A big bomb dropped on the sports pages recently when it was revealed that the Vancouver Canucks hockey team was talking to a consulting company about providing statistical analysis to the team.
Jokes aside, old die hard hockey fans rolled in their graves, or on their couches if their sticks are still on the ice, at the news.
Bringing in the eggheads – the company is headed by a PhD in psychology who lectures at Harvard, and his partner is Mike Smith, a former general manager with a doctorate in political science – isn't the cure for what ails the team, they harrumphed. What's needed is good, old-fashioned guts and grit.
But, let's face it, hockey is a business. In fact it's a very big business – any operation with a $45-million payroll is not some simple mom and pop shop that's operated out of love. Anyone who hasn't realized this by now hasn't been reading the sports pages, which look more like the business section these days with their interminable articles about salary caps, brand value of teams, negotiation tactics, strikes, and big-bucks ownership deals.
Actually, one could argue that in the new world of media, the sports pages and business sections have traded places. Sports reporters, and increasingly business professors, delve deeply into the business of sports, while business reporters seem to cover everything like a horse race – who won in the stock market yesterday, who lost, who's gaining and who's falling behind.
But, that's another issue, and we won't get into that now. Suffice to say that we should have seen this new wrinkle coming.
Business is all about statistics. The old saying that you can't manage what you can't measure is the mantra for most business people today. Sure, we might still pay homage to “gut feel” in decision making, but most of us like to back up that gut with solid data.
In response, dozens of companies have been providing software that allows managers to analyse increasing amounts of data so as to survive in an increasingly complex business environment. It goes by various names such as Customer Relationship Management or Business Intelligence – the largest purveyor of which – BC's own Business Objects – was recently bought by the global enterprise software giant SAP.
Heck, even marketing people, who were for so long the most intuitive of business managers, are now using ever increasing amounts of metrics, usually enabled by the Internet's ability to deliver continuing data. They have no choice: CFO's rule today and they hate anything that doesn't carry metrics.
So why wouldn't a manager of a business that processes tens of million dollars annually use advanced data analysis systems to ensure that his operation performs optimally? In the case of hockey analytics, it helps them understand which players perform best under which circumstances. Sure sounds like asset-based management to me.
So maybe Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini, and maverick manager Mike Gillis, actually know what they're doing. And that's running a business.