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Berlin Scholars ‘Seize the Data’

Carpe Diem! Michael O’Connor and Fellow Berlin Scholars Make Most of Trip to MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
A group are posed in the Boston Bruins practice stadium

On their visit to Boston the Berlin Scholars visited the practice facility for the NHL’s Boston Bruins.
For Michael O’Connor ’22, traveling with his fellow Sport Analytics Berlin Scholars in early March to Boston was “a moment of things coming full circle.”

Four years ago, O’Connor visited Boston for the first time with his father, Dave O’Connor, to tour the headquarters of sports footwear and apparel company New Balance. On that same trip, the O’Connors drove to Syracuse to tour Syracuse University’s Falk College and meet with Sport Analytics academic advisor Francesco Riverso.

That was Michael’s first and only time on campus before he enrolled in Falk’s Department of Sport Management in the Fall of 2019. Now majoring in sport analytics with a minor in sport management/economics, O’Connor is set to graduate in May and start his professional career in sport analytics.

The Berlin Scholars went to Boston to attend the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, an annual event for professionals and students to discuss the increasing role of analytics in the sports industry. When Falk launched a degree in sport analytics in 2016, University Trustee and alumnus Andrew T. Berlin ’83 made a $1 million gift to provide scholarship and financial assistance to select undergraduate sport analytics students, support faculty research, and allow students to participate in student-focused sport analytical competitions and academic symposiums such as the Sports Analytics Conference.

A group is posed in front of a large welcome screen

One of the highlights of the Berlin Scholars’ trip to Boston was a tour of the New Balance headquarters. In the front row, from left to right, are John Asel ’23, Kevin Ivers ’22, Michael O’Connor ’22, Kylie Dedrick ’23, Mackenzie Mangos ’22, Connor Meissner ’22 and academic advisor Francesco Riverso. In the back row, from left to right, are Ward Walton ’22, Seth Warner ’22, James Hyman ’21, Assistant Professor of Sport Management Justin Ehrlich, Preston Klaus ’22, Samual “Ben” Ayers ’22, Daniel Nagle ’22, Charles “CB” Garrett ’19 and Cooper Shawver ’22.
We asked O’Connor to share his thoughts about attending the conference and visiting New Balance (and his father!), and this is what he wrote:

“The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference returned to Boston for the first time since before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and having the opportunity to attend in-person as a senior was incredible. I attended the conference last year virtually, but I learned very quickly that the benefits that come with an in-person conference just can’t be captured in online breakout rooms. This event was one I’d been looking forward to since before arriving at Syracuse, so to finally be able to network and attend incredibly informative panel discussions with my friends and peers was a great experience.

“Personally, I enjoyed the wide variety of panels that the conference had to offer. This year offered more coverage of topics that aren’t discussed often enough in the sports landscape; for example, I attended the Title IX discussion and the conversation on transgender athletes in sports, two topics that have seen increased coverage over the last few weeks after recent events in Utah and the NCAA Swimming Championships.

“Providing opportunities for those with a background in data to broaden their perspectives and challenge their beliefs is one of the first steps in making meaningful change, and I thought those were two of the most informative and impactful panels of the conference.

“In addition to listening to those panel discussions, students attended various networking workshops, had industry professionals review their resumes, and explored various research projects that students from numerous colleges and universities had been working on. I enjoyed meeting with the authors of those research projects to gain insight on their process and methodology. I also met students from other universities that I had worked with virtually, and I hope those relationships will form stronger bonds between the various sport analytics cohorts at colleges across the country.

“We not only got to experience everything that the conference had to offer, but we also had the opportunity to tour the New Balance headquarters in Boston, along with the Boston Bruins’ practice facility and ‘The Track’ at New Balance, a brand-new multi-purpose athletic facility that is set to open to the public soon. My father, Dave O’Connor, is a national sales manager for team sports at New Balance and coordinated a walkthrough of their facilities and discussed opportunities available at New Balance, along with Francesco Riverso, our academic advisor.

“While this may not have been the most ‘analytically driven’ aspect of the weekend, it was an interesting opportunity for students to realize that there are opportunities to get involved in sport analytics that may not follow their traditional understanding of working in the industry but provide the same advantages and benefits as working for specific sports teams.

“Touring The Track at New Balance was definitely a highlight of the trip. I ran track-and-field in high school and have been closely following the construction of the new venue, so to get a first look at the building before it opened to the public was incredible. New Balance also has a sports science lab located on the first floor of The Track; a state-of-the-art facility that incorporates sports science and analytics to produce better results for athletes. There aren’t many labs like this elsewhere, let alone ones that allow tours for students with a passion for sport analytics.

“Every aspect of the tour was a wonderful experience, both from an educational and entertainment perspective. I’m incredibly grateful for Mr. Andrew Berlin for providing us the opportunity to attend the MIT Sloan Sport Analytics Conference and hope that future classes will enjoy similar opportunities!”

Michael O’Connor is a member of the Sport Analytics Learning Community, a resident advisor, president of Falk’s Football Analytics Club, and president of SU’s Otto Tunes tenor/bass a cappella club.