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Quantifying Community Outreach as Kids "Step Their Game Up" with the Celtics

Posted By Megan Morgan, Assn. of Sports Analytics Professionals, Monday, November 13, 2017

It’s a great picture, a larger-than-life professional athlete folded into a too-small chair among a group of mesmerized children. Whether the athletes show up at schools to encourage reading, healthy lifestyle habits, or with an even more specific message to deliver, being face-to-face with sports icons from their favorite teams are experiences most kids never forget. What else about these interactions sticks with the kids? How big of an impact can an athlete or group of athletes really have on a group of children?

The Boston Celtics, in conjunction with their Shamrock Foundation and the Pagliuca Family Foundation, implemented Step Your Game Up in partnership with Lawrence, MA school system. The program is incentive-based, designed to target at-risk middle school students who are in danger of failing. With both tangible and experiential rewards like logoed gear, tickets to Celtics games, and other team-related experiences, Step Your Game Up was designed to drive improvements in participants’ grades and attendance. Members of the Celtics’ basketball analytics team were also folded into the process in order to determine if there were quantifiable effects of the program in the students’ academic performance and attendance.  

At the 2017 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, the Celtics delivered a Competitive Advantage talk on Step Your Game Up and the positive effects such a program can have on public school education. The main takeaway from this presentation was that with a committed school system (to implement the program and accurately record students’ progress) and a fantastic funding partner, a small group of athletes can indeed have a measurable and significant positive impact on the lives of a large group of children.

The Step Your Game Up program was put together with classic DoE principles to ensure the ability to determine a relationship between the incentives and the students’ performance, and the magnitude of any impact. “At risk” students were identified through industry accepted guidelines; the students invited to participate, and their parents, had to opt-in and agree to the parameters of the program; intermediate data was recorded on the students’ academic performance (in mathematics and English language arts) and attendance; and conventional analysis of the data was applied.

At the end of the first grading period, the students most at risk for failing were identified and offered participation into the program. Their progress versus eligible at-risk students who did not opt-in was compared from the first grading period to the second, and again from the second grading period to the third. The results (seen in a chart from the MIT SSAC presentation) show that the participating students’ grades in ELA were 0.4 of a grade higher during period two and also 0.4 grade higher during the third grading period. In Math, the increases were smaller, 0.1 and 0.2, yet still significant for the participating students compared to the eligible students who were not part of Step Your Game Up. The impact on attendance was a positive, although not statistically significant difference between groups of students. In evaluating the data, the Celtics’ data scientists also looked at variables such as gender, race, and free/reduced lunch programs, and found that none of those variables showed statistically significant differences within the results.

At this writing, the program has been in place for less than three full cycles, so there are no metrics on long-term effects on the students’ grades, attendance, or other success parameters. However, as the Celtics’ team emphasized during their Sloan Conference presentation, because this was designed to target the most at-risk students (those getting D’s and F’s), the element of the program that requires the students to commit to something and follow through with it in a public/community setting likely also delivers a sense of confidence that will carry through well beyond the final marking period. In the short term, improving grades by a half a grade or so for hundreds of students is indeed a success, and ideally will allow each individual to reassess his or her potential as to what they can achieve in the classroom.

With Step Up Your Game Up as proof, along with the countless hospital visits, community center drop-ins, and volunteer hours athletes put in around the communities where they play, it is indeed possible to develop programs that inspire significant positive effects in the education and lives of large groups of students.

Tags:  Celtics  community  data analysis  NBA  public education 

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Gatorade and the NBA G League: Beyond Buyer and Seller

Posted By Megan Morgan, Assn. of Sports Analytics Professionals, Monday, November 6, 2017

Integrated: adj – combining or coordinating separate elements to provide a harmonious, interrelated whole

In sports, there are transactional sponsorships, where a buyer pays a seller for a package of assets without much more to the exchange (signage, program ads, etc.).  There are marketing partnerships where constituents benefit with an exchange of assets beyond the standard buy/sell (an “official hotel partner” gets a guaranteed number of room nights, the sports property gets discounted room rates, fans get contests and promotions, the broadcast partner gets an ad buy). Then there are relationships that transcend the sponsorship space into fully integrated partnerships, where the exchange of assets is beyond transactional and the ultimate value may not be calculated within the window of the contract.

The extended partnership announced in early 2017 between Gatorade and the NBA’s Developmental League is one of those truly, fully integrated partnerships, where indeed both parties expect a “combining of separate elements to provide for a (mutually beneficial) interrelated whole.”

The now NBA G League (formerly the NBA D League, once the NBDL) kicked off its 17th season at the beginning of November. The developmental league of the NBA consists of 26 teams, all tied to NBA teams – most owned by their parent clubs, has long been a proving ground for both the talented basketball players on the rosters as well as ideas and technology of interest to the NBA and its member teams.

The name change came with the execution of a seven-year extension of an existing deal the league signed with Gatorade, one of its inaugural marketing partners. Presenting the “Gatorade” League, is hardly a naming rights deal for the sports nutrition and performance company. In fact, Jeff Kearney, Global Head of Sports Marketing for Gatorade, might characterize that as the least important asset in this deal. 

Among the ways this mutually beneficial, integrated partnership delivers: The NBA and its clubs will get the full advantage of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and its battery of nutritionists, trainers, and scientists to help players reach their goals. From nutrition to recovery to rest and more, everything will be focused on helping players optimize for peak performance. At the Stadium Sports Marketing, NBA G League President Malcolm Turner said, “Opt-in was never a problem, we are already a test bed for the league. Development means a lot of things.  This is an important resource for us that will help our players facilitate and accelerate the achievement of their goals.”

Gatorade will have at its disposal a cache of elite athletes with a known schedule of games, practices, and travel (often including grueling bus rides and unfavorable time tables) to test products and protocols. During the same panel as Turner, Kearney discussed Gatorade’s goals, “We don’t do naming rights deals. If the success is measured in media impressions, we failed. This will be measured on the impact we make by creating new products, the innovations we make… the key learnings that drive innovation.” This process is old hat for Gatorade, in fact, it is the very foundation for the brand itself. Having the opportunity to turn their relationship with the “second best basketball league in the world” into more than a standard sideline/product deal, Kearney said, “as a founding partner of D-league, it would have been easy to rubber stamp a renewal. How do you break through the clutter of sponsorship space and relive the story of 1965? With the NBA and partner leagues at the pinnacle, and basketball being fastest growing sport in the world and they are going to give us a league to play with? We are in!

So, when will the parent teams/league and fans taste the fruits of this partnership? Turner pointed out, while the league and Gatorade are playing the long game with this relationship, the on-court product will pay the earliest dividends. How the scientists help athletes to perform at their peak levels, reduce recovery time, and accelerate to their goals will be reflected in the G League play throughout the season. Further, fans can expect some original content chronicling the work of the G League athletes and the scientists at the GSSI as the 2017-18 season unfolds.

This content will only help elevate and expand brand awareness of the NBA G League.  If anything, this is inverting the process of renting space and brand association, as Turner said during the panel discussion, the league has had a lot of change happen very quickly and is proud to have a world class brand like Gatorade help tell the story and introduce G League basketball to even more fans.

For basketball fans watching G League games over the winter, in addition to players fueled by Gatorade Sports Science, they will see some other notable differences from standard NBA rules in this “test pad:”

·       Each team will be entitled to a “Reset Timeout” in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter and the final two minutes of any overtime period. These TO’s do not allow for a huddle, and do allow for all other elements of a timeout.

·       Shot Clock Reset: The 24-second clock will reset to 14 seconds after an offensive rebound or when the offense otherwise retains possession after the ball contacts the rim.

·       Instant replay will occur for these five circumstances: flagrant fouls; 2-point/3-point FG attempts or fouls; made basket at the end of period; foul at the end of a period; altercation between two or more players.

·       There is a Coach’s Challenge, one per game, to be used at any point during regulation or OT, on only: fouls called, goaltending/basket interference, or out-of-bounds calls.

·       The away-from-the-play foul rule (AKA anti- Hack-a-Shaq) occurs when illegal contact is made by the defense either deliberately away from the immediate area of offensive action, prior to the ball being released on a throw-in, or both. If this occurs at any point in the game, personal and team fouls are assessed, and one free through attempt will be awarded to any player in the game at the time the foul was committed.

·       Five team fouls per period (up from four) before free throws are awarded.

·       There is a whole difference TO structure: each team gets seven, all are “team timeouts,” not full or thirty-second, and they are implemented with restrictions, among them, limiting teams to two team outs in the last 3:00 of the fourth quarter.

·       One third of the teams will implement wearable technology during games this season.

In 2016-17, 17 NBA teams finished the season with seven or more players who had G League experience. It is only a matter of time until 30 NBA teams finish a season with an opportunity to incorporate G League proven GSSI products on the bench as well. 

Tags:  Gatorade  GLeague  NBA  partnership  sponsor 

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