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Data, technology helping to transform sports watching: Exec

Sports analytics' best & brightest

The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is now in its ninth year. What started as a small data-centric gathering of a few dozen people has exploded to a massive all-encompassing sports business convention. This year's conference brought 3,100 people to Boston, a growth of 55 percent over last year.

Jessica Gelman is the conference's chair and co-founder. She spoke with CNBC about some of the trends she is seeing this year. Gelman's day job is at Kraft Sports Group, owners of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

"People are trying to keep pace with all of the analytics out there, and that is where all the data and tech firms come to play," said Gelman in response to a question about how big a presence the startup and venture capital community has become at the conference.

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While baseball and basketball have led the way in the analytics revolution, soccer is only now starting to find its moment. "What we saw with the World Cup this past summer was incredible," says Gelman.

Los Angeles Galaxy’s Landon Donovan (10) shoots to score in the second half of a match against Real Salt Lake in Los Angeles, Nov. 9, 2014.
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For years, domestic interest in soccer has lagged that of other major sports, yet America's improbable success at the tournament in Brazil—and the steady development of the U.S. leagues—has stoked the sport's popularity amongst U.S. fans.

She pointed out the rise of wearable technologies in soccer, and how the "low scoring" makes it ripe for big advances. She says soccer is the sport "that's really up and coming and honestly the one with the most opportunity."

After the Patriots won the Super Bowl based on what was widely considered a bad play call, Gelman described herself as "really happy with the decision" for Russell Wilson to pass the ball instead of running it on the Seahawks' final drive.

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In fact, she actually used analytics to point out Seattle's mistake. Russell Wilson's performance in the red zone was weakest when throwing to the middle, as opposed to passing left or right, data showed. "I'm really happy he threw it down the middle," she added.