For Spencer Anderson, Crunching Numbers is a Slam Dunk

By: Austin Weaver, @AustinTWeaver

Spencer Anderson, Manager of Basketball Administration for the Indiana Pacers

Front Office Sports is excited to share insights into the sport industry from Spencer Anderson. Spencer is currently the Manager of Basketball Administration for the Indiana Pacers. Spencer is a Hawkeye to the core as he holds a BBA in Finance, an MBA, and a JD all from the University of Iowa.

What are your responsibilities with the Pacers?

My primary responsibility with the Pacers is in analytics. My role is to support the front office, coaching staff, and performance staff using data and statistics. Other responsibilities include managing the internship program for our department and managing the development of our scouting database.

It looks like a lot of your experience is in analytics, can you explain how important those skills are to your position?

Analytics is extremely important to my role because that was the reason I was hired. The amount of data and information that is available continues to grow and being able to sift through all of this data to help our decision makers is important. Sports analytics derives its value from data and data management which makes it important for professionals to be comfortable accessing, manipulating, and managing large data sets. Luckily, we live in a world where many of these skills can be learned through new online educational resources like Coursera, Khan Academy, Stanford Online, Codeacademy, and others.

What types of things do you do to stay on top of new trends in how teams are using statistics to make decisions?

Most of the “secret sauce” such as processes, metrics, reporting, resources, etc. teams keep close to the vest. To stay on top of trends in the industry I keep up with the news via Twitter, blogs, academic research, sports & technology related publications, general news outlets (WSJ, NYTimes, ESPN), or calling friends in the industry.

Explain what led you to decide to do the joint JD/MBA, and the benefit of having both degrees.

I knew I wanted to enroll in a JD/MBA program after completing a benchmark project my sophomore year in High school where we did career/education planning. My initial intentions were to enter the athlete representation industry, but the more I learned about Basketball Operations and the emergence of analytics as a job function, I knew I wanted to work in a front office role for an NBA team. For me the JD/MBA program gave me a chance to wait out the recession while also giving me time to gain internship experience. I am a firm believer in the importance of education, intellectual curiosity, and having a desire to continue learning (however, after 8 years in school, I was ready to start my career!).

My legal education has allowed me to hone my writing and communication skills. It has also opened my eyes to the variety of legal issues in sport. Legal documents like the CBA, contracts, trademarks, media rights, and other legal issues provide many ways where a legal education can be leveraged to add value to a professional sports team. Although I do not use my legal credentials every day, I learned valuable writing skills and critical thinking skills in law school that I rely on each day.

The Tippie MBA program helped me to build on my technical analytical skills as well as interpersonal skills needed to work in a team. NBA teams are like any other business where different departments must work together to create a good product on the court, memorable experience for fans, and a profit at the end of the day. The front office works closely with the Marketing, Finance, Operations, and other departments to be successful. The ability to work in teams is a necessary skill to be a successful professional. I also gained transferrable skills that I was able to bring to my internships which I think helped me to gain more experience and set me apart. It was a challenging four years and I think the curriculum and experiential learning opportunities of the program provided the tools I needed to start my career with the Pacers.

Advice for students considering going into a law program or MBA program?

I wouldn’t trade going back to school for a graduate degree for anything, but it is a significant investment both in time and money. I’d advise against enrolling in an graduate program because of a lack of direction or other options. While it may seem like a “next step” after graduating, I’d advise entering a program with a plan of where you want to be upon completion of the program. Figuring out what you want to do for a career is challenging and requires self-reflection, however, this will help to provide direction, purpose, and allow to get the most out of your investment in yourself.

Things you look for when hiring interns/entry level employees?

I look for people who have that same drive and passion to help the Pacers be better each and every day. Critical thinking, problem solving, and the ability to learn on the fly are invaluable skills. All organizations face a multitude of issues each and every day — if we can find interns/employees who have ideas, skills, and are looking to do things better/faster/more efficiently the Pacers will be a successful organization. Lastly, be sure to maintain professionalism on all social networks. With hundreds of applicants for each opening, hiring managers are looking for any reason to reduce the candidate pool.

Importance of networking and your advice on how to connect with sports business professionals?

Networking is very important in the sports industry and in business. One way networking is useful is to learn more about the industry and job functions. This helps to narrow your focus and also gives an opportunity to explore what internship/entry level opportunities exist. Many internships or entry level jobs don’t get posted to careers sites — networking is one way to find out what’s out there! LinkedIn is a great resource for networking, but must be used with professionalism. Utilize common connections to ask for an introduction and personalize each request to connect. This will set you apart and is more likely to lead to a conversation or informational interview. Another great way to network is to attend conferences.

A misconception about that sports industry that people should know about?

Sports is similar to many other industries — there are jobs within finance, marketing, sales, production, operations, IT, and other business functions that are necessary to run an organization properly. Many times I get inquiries from people who want to work in “sports”, but don’t really know what they want to do. My advice to them is to figure out where within sports they want to make a contribution. Find where your interests and skills fit within a business and THEN find the right fit in terms of a team, 3rd party vendor to sports organizations, league/governing bodies, event management, etc. In order to break into the sports world, candidates must stand out and add value shortly after being hired — this requires knowing your skill set and where you fit prior to applying. If you’re not sure where your interests would fit, seek out people in jobs that you think might be interesting and learn from them.

If you could go back and tell 20-year old Spencer something about the sports industry that you know now, what would it be?

I think I would tell 20-year old Spencer that a job within basketball analytics exists or could exist. I’ve always been interested in basketball statistics — when I was younger I’d reach the newspaper and scour all of the box scores from the previous night’s games, check out the statistics on the back of the basketball cards in my collection, and wake up at 5AM to watch SportsCenter highlights (sometimes the 6AM show too — this was before it became live which shows how much of a fanatic — or dork — I was when I was younger) from the west coast games that started way after my bedtime. I’m lucky to have a career that merges my interest in basketball and statistics with my analytical skills (getting to go to Pacers games is just icing on the cake).

We want to thank Spencer for his time and thoughts, and wish him the best in the future. You can follow him on Twitter here and connect on LinkedIn here!