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Brandon Smith, CEO of Global Sports Analytics

Going Pro: How One MBA Graduate Is Solving Europe’s Basketball Woes One Statistic at a Time

Growing up in New Jersey, Brandon Smith’s childhood was shaped by a love of basketball. Under no illusion that he had what it takes to go pro — “I’m only 5-foot-9, so after high school, I stopped pursuing the basketball dream,” he says — Smith has nonetheless become a key player in the world of professional basketball.

As the founder and CEO of Global Sports Analytics (GSA), Smith is attempting to change the way global basketball is analyzed and enjoyed, not as a player on the court but from the sidelines. Using advanced statistics, he and his team of six created a platform that gives coaches the tools to help solve some of the most pressing challenges faced by European teams.

“Our initial product is the GSA Edge, a data-rich SAAS platform that is essentially an assistant coach in your back pocket,” says Smith, a 2014 Consortium alumnus of the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business. “It’s accessed via your own personalized login on the web, and it provides simplified advanced statistics, customized scouting and video analysis.”

The idea is to save coaches time with a tailored solution that provides a competitive advantage by the numbers, Smith notes.

“On a macro level, we want to redefine global basketball, starting with play on the court, and leverage our proprietary technology to influence the entire ecosystem — teams, fans, leagues and sponsors,” he says. “We think that the future of the game is going to be driven by quantitative analysis and statistics, and because Europe as a market is lagging behind the U.S., we saw the perfect opportunity to get in at the ground level — and win.”

“At this point,” Smith adds, “we’re starting to see not just proof of concept but also greater interest outside of our primary markets, which gives us a clear idea of where we want to go next.”

Building a Foundation

Smith’s path wasn’t always so clear-cut.

After graduating from Wesleyan University, where he studied economics and psychology, in 2008, Smith went the traditional route of employment, taking a job at JPMorgan. While his time at Wesleyan gave him a solid academic foundation, he realized he wanted a “stronger profile professionally,” Smith says. “I wanted more business acumen. I wanted to try to apply some of the learnings I was getting at the desk to future endeavors.”

For Smith, this meant getting an MBA.

His godfather, Leroy Nunery, a Consortium alum from nearly 30 years ago, introduced him to the organization, launching Smith on a professional exploration that began with selecting the “right” school.

“I went to the West Coast for about a week before submitting my applications because I wanted to make sure that whatever I checked as my top school was actually the top school,” says Smith. “I visited Berkeley, UCLA and USC, and the entrepreneurship program at USC truly resonated with me. Also, Los Angeles as an economy is one of the most impressive and dominant in the world, and I figured it would be a great place for me to learn and challenge myself.”

In USC Marshall, Smith saw an opportunity to develop and refine what was then just a kernel of an idea.

“I wrote my business school essay about the globalization of basketball, the expansion of the sport and opportunities that American players were finding overseas,” says Smith. “So, I spent most of my time at USC testing the model, networking with professionals and professors who provided perspective on the sports industry in general, while applying key learnings and insights to my concept.”

“I think I was always interested in the idea of working in basketball on a global level and then realized that I had at least enough skills, enough of a network and enough confidence to try and start my own venture,” he adds.

Excited and inspired by his experience in The Consortium, Smith says it helped fuel his own ambitions. “Everyone who I met in The Consortium was competitive and impressive,” he says. “And to have the Orientation Program & Career Forum (OP) before you even get to campus — it was such a powerful introduction to graduate school. It allowed me to build a foundation to be leveraged throughout my entire time at USC.”

Return on Investment

With the real-world insights he acquired at JPMorgan and the academic and hands-on learning he gained at USC Marshall, Smith went to Berlin after graduating to add to this knowledge base. The experience was “eye-opening,” he says.

“I was fortunate to meet with a few decision makers from the Bundesliga, which is the German professional league, and they all mentioned the challenges they were facing: limited budgets, an inconsistent roster and the threat of relegation — which is very different from the NBA,” explains Smith. “Teams that don’t do well every year are relegated to the lower divisions within that country. So, there are a lot of different nuances that I was exposed to during that first trip.”

This insight, coupled with the interest he saw from European markets, sparked in him the idea of developing a technology to help solve these problems.

“I realized that the market in Europe as a whole was lagging behind as far as the adoption of analytics and the use of advanced technology,” he notes. “But there was a passion, there was an interest from the fans, and there were specific leagues that represented mature enough markets that we thought would make a lot of sense for entry. So, we started focusing our efforts in Germany, France and Belgium.”

Over time, Smith and his team have built and refined the GSA Edge, informed by insights from customers — coaches, general managers and key “early adopters.”

The subscription-based technology is designed to aid coaches with scouting and strategy. “It’s essentially an assistant coach in your back pocket,” says Smith. “Our objective is to provide coaches and sport directors, or general managers, with a product that gives them a competitive edge and allows them to win more games.”

Winning more games, he notes, comes with added benefits.

“We believe philosophically that better basketball on the court leads to more wins, greater fan engagement, increased ticket sales and more valuable sponsors and serves as the foundation for growth,” says Smith, adding that, for European leagues, the value of a win can’t be understated. “In Europe, there are outside sponsors that provide financial support for clubs every year, so the better you do, the greater your budget and the more bandwidth you have to invest in high-quality players, experienced coaches and solutions — like ours — to help fill the stands a bit more.”

For the teams that have adopted the technology, Smith says, the Edge — combined with GSA’s hands-on customer service — has led to “blockbuster seasons.” Some teams have quickly gone from being new in the league to playing internationally, he notes.

Smith’s hope is that the reputation GSA’s built will have a trickle down effect. “If we can build a product that’s adopted in Germany, France and Belgium, then that’s an opportunity for us to step into adjacent markets — whether that be Israel, Turkey, Russia, what have you,” he says.

As GSA continues to improve the Edge and develop its new solution, NumbersForTheWin, Smith is focused on finding ways to become more efficient, reduce risk and innovate as he seeks to add value for the company and its supporters.

“It’s been quite a journey for me, and it’s one that has allowed me to not only experience the joys and the challenges of building a company from scratch but that’s also allowed me to understand what it means to do business globally,” Smith says. “The cultural nuances, the elements of negotiation, the importance of being able to ‘read a room’ and what it means to be a young brother working in Europe with advanced technologies and this evolving science (basketball analytics) is a story that I’m excited to continue to tell.”

His experience of often being the only person of color in the room has helped him not only become more comfortable in those situations but also “find ways to excel in those spaces,” he notes. Smith credits his success to his combination of real-world experience and academic learnings as well as his experience in and the network he gained being part of The Consortium.

But perhaps most of all, he attributes how far he’s come to something even more important: faith.

“You have to have faith in your journey, whether that means taking on a new industry and challenging yourself with a new role professionally or stepping into the startup world, trying to build something from scratch. Faith is what’s going to drive you through the ebbs and flows,” says Smith. “The truth is that perseverance and sacrifice are all about faith and believing in what you’re trying to accomplish. I think, if you have that, you can do a lot.”

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