What Is a Sports Analyst, and How Do You Become One?

When you hear the words “data analytics” what comes to mind? Business people crunching numbers to make a profit? Or perhaps scientists working on the next big breakthrough?

While neither of these is wrong, did you know that data analytics also plays a massive role in the sporting industry?

Sports analysts may be less well-known than business analysts or scientists, but they’re one of the most diverse and fascinating roles. Using data, sports analysts can help individual athletes gain a competitive edge or analyze a whole team’s performance. Their skills don’t stop there, either. Using data, sports analysts can gain insights into almost any aspect of the sporting industry, creating the most effective strategies for success, whatever their goal.

But what skills does a sports analyst need? How much does a typical sports analyst earn, and are you a good fit for the role?

If you’re analytical, creative, and passionate about sports, this could be an ideal career. In this post, we’ll explore the role of sports analyst in detail, covering the following:

  1. What does a sports analyst do?
  2. What is the average sports analyst’s salary?
  3. Top skills for a sports analyst
  4. How to become a sports analyst [step-by-step guide]
  5. Next steps

Ready to learn more? Then read on!

1. What does a sports analyst do?

First up, what exactly does a sports analyst do?

While the term sports analyst originates with television and radio commentators picking apart a team or individual’s performance, data-driven sports analysts are a relatively recent phenomenon. Today’s sports analytics goes far beyond media commentary alone, using data to pick apart performance in a more empirical way. 

Data-driven sports analysts use various tools, like predictive analytics, machine learning, and data mining, to break down performance and identify improvement areas or reveal other insights. They then apply this information to decisions about strategy, personnel, and tactics.

Their work isn’t limited directly to sports, either. They might help coaches identify their own strengths and weaknesses, inform business approaches in the betting industry, or they may be journalists using data to inform their reporting. The possibilities are much broader than many realize.

What are a sports analyst’s typical responsibilities?

We’ve already covered a few of these, but a sports analyst might evaluate coach performance, research current trends for a sports provider, make management recommendations, or provide insights on other developments in their industry.

For example, they might assess the impact of changes such as new rules by sporting bodies and regulators.

What kinds of data do sports analysts work with?

The types of data sports analysts work with range from the obvious, such as player and team performance (e.g. speed, body metrics, and other things that can be measured using wearable tech) to the tactical analysis of individual games or performance across a league.

They can even use weather and nutritional data. All data can be funneled into simulations of competitive scenarios to see which factors impact performance and how.

Who employs sports analysts?

Sports analysts may be employed by professional sports teams and leagues, media companies (TV, newspapers, or online entertainment providers), betting organizations, and research institutions.

Since it’s a niche role, many sports analysts are self-employed, too, providing their expertise when and where they are needed.

2. What is the average sports analyst’s salary?

Now we have a solid idea of what a sports analyst’s job involves, down to important stuff! How much can you earn?

Your salary will depend on experience level, location, and even job title. However, we can get a rough idea by looking at estimates from reputable salary aggregation sites. We’ve deduced that a typical sports analyst’s salary in the US is around $67,500.

According to the following, the average sports analyst salary in the US is:

Considering the niche skills required for this role, that’s about right. You might earn less in an entry-level position and potentially much more once you specialize your skills. But $67,500 isn’t too shabby—especially in a role you’ll likely be very passionate about!

3. Top skills for a sports analyst

Unsurprisingly, the skills required to be a sports analyst crossover with any other data analytics role. Key skills include things like:

  • Expertise in data-driven decision-making, statistical modeling, and predictive analytics
  • Strong computer programming skills, including experience with Python, R, SQL, and/or other related languages 
  • Ability to interpret and analyze datasets to identify trends and insights
  • Knowledge of data visualization, including software such as Tableau, PowerBI or Matplotlib
  • Excellent communication and presentation skills (for presenting findings and visualizations to stakeholders)
  • Proficiency in data mining, data cleaning, and manipulation
  • Knowledge of machine learning and big data tools
  • Ability to work independently as well as in a team environment

For a comprehensive list of data analytics skills list, check out this guide: What are the key skills every data analyst needs?

Role-specific skills

On top of these fundamental data analytics skills, sports analysts also require the following: 

  • Strong understanding of the sports industry, including team dynamics, major sporting events, and the specifics of their sector or sport
  • Knowledge of sports performance metrics such as win probability, expected goals, and expected points (to name a few–obviously, the relevant metrics will vary spending on the sport)
  • Knowledge of sports analytics tools and software, such as Stats Perform, Hudl Sportscode, and Synergy Sports (again, just a few of many)
  • Ability to understand the relevance of (and interpret) different sports data to inform team personnel decisions and strategic planning
  • Experience with analytics techniques commonly used for sports analytics, such as Monte Carlo simulations and causal inference

You probably won’t need all these skills to land your first sports analyst role. However, it’s good to know where the role can lead so that you can show interest in the relevant know-how.

4. How to become a sports analyst [step-by-step guide]

OK, you’ve heard enough! You’re ready to go for it: you want to become a sports analyst. But how would you go about it? Here’s our step-by-step guide to getting started.

Step 1: Get a degree

In most cases, securing a job as a sports analyst requires at least a bachelor’s degree. Ideally, this will be in a field such as sports management or fitness, or a data-related area such as statistics, computing, or math.

You might even take this further with a master’s degree. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it will help you stand out and is helpful if you want to jump straight into a managerial sports analytics role. We wouldn’t recommend going down this route unless you’re really passionate about it, though.

When all’s said and done, having a degree isn’t always necessary for sports analyst roles, so don’t fret if you don’t have one. Just be sure to check the job description when you are applying for roles. As long as you have a solid background in business and sports and are comfortable working with data, this can sometimes be sufficient for an entry-level role.

Step 2: Get a data analytics certification

Sports know-how is an obvious must if you’re considering a career as a sports analyst. But you also need to have strong data analytics skills. This is where you might want to consider investing in a data analytics certification. 

There are many data analytics certification programs available. While they come at a cost, they’re usually targeted at helping you land a specific job and will be less costly than a full degree. Not all are created equal, though, so be sure to do your research first.

For instance, while you’ll find sports performance courses on sites like Coursera or Udemy, a more focused data analytics program might be better if you don’t have a formal qualification such as a degree. These will usually provide a more comprehensive range of data analytics skills. If you’re unsure where to start, check out the best data analytics certification programs available on the market right now.

Step 3: Attend industry events

Reading blog posts like this one is a good start, but it can only take you so far. Attending sports-related events, conferences, and symposiums can help you learn much more about the field and stay current with industry trends. It’s potentially also a great way to connect with employers, freelancers, and other professionals working in the sporting industry.

There aren’t a huge number of conferences dedicated to sports analytics. But there are many events for sports tech in general. If you’re just getting started, why not do a bit of recon? If you find opportunities for work, great! But at this stage, it’s really important to get a feel for the industry in general and the areas you might want to work in.

Ask yourself: Is there a particular sport that interests you? Are you more interested in things like performance analytics? Or would you prefer to get behind the scenes with something related to business intelligence for the betting industry (for example)?

Some popular events to consider include the Sports Tech Summit and the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Many of these take place at least partially online, so if you can’t attend in person, you can still make the most of the online presentations and workshops.

Step 4: Start building your expertise

As we’ve covered, the sports analytics industry is much more diverse than it might appear looking from the outside in.

In terms of job roles, you, therefore, have a lot of options. You might want to work as a coach, a sports programmer, a marketing analyst, a sports data scientist, or even a tech journalist, to name a few! Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the industry and the types of opportunities available, it will be much easier to get a feel for the areas you want to work in.

When deciding, consider your skills, interests, and long-term goals. Next, seek out internships, entry-level positions, or volunteer opportunities to help you progress and build your skills in the real world. For example, many sports teams offer internships and volunteer positions, so look out for those. You might also find opportunities with broadcasters, betting companies, newspapers and other media outlets, and universities.

The main thing is to build your skills in your preferred area, ideally collecting evidence and projects that you can include in a data analytics portfolio of work.

Step 5: Hone your resume and portfolio

Once you’ve got some skills and a little experience, it’s time to start applying for jobs. Be sure your resume is up to date and includes all relevant experience, skills, and qualifications.

You’ll want to ensure your data analytics portfolio is ready to go, too. This should include any projects you’ve worked on and any data analytics certifications you might have.

If you don’t have any experience yet, add a sample project or two—perhaps the capstone projects from a course you’ve taken, or a pet project you’ve worked on in your own time. This Clever Programmer article has some great sports analytics project ideas, accompanied by tutorials.

If you follow these steps, you should be well prepared to start applying for jobs. Good luck!

5. Next steps

Sports analytics is an exciting field, combining data analytics with a love of sports. If you have the right skills and experience, you could find yourself in a highly rewarding—and highly paid—career.

In this post, we’ve learned that:

  • Sports analysts use data to help athletes gain an edge in a competitive environment
  • Sports analysts can also work in the media, for betting companies, or otherwise on the business end of the sporting industries
  • The average sports analyst in the US earns around $60,000 (give or take)
  • Sports analytics skills include general data analytics know-how, as well as sports knowledge, machine learning, and industry-specific tools and software
  • To become a sports analyst, you’ll likely need a degree, or at the very least, a data analytics certification and a solid portfolio to exhibit your experience in the field

Ready to get started? Follow our step-by-step guide, show a little grit and determination, and you’ll land your dream job as a sports analyst in no time.

If you found this post interesting and want to learn more about the world of data in general, check out this free data analytics short course for beginners. You can also read the following introductory guides:

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