Baseball and Big Data Marketing: Closer Than You Ever Thought

Baseball and Big Data Marketing: Closer Than You Ever Thought

With consistent warm weather and the school year far in the rearview, the daily cadence of listening to baseball on the radio reminds me that summer is here.

Baseball is a unique game. It’s played daily, and to a large extent is defined by the long history of data collected over more than a century of playing a game that has largely remained intact over the decades. Trends in data show rises and falls in batting average, power, and pitching—much of which can be correlated to height of the mound, expansion, and the steroid era. But the influence of data, like no other sport, defines, exposes, and seeks to explain these trends.

Historically, daily newspapers were the home for baseball statistics. The box score was invented to essentially capture the game with numbers. It has remained as the centerpiece of data collection, expanding over time to include insightful statistics (e.g. runners left on base, saves). Players’ statistics increasingly tell a more complete story that’s better aligned to team success (e.g. on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and “WHIP, “WOR,” and “BABIP”—Google it). Not surprisingly, cities with strong baseball fan bases had strong daily newspapers (SF, NY, Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, Philly).

Baseball is the perfect application for Big Data. Think of every pitch, every ball in play, every player, every inning, every defensive alignment, daytime, nighttime, ballpark dimensions—all are data components. Thirty teams, 162 games per team, nine innings per ballgame, 30-40 pitches per inning. The pace of data collection is staggering; the history is monumental.

But why is baseball so analogous to marketing—particularly marketing targeted to consumers?

The decisions that a baseball manager makes in directing his team are primarily based on context. Sure, there are best practices: practice your swing, build arm strength, throw to the cut off man, and always adhere to the unwritten rules of the game. But where it all comes together is context—and it’s the key to to understanding both baseball and marketing.

Context in baseball combines analysis of historic, structured data (e.g. data that sits in large databases that can be mined and correlations seen) with real-time event data (e.g. what is happening right now) and sequential insights that expose a highly influential journey.

Each of these three factors has a direct analogy in consumer marketing.

With regard to structured data, in baseball a manager might look at batting averages, hitting spray charts, and righty-lefty matchups. A marketer might mine historic purchases, create a segment of behaviors and demographics, and add channel preference.

Getting into real-time event data, baseball capitalizes on the nuance of speed on the bases, the immediate pitch count (balls and strikes), current inning, and runs behind or ahead. This real-time context literally affects every pitch, every defensive alignment, and every player’s approach at the plate. The marketer increasingly is capitalizing on real-time events. Breaching a geo-fence, measurement of current inventories, competitor moves, social activity, and sentiment.

Finally, the power of sequence and journey is subtle but very important. For a pitcher, establishing a speed to sightline on a set-up pitch often leads to putting away the batter through utter confusion of anticipation. In marketing, the flow of emails or offers (and the reaction to responses) dictates the next offer or product promoted.

The bottom line is that best practices exist within your own context. Embrace it and think like a baseball player when establishing your marketing benchmarks and playbooks.