The Tyranny of the Factoid

The trend in sports television is towards more factoid and less actual information. What is there to learn from that?
Share |
Speaking Truth To Power.

Screengrab via Metafilter.

Before a quarterfinal match of the women's tournament at the U.S. Open, ESPN's commentators informed the viewing audience of the IBM Datapoint of the Match. It said this: Serena Williams needed to win 46 percent of points that lasted for two or fewer shots in order to win her quarterfinal match against Ana Ivanovic. It is not initially clear what, if anything, this can be said to mean: was winning slightly under half of these points much more or less than was expected from Serena, or from non-Serena players? And how many points did this add up to over the course of Serena’s win? There may be something to this stat, when viewed in context, but this was presented on its own, and as its own context: as a revolutionary factoid, the key to something, maybe everything. It was, for me, mostly a key factor in a sudden wish to turn off the television.

Worse, it put an uncomfortably curmudgeonly thought in my head: Data is ruining sports telecasts.

I'm not a Luddite. I have no problem with data, I enjoy parsing numbers, and more than that I want more information, be it actual newly observed or measured information or novel ways of understanding the same stuff we’ve been getting during sports broadcasts for years. The new and ambitious plans for the America's Cup sound excellent, for instance, and could be a significant advancement in the televising of the sport. In the best case scenario, those new ways of presenting and explaining new information could make an opaque rich guy’s pursuit something that non-sailers can understand and enjoy. That thing they do in NFL broadcasts where the blue line shows how fast, how high, and how far a pass traveled? Love it. VoRP is both fun to say and useful. Even NASCAR broadcasts, which would not necessarily be anyone’s first option for cutting edge innovation, offer RPM gauges and throttle graphics that greatly improve the telecast.

But there's a limit, and a difference between information presented in context and with explanation, and raw, unprocessed data. Data—in numerical or graphical form, and in general—needs to be deployed intelligently. Present this sort of information properly—what something is, why it matters, how it impacts what you’re watching—and the experience of watching sports is deepened. Simply flood the broadcast with Interesting Factoids and Important Numbers, though, and viewers are left thrashing and gasping for air, way over their heads in a sea of clear blue nonsense. With great power (of numbers, of acronyms) comes great responsibility.

This isn’t to say that every broadcast needs to be a Sloan Sports Analytics Conference lecture. It probably had better not be if Troy Aikman or Kevin Millar is involved, and if it takes too long to explain what a given statistic means, it might be a sign that it’s best left onstage at MIT. But most advanced stats aren’t really dizzyingly complicated so much as they’re just new; it takes a minute to explain something like Fielding Independent Pitching statistics, and it changes the way viewers understand the game. The only scary part about it is that FIP is a less-familiar acronym than ERA. Just a little bit of context can do much to change a sponsored factoid from an-excuse-to-say-IBM-on-television to something like information.

This is, sadly, not happening, and sports broadcasts are in growing danger of overwhelming their viewers with noise. Combine the influence of Moneyball—usually as understood and expressed by people who haven’t read it or disagree passionately with an imaginary idea of it—the Sloan Sports Conference, and Big Data, and you get chaos. Tennis, with those IBM Datapoints and everything else, is possibly the worst current offender, but everyone is doing it.

This is not a call for less information in our sports broadcasts; it’s more of a request for better information, fewer factoids and more information. More is not necessarily better. More useless, undigested data is too much; even a little bit is too much. And more of that is worse. Spewing data for data's sake, or for the sake of announcing which corporate entity was kind enough to sponsor that particular factoid’s burp-up, doesn't enhance the sports-viewing experience. Just because you can quantify something and slap an acronym on it doesn't mean you should. It certainly doesn’t mean viewers at home need to know about it.

Soccer, specifically MLS, is making a big play to give its fans more, more, more. I like soccer and MLS is creating an increasingly strong product—both on the field and on television – but this development concerns me. Do it right, and the advent of dynamic and incisive in-game information has the potential to be a massive value-add, in a bunch of different ways—in a sport without commercial breaks, there is always, always, the need to get some more sponsors into the mix and onto the screen. But there is also, here, some terrible potential for over-extension. MLS's efforts are targeted to the "second-screen experience," which is fine, but I hope they keep it there. I don't need Arlo White telling me on NBC that Landon Donovan ran 18.2 mph to catch up to David Beckham's long ball, which traveled 40 yards in 3.2 seconds at an average speed of 25.5 mph; I saw it, I know, and the numbers add nothing to the awesomeness. And I certainly don't want Kyle Martino offering up that FC Dallas needs to complete 80 percent of their passes between five and 10 yards to beat the Los Angeles Galaxy as the VW Fact of the Match.

The rise of analytics across the sporting universe is, on balance, a good thing. At some level, all games are meant to be quantified, broken down, explained; there’s a lot to find, there. But there's also the mysterious, the unexplainable, the plain weird side of sport that's just as important, and which resists this sort of glib quantification. We should be able to sit back and watch what develops without having to duck blunderbuss blasts of meaningless percentages from commentators or seeing confusing, decontextualized stats about inane scenarios displayed as graphics on the bottom third.

On Ashe, in that match with the 46 percent stat, Williams easily defeated Ivanovic, 6-1, 6-3. The match was never close. That much was obvious.


Share |

Comments

Positive webpage, where did u think of the data on this posting?I have perused a couple of the articles on your site now, and I truly like your style. Much obliged and please keep up the powerful work. Verdek DC Fast Chargers

Good composed article. It will be steady to any individual who uses it, including me. Continue doing what you are doing – can'r hold up to peruse more posts. Martin Modern City Condo

A lot of people having an incorrect image about the cash advance loans or sometimes refer it as bad credit payday loans.!
The best dress from ALC

Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much effort you put to create such a great informative website. 330i car covers

Much obliged for setting aside an ideal opportunity to examine this, I feel unequivocally that affection and read more on this theme. On the off chance that conceivable, for example, pick up learning, would you mind overhauling your site with extra data? It is extremely valuable for me. remodeling contractors marietta ga

you recognize that the only manner to move your web page to the top of Google is to build excessive first-class back-links cheapest seo services

I'm delighted to mature so additional functional and informative collection on your web site.
lifestyle pr firms

I was surfing net and luckily ran over this site and discovered exceptionally intriguing stuff here. Its truly enjoyable to peruse. I delighted in a considerable measure. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing this superb data. frog game hd

If you don"t mind proceed with this extraordinary work and I anticipate a greater amount of your magnificent blog entries.  Cleaner Brooklyn

Really your blog is very interesting.... it contains great and unique information. I enjoyed to visiting your blog. Its just amazing.... Thanks very much. home cleaning new york

I’m happy I located this blog! From time to time, students want to cognitive the keys of productive literary essays composing. Your first-class knowledge about this good post can become a proper basis for such peopleActual Page ranke

Much obliged to you for such an elegantly composed article. It"s brimming with quick data and captivating depictions. Your perspective is the best among numerous. flood restoration

Your work is great and I value you and jumping for some more educational posts. Much obliged to you for sharing incredible data to us. Secret Love Instinct

I think this is an enlightening post and it is exceptionally valuable and proficient. along these lines, I might want to thank you for the endeavors you have made in composing this article. home page

I simply discovered this web journal and have high trusts in it to proceed. Keep up the considerable work, its elusive great ones. I have added to my top choices. Much obliged to You. browse around this site

Much thanks to you a cluster for offering this to every one of us you really acknowledge what you are discussing! Bookmarked. If you don't mind likewise look for guidance from my site =). We could have a hyperlink change contract between us! why not try this out

i read a ton of stuff and i found that the method for composing to clearifing that precisely need to say was great so i am inspired and ilike to come back again in future.. tattoo supply

Much thanks to you so much Love your web journal.. you can try here

Positive site, where did u think of the data on this posting? I'm satisfied I found it however, sick be inquiring soon to figure out what extra posts you incorporate. click this link here now

Awesome! It sounds great. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing.. my sources

That is the excellent mindset, nonetheless is just not help to make every sence whatsoever preaching about that mather. Virtually any method many thanks in addition to i had endeavor to promote your own article in to delicius nevertheless it is apparently a dilemma using your information sites can you please recheck the idea. thanks once more. this site

I havent any word to value this post.....Really i am inspired from this post....the individual who make this post it was an extraordinary human..thanks for imparted this to us. Read More Here

Much thanks for this valuable article. I like it. look at more info

Hey buddies, such a marvelous blog you have made I’m surprised to read such informative stuff.
fashion

I am truly appreciative to the owner of this website who has shared this nice article at this wonderful place.
Chris Walker - best SEO agency

I am trusting the same best exertion from you later on too. Truth be told your experimental writing aptitudes has enlivened me. more

I got your blog yesterday and still I am waiting for the new posts… this is quite satisfying blog so all guys come here and learn something special.
women

The only scary part about it is that FIP is a less-familiar acronym than ERA. Just a little bit of context can do much to change a sponsored factoid from an-excuse-to-say-IBM-on-television to something like information.The large coat of arms of the Russian Empire

Simply respecting your work and thinking about how you dealt with this web journal so well. It"s remarkable to the point that I can"t bear to not experience this important data at whatever point I surf the web! beauty salon düsseldorf

Wonderful learning guys I’m a fan of your website.chevy car cover

both fun to say and useful. Even NASCAR broadcasts, which would not necessarily be anyone’s first option for cutting edge innovation, offer RPM gauges and throttle graphics that greatly improve the telecast.minecraft gratuit |
free psn codes

Thank you so very much buddies! I like your all best ever posts daily here. My hat is off to you on your special working.
best essay writing service

I read this post fully concerning the difference of latest and former stuff, it is awesome article.
Chris Walker - best Denver SEO expert

The only scary part about it is that FIP is a less-familiar acronym than ERA. Just a little bit of context can do much to change a sponsored factoid from an-excuse-to-say-IBM-on-television to something like information.Hendel

I have perused a couple of the articles on your site now, and I truly like your style of blogging. I added it to my top picks blog webpage list and will be returning soon. If it's not too much trouble look at my site too and let me comprehend what you think. geschenkideen weihnachten

Wonderful blog post. This is absolute magic from you! I have never seen a more wonderful post than this one. You’ve really made my day today with this. I hope you keep this up!
Web 2.0

I have as of late begun a website, the data you give on this webpage has helped me extraordinarily. Much obliged for the greater part of your time and work. buy YouTube views

Just a little bit of context can do much to change a sponsored factoid from an-excuse-to-say-IBM-on-television to something like information.article

Wonderful blog post. This is absolute magic from you! I have never seen a more wonderful post than this one. You’ve really made my day today with this. I hope you keep this up!
go to website

This is truly a pleasant and instructive, containing all data furthermore greatly affects the new innovation. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing it
wine coolers

Incredible Article it its truly instructive and inventive update us as often as possible with new upgrades. its was truly important. much obliged

more bonuses

VoRP is both fun to say and useful. Even NASCAR broadcasts, which would not necessarily be anyone’s first option for cutting edge innovation, offer RPM gauges and throttle graphics that greatly improve the telecast.minecraft gratuit |
free psn codes

I as of late ran over your online journal and have been perusing along. I thought I would leave my first remark. I don"t comprehend what to say with the exception of that I have appreciated perusing. Pleasant site, I will continue going by this online journal all the time. buy seo backlinks

A debt of gratitude is in order for setting aside an ideal opportunity to examine this, I feel emphatically about it and love adapting more on this theme. In the event that conceivable, as you pick up aptitude, would you mind upgrading your web journal with additional data? It is greatly useful for me
pharmacy technician certification practice exam

I think this is a standout amongst the most critical data for me. What"s more, i"m happy perusing your article. Be that as it may, ought to comment on some broad things.
go to website

Being a great leader commences with playing what your team must say. Listen to the things your staff say to you.pop over to this website

We're not just a group of salespeople who go to work and punch in. We do the research and have developed relationships with some of the most reputable manufacturers in the business to be able to carry the best car covers in the industry. car cover

Now slowly and firmly roll the film out about the screen. Try Jailbreak after which restore your gadget.laptop repair newark

It also combines reverse charge text messages and reverse charge call capabilities in one place. AMMA Private Equity

A debt of gratitude is in order for setting aside an ideal opportunity to examine this, I feel emphatically about it and love adapting more on this theme. In the event that conceivable, as you pick up aptitude, would you mind upgrading your web journal with additional data? It is greatly useful for me
go to website