Charting 2020: Sportico’s Best Data Visualization Stories

Lev Akabas
·4 min read

In a year filled with unprecedented and unforeseen changes to the sports landscape, Sportico repeatedly relied on data and visual storytelling to make sense of it all. Here are our favorite data visualizations we’ve published since launching in June 2020 (and not including our NFL valuations interactive). Click on the headers to read the stories in which they originally appeared.

Mets Sale Finds Buyers Seeking Recession Bargains (July 1)

There were only two major sports franchises sold in 2020: the New York Mets and the Utah Jazz. On average, there were roughly five such transactions a year from 2000 to 2019.

Maybe Colleges Should Be Adding Sports, Not Dropping Them (July 2)

The NCAA allows a maximum of 9.9 scholarships across a wrestling team, but the average team size is 33.1 athletes. That means a fully-scholarshipped wrestling squad still pays around 23 full-cost tuitions for athletes who likely wouldn’t attend the school if not for wrestling.

NBA Standings Show Teams Lock in to Playoffs Early (July 31)

After abruptly suspending its regular season in March, the NBA restarted in late July with eight “seeding games” to finalize the playoff bracket, but the 16 teams that finished the season in playoff position had already been there since late January.

Philadelphia’s Sports Betting Parlor of the Future (Aug. 28)

FanDuel’s first U.S. investor is looking to build the sports betting parlor of the future, and Philadelphia is a logical place to start. By population, Pennsylvania is the largest U.S. state with legal mobile sports betting, and Philadelphia sees a lot of traffic from New Jersey as well.

Michigan State Issues New Bonds to Refinance Nassar Settlement Debt (Oct. 13)

Michigan State has now restructured all of the $491.8 million debt it took on to settle claims against Larry Nassar, the longtime Spartans and USA Gymnastics doctor who perpetrated what is widely considered the worst sex-abuse scandal in sports history.

Empty Sports Venues Open to Voters on Election Day (Oct. 29)

A number of arenas, stadiums and team facilities offered up their spaces as voting centers or registration and ballot-drop locations. According to USA Today Sports, nearly 40,000 Fulton County residents voted at the Atlanta Hawks’ arena during early voting in Georgia, a key state that Vice President Joe Biden won by less than 15,000 votes.

College Athlete NIL Rights Get Mild Public Support (Nov. 11)

Athlete endorsements in some form will be coming to college sports soon. A survey conducted by Harris Poll in collaboration with Sportico reveals that support for college athletes being able to earn money from their NIL is significant from college sports fans as a whole (70%), but slightly lower among the general public (62%).

NFL Diversity Hiring Plan Draws Warning of Unintended Consequences (Nov. 12)

The NFL entered this 2020 season with four non-white head coaches, tied for its lowest total since 2003. In November, NFL owners passed a new diversity initiative to reward teams for developing minority coaches and front-office executives, an approach that could have unintended consequences.

Tiger Woods’ Attempt to Repeat at The Masters Falls Short (Nov. 13)

Tiger Woods wasn’t able to capitalize on his strong opening round at The 2020 Masters, but he is still far and away the best player that Augusta National has ever seen.

NBA Free Agent Value Found Lurking on Defense (Nov. 20)

By analyzing free agent signings over the past three NBA offseasons, the data reveal that front offices undervalue defense relative to offense when it comes to cutting paychecks.

College Football Hits 100 Games Disrupted by COVID-19 (Nov. 30)

By late November, more than 100 college football games had been cancelled or postponed, a grim milestone that shows the cost of the sport’s top tier pushing forward with games amid the pandemic.

NFL Home Field Advantage Declines as Other Sports Hang On (Dec. 2)

With roughly half of NFL teams playing in empty stadiums and the other half allowing fans at minimal capacities, home teams are 120-117-1 this year: the lowest home winning percentage since 1972. Conversely, Power Five college football, MLS and MLB all experienced minimal changes in home field advantage.

Lakers’ +275 Title Odds May Understate Their Chance of a Repeat (Dec. 22)

In the past 36 seasons, the team with the best preseason odds to win the NBA championship has gone on to win the title 18 times, with another eight finishing as runners-up.

Novak Djokovic is the Tennis GOAT: A Holistic Argument (Dec. 24)

Rafael Nadal won the delayed 2020 French Open to tie Roger Federer’s 20 career grand slams. Novak Djokovic, however, had a higher peak than Federer and Nadal and has advantages over both of his contemporaries in head-to-head matchups.

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