The data game: Applying 'Moneyball' principles to live events
By Lawrence Coburn

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This is the second of a three-part series on tracking data at events.

In the book "Moneyball," author Michael Lewis tells the story of the Oakland Athletics, a financially disadvantaged baseball franchise that prioritized advanced statistical analysis in the evaluation of players over the hunches, traditional metrics and collective wisdom of baseball insiders that had long held sway.

Oakland's statisticians found the historical metrics used by baseball executives to evaluate players — home runs, RBIs and batting average — were less correlated to winning than more modern, recently tracked metrics like on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

INDUSTRY PULSE

Can leveraging data help us learn more about events?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

By leveraging data metrics that had only recently become available, Oakland was able to hire better players — for less money — than its competitors. This advantage allowed the A's to compete with teams who had much more to spend on payroll.

So how can "Moneyball" principles be applied to the live event space? Obviously, the key is in the data.

Measure Everything

For the purposes of this article, let's assume that an event "win" is defined as one at which attendees feel that they received a high return for their invested time and money.

In order to make a Moneyball-like leap forward in how we use data to increase the likelihood of a win, we first need to make sure we have properly instrumented the key elements of our event; content, speakers, vendors, networking, logistics, etc.

Crucially, there may be better ways available to us to measure attendee satisfaction with different event components than the ways we've done it historically. For example, attendee reaction to content and speakers has traditionally been measured by paper surveys or ratings, both of which have notoriously low participation.

These methods made a lot of sense in the early days of professional events when there wasn’t a lot of data to draw from. Before online scheduling tools, social media, sensors and mobile event guides, what did you have? Paper and hunches.

Much like baseball executives may have overvalued home runs in determining a player's worth, perhaps event organizers have overvalued the responses of the small number of people who evaluate content by filling out paper surveys after a session.

Maybe there are other signals worth considering as well, such as how frequently a session was scheduled by an attendee, how many people showed up, how many people walked out midsession, how often the session or speaker was pushed out to a social media channel, or even how many times an app user tapped on the session description.

Luckily, the most important tools for accomplishing this are already in the pockets and purses of attendees. By leveraging smartphones and tablets with event-specific apps, contextual data and attendee behavior can be captured for insights into all facets of an event.

In terms of the enablement and evaluation of attendee-to-attendee networking, we may be able to take a similarly quantitative approach. Let's start with the networking itself.

Between an event's registration database and public attendee profiles on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, the event organizer could clearly take a more proactive role in playing the matchmaker. If the caliber and efficiency of the networking really are primary drivers of attendee satisfaction, event organizers should do everything in their power not to leave it to chance. In addition, emerging technologies like augmented reality and Google Glass may soon help in raising the odds of a productive encounter.

In terms of benchmarks and measurement, networks like Facebook and LinkedIn have shown that it is possible to quantify a network. (How many second-degree contacts do you have on Linkedin?) Is there a similar quantification that can be made in an event environment? Wouldn't the aggregate number of connections made per attendee be a decent measurement of how effective the networking was at a given event?

Similar instrumentation is possible for all core facets of a live event experience.

Lots of Work to Be Done

In many ways, events are a decade or two behind baseball in terms of a data-driven outlook. Baseball has always been a game of measurement and stats — the issue was they were valuing the wrong statistics.

Live events are a different story.

As discussed in the previous article, very little data is currently escaping a live-event setting. Before we can become a data-driven industry, we first have to start instrumenting everything — interactions between attendees, interactions between attendees and content, and interactions between attendees and exhibitors. It is only once we start measuring and setting benchmarks that we can begin to draw Moneyball-esque correlations between behavior and a winning event.

The good news is the smartphone is already enabling much of this instrumentation. Once we are able to set quantitative benchmarks for each element of our events, we can then begin to optimize our events for those areas proven to result in high attendee ROI.

Who will be the first to go Moneyball for events?

Lawrence Coburn is the CEO and co-founder of DoubleDutch, a mobile conference application in the events industry designed to thrill event attendees, surface leads and unlock insight into your event.