I was one of the 2,200 nerds and fanboys who spent this past weekend in Boston at MIT Sloan’s Sports Analytics Conference, which registered a blip on the local media’s radar because of Luhnow’s "drunken sailor" comment. I wanted to share a few quick stories about my experience.
On Friday morning, just as the first panel was starting, James L Brooks stumbled over me and took the seat next to me. It took me a second to realize who he was, as the "Gracie Films" on his nametag registered a flicker of familiarity. Of course, for any Simpsons fans out there, it’s the production company (in the movie theater with the "shhh" sound) that’s flashed after every episode. We chatted through the first two panels, and he was an incredibly nice guy (and a huge Clippers fan, apparently). He told me he was there researching the early phases of a project that’s "more about analytics than sports." When I mentioned I’m from Houston, he said he knew the town well from the six months he spent there filming Terms of Endearment, which was released the year I was born. In a conference where Bill James is a huge celebrity, it was sort of surreal that Brooks was there as just another attendee and cloaked in relative anonymity.
Regarding the Luhnow comments, they weren’t quite delivered with the vitriol that Evan Grant and some of the local media seemed to indicate. They certainly weren’t some snide shot across the bow. He made the comment in jest and was mostly just bemoaning the sad state of affairs when he arrived in Houston. To be fair, the rest of the nation seems to lump the Rangers in with the Red Sox and Yankees (fair or not) in terms of prodigious spending, and our committing nearly $14m to three LA guys (if the latest deal goes through, which looks unlikely) sort of backs up his point. Of course, since LA is our bread and butter and that window is closing, it makes sense for us to go all in one last time.
Drew Carey showed up on a panel about franchises in transition and talked about his experience with Seattle’s MLS franchise. They actually give their season ticket holders the chance to vote out the GM every four years, and season ticket holders can be voted into a representative position (sort of a House of Commons to the ownership group’s House of Lords). It’s all a great way to make the season ticket holders feel especially invested in the franchise and it’s helped them get to nearly 40k season ticket holders (which, if you know the city of Seattle and its general lack of fandom, is pretty incredible).
On my way out of town, I ran into Rob Neyer both leaving the hotel and sitting at my gate at the airport. We ended up grabbing dinner during our layover, and he’s another incredibly friendly guy. We chatted about the northwest (he’s from Portland and I’m moving to Seattle) and his reasons for moving over to SB Nation, and he was very complimentary of the work Adam is doing here, calling LSB "one of their most active and vibrant blogs." We mostly talked about what it was like working for Bill James, "he has the sort of intimidating intellect that makes you scared of upsetting him, so you mostly try to stay out of his way" and the novel The Art of Fielding (which he felt was solid but probably overrated).
Overall, it was an interesting conference and one that will probably only grow in popularity considering the level of access that fans have to top executives and media members. One had to venture over to the research presentations to hear anything of any real statistical rigor, since the main panels were mostly just executives and media members sharing anecdotes and poking fun at each other (Many of the research papers are worth reading, by the way, although the most interesting work was done in basketball). Still, there’s some novelty there for fans, and I’d recommend the conference, especially if you can take advantage of the student discount.
My apologies for the length.