How Wizards, Caps Use Big Data to Win

Raul Fernandez Shares Insights at Hisaoka Speaker Series

Apr 18, 2018
Decision, Operations and Information Technologies

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Sports teams worried about player burnout and injuries used to count just minutes played. “But now with camera technology that can track your acceleration, deceleration, number of paces — you can actually get a level of exertion,” Monumental Sports & Entertainment vice chairman and owner Raul Fernandez said April 18, 2018, at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “With other sensors you can get a level of hydration. With other sensors you can get a level of fatigue. So you’ve got 20 different inputs besides the traditional old school inputs to monitor an athlete.”

Fernandez said his group, which owns the NBA’s Washington Wizards, the NHL’s Washington Capitals and Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., uses the data to make real-time decisions during practices and games. “It is a race toward trying to get as much information as possible,” he said. “At this level everybody is great. It’s a matter of those little extra tweaks and some luck — a lot of luck — to go deep and ultimately to win.”

The Wizards trail the Toronto Raptors 0-2 in their first-round best-of-seven series, which will resume Friday in Washington. And the Capitals trail the Columbus Blue Jackets 1-2 in their first-round best-of-seven series, which will resume Thursday in Columbus, Ohio. So the Washington teams need any edge they can get.

“The hardest thing is when you’ve lost these games — usually a lot of game sevens — is on that flight home, knowing that it is 365 days just to get to that day to try to get another win,” Fernandez said.

On the business front, he said, franchise owners are more willing to share their best practices. Much of the information is tactical, like where to sell a used jumbotron or how to set pricing in international markets. “The only time we compete is when we play each other,” Fernandez said. “Otherwise, we want the whole league to grow. And so we’re incentivized to share things.”

Fernandez, the son of a Cuban father and Ecuadorian mother,  grew up in Silver Spring, Md., and graduated from the University of Maryland in 1990 with a degree in economics.

He spoke during the Robert G. Hisaoka Speaker Series, created through a three-year gift from Robert G. Hisaoka, a 1979 Smith School alumnus. The series is managed by the Smith School’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. Read more here from Fernandez's hourlong conversation with Hisaoka.

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