This year’s Women in Sports Data conference, presented by the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Liberty in Brooklyn, New York, featured conference attendees Taylor Shui ‘24 and Mary Liebig ‘22. The Women in Sports Data conference focuses on amplifying women’s voices in the sports analytics field by hosting a one-day symposium with various events and panels featuring professional industry leaders. The symposium provided an opportunity to conversate and learn from other attendees and mentors at the conference.
“The entire day of the symposium was filled with events, including a series of panels featuring women working in technical roles in the sports industry to presentations made by the hackathon finalists,” Shui said. “I had the chance to chat with several panelists and other attendees at the symposium and hear about their perspectives and the thought processes that drive decision-making in basically all sports-related aspects.”
The mission of the Women in Sports Data conference is to promote equity and diversity in the sports analytics field by expanding the professional network of women in sports. For Liebig, one of her takeaways from the conference was discussing empowering women in STEM.
“Because the conference was focused on women in data, I found it to be very empowering,” Liebig said. “In contrast to my math major, when I enrolled in Sport Management and Sport Analytics classes at Rice, there were far more men in those classes than women. So it was interesting to be at this conference that wanted to talk about why that was and how to mitigate it in the future.”
One way that the conference aimed to increase the professional network for women attending was by allowing women who hold sports analytics positions with professional sports teams, like Director, Research & Development at the Houston Astros, Sarah Gelles, a time to speak during panels. Shui, who previously interned with the Astros, was able to take away many pointers from the discussions.
“Multiple panelists brought up that working in software development/data engineering is one of the most feasible ways to break into the sports industry,” Shui said. “Gelles, who moderated two afternoon panels, mentioned how they sometimes trade data with other baseball teams. I know firsthand that we did that on the business side, so it was very intriguing to hear that they do that on the baseball ops side as well.”
In addition to listening to panelists, conference-goers could also watch the finalists competing in the six-week-long project-based data hackathon. Liebig believes that seeing the finished products that the finalists presented was a highlight of the conference.
“It was really cool to see the caliber of project that women my age across the country are doing with sports data,” Liebig said. “It was also great to see these projects at this conference because everyone else there was just as fascinated as I was, so talking about the projects was especially rewarding.”
The Houston Astros were one of two professional sports teams offering to cover lodging and travel for a limited number of fellowships. Shui is grateful to the Department of Sport Management and the Astros for making this experience possible.
“I’m grateful to Professor Tom Stallings and the Rice Sport Management program for helping me land my internship with the Astros, since that was probably the catalyst for everything I’ve experienced this summer, including the symposium,” Shui said. “I’m also very grateful to the women on the Astros R&D team who made everything possible; not only did they put together both the symposium and the fellowship in the first place, they’ve all been incredibly supportive of everyone from the fellowship, willing to answer questions about their work and experiences and offer advice for the future.”
While Liebig recently graduated from Rice, she was awarded a spot in the conference after winning a fellowship from the Astros. Clark Haptonstall, Chair of the Department of Sport Management, and the Astros were instrumental in allowing her to participate in the conference.
“I’m a Rice graduate now, but Dr. Haptonstall still thought to reach out to me to point me toward this opportunity, which I really appreciated,” Liebig said. “The Astros paid for my flights, hotel room, and Ubers around New York City to get to events. More importantly, they were instrumental in enhancing my experience by connecting me to the other Women in Sports Data (WISD) fellows and helping me maximize my time in New York City.”
Reed Myers, a senior from Paradise Valley, Arizona, is double-majoring in Sport Management and Psychology.