Warning: Mind Blown Due to Information Overload!

When we had our son, I learned that for an infant, more brain development occurs in the first year of life than will occur in all remaining years of life combined. Imagine if you took child brain development and reversed it so as a human grew, development occurred exponentially faster, rather than slower. This is essentially analogous to Moore’s Law related to information development and storage. Moore, a founder of Intel, put forth that every 18 months, the amount of hardware technology increases two-fold, due to the exponential growth of data aggregated and stored. So unlike the infant brain, the peak of information development is not even within sight. That does not bode well for me.
The BBC (2015) conducted a review of the future of news and its impact on the organization. In line with last week’s blog conversation about the changing role of traditional media, it is evident the lines on media content origination have blurred. As the article noted, due to this change, sorting and evaluating information is not nearly as easy as it once was. 

Compare the days of the American Revolution when Thomas Paine’s Common Sense publication helped shape the future independence of the United States, to the state of today’s media information. Clay Shirky’s (2012) TED talk outlined how as the number of media outlets increases, so does the amount of argument. You need only open a news app or go old school and flip on a television news broadcast to substantiate this claim. 

This revolution of information, its collection, access and analysis is changing the future. Media convergence, or the joining of outlets across platforms seems to be fostering a horizontalization of media consumption, causing concern for monopolistic approaches, in turn limiting information. Inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee (2010), commented the decentralization and universality of the web is its advantage, and content control by social outlets and search engines could pose a threat to consumer information. In simple terms, large organizations are gobbling up smaller ones, disseminating information across multiple platforms, and controlling what you and I consume.

In a paradigm shift for controlled content and the back-end code that makes it, the open source software movement has created a collaborative effort for development of software content (Shirky, 2012). Think of it like the massive expansion of a social network. 

Social Network Theory Depiction

Social network theory is based upon networks of individuals, or actors, working in an interrelated fashion. This concept creates a illustration of open source software development across the globe where content code is public and editable, such as in the GitHub repositories. 

I read an article on Forbes (Marr, 2015) this week spouting statistics about the growth of big data. Fifty billion smart devices will be connected by 2020, a trillion photos were be taken and billions shared online in 2015…the list went on an on. But to me, some of these statistics include so many zeros and commas, with the decimal so far to the right, I cannot wrap my head around the meaning. I feel as naive as Dr. Evil’s famous “one million dollars” ransom price for his stolen warhead in Austin Powers. 



What does all this information mean? I will try to parse it down in a way that makes sense to me, examining how it relates to emerging media and the sport industry.

Information overload is an understatement. The same Forbes article from 2015 (Marr, 2015) mentioned above also stated that as of its publication, less than 0.05% of data is analyzed. That means information to shape our very ways of living is likely out there, untouched. 

On a global scope, imagine the good that could be achieved in the world when analysis of the appropriate information underpins our behavior. According to the BBC report (2015), 60% of the world does not have access to internet connectivity, yet by 2025 there will be one trillion connected devices and 8.1 billion people in the world. Those who are connected to the internet will average 10 devices each. With Moore’s Law in effect, cost of information storage and collection continues to drop. The potential is astounding. 

Let’s take a look at how the flood of information impacts sport. Remember back in 2003 when Michael Lewis’ Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, based upon the philosophy of Oakland Athletics’ General Manager Billy Beane shook the sports statistics industry? It prompted the successful movie of the same title starring Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The premise was that the existing metrics for player evaluation were archaic. Information was analyzed in a new way, yielding unprecedented success of the players on the team previously deemed marginal at best. The movie illustrated a microcosm of how information can change sport. 

Scene from Moneyball

Much like the global information boom, application in sport is wide-reaching. The sport industry is not solely based upon the plethora of competition statistics. Areas where big data is already matriculating sport strategy include those of utilizing sport in underdeveloped countries for development and peace, also called SFD or SDP. For instance, a women’s recreational soccer league in an African nation teaching sport and life skills.

Sport intersects the private sector through corporate social responsibility efforts (CRS) in which organizations implement initiatives to positively impact the broader community or cause. An example of CRS includes TOMS brand shoes donating a pair of shoes for every pair sold. In sport, a notable example is the National Football League’s partnership with the United Way, or a Major League Baseball franchise partnering with a local parks and recreation department to build new youth baseball fields.

While it is one thing for sport organizations to engage in genuine efforts in SFD and CSR, the information boom should also be used as a catalyst to address issues at the core of sport. For example, the NFL has been plagued by negative press about the impact of concussions on athletes, and the potential long-term brain damage that results. A recent report  asserted that of 202 former football players analyzed by a renown neurosurgeon, 87% had symptoms of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition caused by multiple hits to the head (Zirin, 2017). While these findings underlay a massive public relations crisis looming over the NFL and the sport as a whole, the information resulting from extensive data collections, also presented an opportunity for the leaders of the sport to address the concussion issue in swift, proactive fashion. Unfortunately, that did not happened. 

The NCAA has come under fire for the apparent the lack of preservation of student athlete amateur status. From “one-and-done” college basketball superstars and big money industry drivers, to scandals plaguing top athletics departments, the perception of collegiate sport has changed drastically from its simplistic origins. See Wolverton’s (2009) analysis in the Chronicle of Higher Education for more…and this data is long-since outdated.

But, is it fair to say the buck stops at the organizational level in sport? It is never that easy.  

Sports are market driven, just the same as other industries. If advertisers were not confident in their ability to use sport as an outlet through which to reach their target market, the dynamics would be different. It is us, as individuals who drive the market. We drive record consumption of NFL games, buy jersey’s of one-and-done first round NBA draft picks and engage in sports books regardless of impact. While I am not saying sport consumption is wrong, I am saying that as consumers, we are contributing to the very root of our frustrations with sport, often without realizing it. 

Two notable “one and done” college basketball players

Like in sport, cumulative behavior patterns have an impact. This is the same reason new media sources such as the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed have emerged. Shifts in consumer demand have altered the media market. These organizations analyzed the information, saw a gap, and filled it. 

The information era reminds me of one of the final scenes in Finding Nemo where the school of fish are stuck in a fishing net. The fish were in chaos until Nemo and his father convinced them to work together to swim away from the surface, eventually breaking the net and freeing the school. Right now there are fish – the emerging data – coming and going in every direction. It is how the data will be used that will determine its impact on the world and our every day life. I imagine skill-sets sought for employees will continue to shift toward the ability to understand, synthesize and strategize based upon the information. Opportunity for innovation and collaboration are limitless. We are inundated by information at warp speed…are you making the most of it?

This is Stoll on Sports. Thanks for stopping by and remember what Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” Let that fuel our fire for information innovation. 
BBC. (2015). The Future of News. Retrieved from http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/28_ 01_15futureofnews.pdf
Shirky, C. (June 2012). How the internet will (one day) transform government. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_how_the_internet_will_one_day_transform_government
Wolverton, B. (May 2009). Commercialization of college sports may have ‘crossed the line,’ report says. The Chronicle on Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_how_the_internet_will_one_day_transform_government
Berners-Lee, T. (2010). Long live the web. Scientific America. Retrieved from http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~robins/Long_Live_the_Web.pdf
Marr, B. (2015). Big data: 20 mind-boggling facts everyone must read. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2015/09/30/big-data-20-mind-boggling-facts-everyone-must-read/#6dc2761b17b1


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