Why Barack Obama is speaking at a sports analytics conference

  • For a lot of people, he's a surprising choice to attend a sports analytics conference, but for the organizers who convinced him to attend, it's a no-brainer.
  • "We know he's a huge sports fan and he's done a lot on tactical decision making leveraging analytics," said Jessica Gelman, the conference's co-founder.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama on September 20, 2017 in New York City.
Yana Paskova | Getty Images
Former U.S. President Barack Obama on September 20, 2017 in New York City.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan Sports Analytics Conference being held this week in Boston will feature one very unique speaker, former President Barack Obama.

For a lot of people, he's a surprising choice to attend a sports analytics conference, but for the organizers who convinced him to attend, it's a no-brainer.

"We know he's a huge sports fan and he's done a lot on tactical decision making leveraging analytics," said Jessica Gelman, the conference's co-founder.

"On the team and business side, that's exactly what we're about."

Gelman is the CEO of Kraft Analytics Group, which was formed in 2016 after being spun out of the Kraft Sports Group, which owns the New England Patriots. Gelman co-founded the conference with Daryl Morey, the general manager of the NBA's Houston Rockets.

"Daryl and I always have a few things up our sleeves," Gelman told CNBC. "President Obama is an innovative mind and we're so honored he wants to be part of this conference, which 12 years ago was just a few people in MIT classrooms."

This year's conference will have 3,500 attendees and 37 panels. Some other high profile first-time attendees include Steve Ballmer, Alex Rodriguez, Ted Leonsis, and Jeremy Lin.

"This year has been our most in-demand by far in terms of ticket requests," said Gelman.

"We've got 31 competitive advantage talks, workshops, a trade show, a start-up competition, a hackathon, and much more."

Gelman told CNBC that many people have gotten their start in sports from the conference, including high-level analytics executives at major pro teams.

"This year's theme is 'talk data to me'," Gelman said. "We have all this data and now it's about harnessing it and communicating it."