In this Sports Geek Throwback episode, Sean Callanan interviews Neda Tabatabaie  from episode 253, who is Senior Vice President, Business Analytics & Technology at San Jose Sharks.

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Key Takeaways

During the discussion, the importance of data analytics in providing valuable insights into fan behavior, preferences, and trends was emphasized. It was also highlighted that hiring individuals with a well-rounded skill set, including technical expertise and soft skills like innovation and problem-solving, is significant.

  • Data analytics can drive informed decision-making in sports organizations.
  • A strong data infrastructure is crucial for predicting outcomes and identifying areas for improvement.
  • Hiring individuals with a diverse skill set enhances innovation in analytics roles.
  • Understanding the emotional aspect of sports is essential for delivering a memorable fan experience.
  • Building a diverse workforce contributes to more innovative solutions in the sports industry.

This transcript has been lightly edited by AI

Sean: So how, like there are people probably listening, looking at, either being in the same position of not quite having their, uh, having their data infrastructure in place, but knowing what they need to do. And I guess this is what you went into the role, you went, “I know this is what I need to do, this is the infrastructure I need, this is the people I need.” But in those early days, you didn't have either of those. You didn't have the infrastructure and the people. How do you go about scaling that and taking your executive along that journey to say, “This is why we're doing it, this is why”? How do you go about having that process to set yourself up to grow, to get where you need to go?

Because I think there are a lot of teams that are in that position, that have a really small headcount, trying to do everything, really stretched, but not quite being able to communicate that with their executive to say, “This is what we're doing. And if we succeed, we actually need more people, whether it's in sales or analysis, that kind of thing.” How do you go about selling that story up and demonstrating why, how it's working?

Neda: So, two things that I was very lucky in this situation specifically, but I can tell you about my previous experiences. When I started, our new CRO at the same time, Flavil Hampsten, who I'm sure a lot of your listeners are gonna know, he started at the same time and we were on the same page. We have known each other previously, although very briefly. He was with the Charlotte Hornets, I was with the Raptors. So we were on the same page from day one, so I didn't have to sell anything to him. Also, our ownership is already sold on the idea of what data can do for an organization. So that is a very lucky part of it that I didn't have to sell up. But I have to sell this around the organization because I also had peers. I still have peers that have been here for many, many years or just never looked at data as I do. So how I'm bringing those people around is going to be extremely important, not only so far, but as we try to change things more and more and become a more data-driven organization, that's going to continue. The easiest thing is, and maybe not the easiest, but the best they can do is show quick wins. What is the one thing you can do that either provides a little bit of insight or gives people one actionable item that doesn't have a huge risk that they can do? It could be a couple of steps of doing something differently and then very quickly you can show them what you can do. You don't want to get into a six-month project at the beginning. You want to get into small chunks of doing something, show results, do something, show results. And for every organization, it might be different. So, it's really based on the organizational objectives and where they are. Everybody's journey, again, is going to be different and what is actionable for them is going to be different. But I would suggest start with something small that is not too risky. And also, our culture here is that you can fail, but fail quickly and move on and learn something about it and do the next thing. That also helps. Luckily, these days the technology costs are not as high as they used to be when I started, because at the time you had to build everything from scratch. Right now, there's software as a service that you can put in with not too much of a high cost and not too much of a risk and start seeing some things. The biggest part sometimes is the people and hiring the right people who get it and can support everybody else. And then maybe you start ramping up the team depending on your situation. But I would suggest starting small, showing quick wins, and building from there.

Sean: Yep. I think the important thing there is giving those small wins or those small projects or those small tweaks where the wins go to other teams because that helps reframe what data is to them, gives them a win, helps them in what they're doing. So you're coming there with the olive branch of here I am helping you because, especially in sport, because it's seasonal, there is very much a, “Oh, the new season is starting, we'll do what we did last year” type of mentality because it's always worked or it's always what we've done. So changing that regular wheel that they run on is sometimes hard. That's where those small projects, whether it's here's a way to re-engage season ticket holders, or here's how to kick off a ticketing campaign, or here's how to do these things. That's where you can have those small wins and start that interdepartmental success.

Neda: I agree. I think what you mentioned goes to the bigger culture of the sports industry. Yes, we are very much guilty of doing the same thing over and over and sometimes expecting different results. Being different and innovating a little bit more in our industry is something we all need to do a better job at and focus more on because it does produce different results. Sometimes you're going to fail, but that's fine. You got to learn, and as long as you learn, it's really not a failure. Maybe it didn't produce the results you had, and then you can turn around and do something else and maybe the next thing is going to be successful.

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