By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Three years ago, seeking to network and find like-minded people with a love of numbers and soccer, Ravi Ramineni traveled cross country to Boston to attend the MIT Sloan Analytics Sports Analytics Conference. This year, he found himself speaking at the conference.
The former Microsoft program manager, Ramineni is a Sports Scientist and Performance Analyst with the Seattle Sounders where he uses his background in data analytics to help the Sounders win.
Originally from Tenali, India, Ramineni came to the U.S. to obtain a Masters in Computer Science. Ramineni chose Clemson University in South Carolina. After completing his degree in 2002, he obtained a job at Microsoft where he worked on a variety of projects. One of his first for the company was building the original Xbox gaming platform. He also worked on Bing in fraud management where he would determine potential online dangers from the data the company obtained.
“I always wanted to work in soccer, especially on the number side,” said the 38-year-old Ramineni. “I played a lot of cricket, but always loved watching soccer.”
Seeking a jump-start to finding a career, he went to the MIT conference in 2012. The widely popular conference which sells out each year discusses the increasing role of analytics in the sports industry. Ramineni met with data companies and obtained soccer data which he analyzed and posted results on his own personal blog, AnalyseFootball. The blog was a way to put himself out there and display his work. The blog started slowly according to Ramineni. “I wanted to put up two (blog) posts every week,” he added, “then I realized that once I started doing bigger posts it took me two to three weeks for research.” But, Ramineni soon realized that some of the data research and analysis projects were time consuming. He decided to quit Microsoft and dedicate his time to analyzing soccer data. He gave himself until the following Sloan Conference to find work within soccer before he went back to regular work.
A meeting with Sounders’ Dave Tenney opened the door to Ramineni’s future. Through his fiancée, he met Tenney after a Sounders game. Tenney, who is the Sounders’ Sports Science and Performance Manager, needed someone with the technical background to figure out the data the team compiled and break it down so that the players and coaches could use the findings.
Over a series of meetings where Tenney provided Ramineni with data for him to synthesize into findings, Ramineni showed his worth. Tenney was impressed with Ramineni’s work and offered him a position with the team.
Ramineni joined the Sounders in 2013. It took less than a year for Ramineni to find his dream job with the Sounders. His role has expanded since he started.
Currently, he oversees practice by outfitting players with global positioning system (GPS) and heart rate monitors to monitor performance. Once practice ends, Ramineni downloads and processes the data and publishes the reports for coaches and players to review. Based on the input from coaches, Ramineni’s reports grow. “New questions always pop up,” said Ramineni of the reports provided to coaches and players.
In his first season with the Sounders, Ramineni built the analytics platform for this work so obtaining and downloading the data has been streamlined over the years. Still, Ramineni is usually the first one on the practice field setting up the technology and the last one leaving.
The Sounders focus on three aspects of analytics: descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive. Ramineni helps facilitate this through the gathering of data from players.
Data gathering includes performance data and tactical data. The performance side relates to a player’s physical conditioning. The tactical information relates to team strategy as well as acceleration, decelerations, change of direction, and other movement on the field.
Sports analytics is only growing according to Ramineni. “One thing is that there is ‘low-hanging fruit’ that people can take care of with analysis,” explained Ramineni of the importance of data analytics in evaluating and addressing strategy and performance in sport.
Baseball is known for its use of data analytics. The book, and subsequent movie, “Moneyball,” documented the Oakland A’s and its use of data to field a winner with less of a payroll. “I think right now at least seven or eight (MLS) clubs have performance side and tactical side (analytics),” said Ramineni. He notes that the Sounders’ staff has grown as well which now includes four full-time employees and two interns. Ramineni cited the Sounders organization for its forward-thinking in this area. He credits Adrian Hanauer who is big on data. “We want to be the most innovative sports franchise in North America,” said Hanauer, the Sounders co-owner to a gathering of fans at a pre-match meetup this summer. (end)
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Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.