Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors, and the Power of Analytics at Work

A commitment to data-driven decisions is transforming the management of sports. Other industries can — and should — follow suit.

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Whether or not their 2016 season ends with a second consecutive NBA championship, the Golden State Warriors are making Silicon Valley proud. They broke the record for regular season wins with 73. They are headlined by Stephen Curry, the dynamic and eminently likeable two-time MVP. They have established themselves among the league’s elite franchises.

Like the “unicorns” along Highway 101, the Warriors have done it all with a deep organizational commitment to data-driven decision making – both on the court and as a business. The three-pointers Steph and running mate Klay Thompson hoist seemingly without abandon are actually grounded in troves of evidence supporting the shot’s relative value. Meanwhile, the business side of the organization is leveraging fan data to more effectively drive ticket, sponsorship, and merchandise revenue.

The Warriors are not the only team pioneering the analytics revolution in sports. Organizations across an increasing number of sports and levels (professional, college, and high school) are capitalizing on data to gain a competitive edge. Indeed, few industries have implemented data-driven decision making as successfully as sports.

What learnings from the sports analytics revolution are applicable to the broader management community? For those seeking to become more data-driven in approach, consider the following:

Adopt a measured mindset. In the simplest of terms, analytics refers to quantitative tools that help organizations find, interpret, and use data to make better decisions. Sports teams understand that other factors such as previous experience and even gut instinct influence the decision-making process. In this context, analytics is a single input, albeit a potentially powerful one.

For any business – sports or otherwise – additional information on the decision in question should be embraced. It’s up to the decision maker to determine the appropriate mix of inputs to minimize risk. More often than not, quantitative data should play an instrumental role.

Focus on the objectives. In the sports industry, the objectives are straightforward and unwavering. Teams are trying to win. Therefore, any decision on which players to sign, trade for, or draft are analyzed through this prism, as is which coach and general manager to hire. On the business side, the goals are typically centered on increasing revenue and enhancing the fan experience.

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An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
More in this series

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