Q & A with Brian Kopp, Vice President – Strategy & Development; Head of Sports Solutions Group, STATS LLC

Brian Kopp joined STATS in 2008 to oversee overall corporate strategy and new business initiatives. In this role, Mr. Kopp is responsible for the company’s global strategy which includes new business initiatives and new product development. He also leads and participates in various corporate development transactions such as acquisitions, investments, and strategic partnerships. Mr. Kopp manages all aspects of the Sports Solutions Group and SportVU player tracking technology.

Throughout his career, Mr. Kopp has held strategy and development positions for a variety of growth-oriented companies. Most recently he served as Senior Director of Strategic Planning for Career Education, one of the world’s largest for-profit education companies. Previously he was Manager of Corporate Development for NAVTEQ Corporation, the world’s leading digital map data provider. Mr. Kopp began his career in private equity with Svoboda, Collins LLC and investment banking with Merrill Lynch.

Mr. Kopp received his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and his BA in Economics from Wabash College.

GSABR: How did you transition from finance to sports? How does it compare?

BK: Until working for STATS, my entire professional career was in finance and strategy. STATS was looking for someone to oversee corporate strategy and development and I happened to see the job posting through the Kellogg alumni site. My background fit the job well as I had worked for several growth companies with an emphasis on data and led several new business initiatives. Sports as a business has its similarities to the finance world (data centric, high profile, strong personalities) but the passion and emotion of sports sets it apart. I’m glad to see sports evolve as a business as teams are making smarter business decisions based on data and analysis.

GSABR: What are your day-to-day responsibilities for STATS and where do you see the business going in the next few years? Besides teams, what clients benefit from STATS products?

BK: I oversee the Sports Solutions Group which is a new initiative within STATS to leverage our unique data to build interactive applications. We are focused first on the team market (both pro and college) but will also bring our products to media and consumer markets over time. We have made great strides in the NBA, NFL and college football. Over the next few years, I see us expanding even more into the college space while exposing more of our unique data to fans at home through media partners and corporate sponsors. I also expect our Elite Performance business to make a significant impact with training staffs at the pro and college levels.

The core business of STATS is to serve media clients with reliable and real-time data feeds. So while SSG is branching out into teams to expand our markets, we also plan to leverage STATS’ deep media relationships to offer new data, applications and analysis. We are lucky to have the best of both worlds – an established company with strong relationships matched with a startup mentality around new data and technologies.

GSABR: SportVU looks like a big step forward in using data to make better decisions in sports. What skills do people need to make sense of the data and gain a competitive advantage for their team or company?

BK: As technologies such as SportVU bring more data to sports, there will be a greater demand for analysts and programmers to help store, parse, analyze and present relevant findings. Teams are looking for not just smart programmers but people who are comfortable presenting to coaches and sometimes even players themselves. The communication of ideas and insights is always important but in the team environment you must show everyone from the owner to the bench player the value of your work. A strong blend of analytical capabilities, sport insight and personal skills is what is needed at the team level.

GSABR: Basketball is headed in the right direction with analytics, with SportVU at the forefront. How does one figure out things like floor spacing and what has the data revealed about the “LeBron and shooters” strategy, or inside-outside offenses’ strengths and limitations?

BK: SportVU provides a whole new layer of data never before collected in sports. As a result, you can begin to quantity things such as distance, speed and spacing. While there are a number of directions one can take the analysis, we have focused on providing incremental value to data teams and fans are already familiar with such as rebound chances, secondary assists and contested jump shots. We are also focusing on how the data can shed light on offensive and defensive effectiveness. For example, we can now define a drive to the basket as well as all of the events that occur after a drive. When LeBron drives to the hoop in the half court set, his team averages 1.68 points per possession (vs. an average of 1.2 PPP on a drive). The spacing of his shooters allows him to be very effective when driving. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be one of the most amazing athletes on the planet.

In terms of inside/out offenses, we can look at post touches and what happens when certain players get the ball in the post. When Nene gets the ball in the post, which he does 7.1 times per game putting him 3rd in the league, he was effective at finding open men for good shots. Nene lead the league in assists out of the post and 11% of his post touches resulted in assists. That compares to just 3% for Dwight Howard and 2% for Nikola Pekovic – the only two players to average more post touches per game.

By the start of the next NBA season, we will have a whole new set of reports focused on dynamic events such as pick and rolls and defensive spacing. It will allow teams to not only automatically identify those events but measure the effectiveness based on the role of various players and defenses. We can also tag all of the data back to video which will bring a whole new dimension to the analysis.

GSABR: Finally, what would you recommend for students looking to break into sports? What areas of the industry are often overlooked by people looking to break in and what can they do to set themselves up for success?

BK: I would recommend that students look for any creative way to work in the sports industry. Working as an analyst is only one way but many students feel it is the only way. Teams are looking for smart and creative help on the business side – ticketing, sponsorship, financial planning, etc. There are also agencies who work in sports marketing that allow you to work in the sports world even if you’re not working for a team. Keep your eyes open for creative ways to associate yourself with sports as you never know what opportunities it may lead to in the future.

Special thanks to Mr. Kopp for his time and insight

Interview by Nik Oza, Georgetown Class of 2016

Follow Brian Kopp on twitter: @bkoppstats
Follow STATS Hoops on twitter: @STATS_Hoops
Follow GSABR on twitter: @GtownSports
Follow Nik on twitter: @NikOza2

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