, working with different definitions of financial income statements, putting in team-effort, and getting stories published.
Football Doesn't Play Moneyball
Chris Anderson told us his very own personal "Moneyball" story in the world of football, thereby, taking us from his research office at the Cornell University in Ithaca, to the heart of English Premier League Football in London. A fascinating story of a professor of political science that started a football data blog, which turned into a book and later into almost owning an English Premier League Football club, and eventually managing Coventry City FC.
Later in the evening, we met at the beautiful FIFA World Museum for a last presentation and dinner. Nicolas Evans (FIFA) gave us a realistic perspective on the validity of football data before the winners of the Best Project and Junior Researcher Awards were announced. Congratulations to Jeremy Losak (Clemson University), Bruno Caprettini (University of Zurich), and John Templon (Buzzfeed News) for their impressive in the field of sports economics research and data journalism.
We'd like to thank all presenters, participants, our scientific and expert committee, as well as our partners Digital Society Initiative, the University of Zurich Foundation, the City and Canton of Zurich, Zurich Tourism for the chocolate, FIFA, Nicolas Evans and his team for hosting the dinner at the FIFA Museum.