Running a Data Community (and knowing it was time to step down..)

Just under 3 years ago I reached out to Simon Beaumont and Spencer Baucke suggesting we start a sports & data based community. I’d been following the pair of them on Twitter for some time and admiring their football based visualisations so I reached out and #sportsvizsunday was born!

After 3 years of co-running the initiative I’m stepping down and wanted to write down a few reflections on the pros and cons of being involved in running a data community, as well as some of the reasons for moving on.

Arguably the biggest pro or running sportsvizsunday was meeting and getting to know both the co-leaders and those that regularly participate in the community.

Outside of a few twitter likes and comments, I didn’t really know much about Spence or Simon before we started things off in January 2018. Simon was a Portsmouth fan working at the NHS and had a wonderfully effective habit of using spaced C A P I T A L S in important places in his visualisations. Spencer was an Arsenal fan who worked at GE and made some impressive dashboard style visualisations on his favourite teams Cincinnati and Arsenal (both have now moved jobs but their styles and poor taste in football teams haven’t changed too much.. )

A number of FaceTimes, conferences & zoom calls later, I have learned a tremendous about from both of them am honoured that I can call both of them friends.

In any community there is a certain amount of administration to keep things ticking along. This includes running and updating the website, ensuring that the monthly challenges exist (I don’t know how the teams doing weekly challenges cope!), applying for and preparing for conference slots and talks, writing blogs etc.

Unlike other communities, we have tried to launch datasets that are linked to the month in which they are being released. This was fine at the beginning when we had no shortage of events to chose from, but inevitably this was going to become more difficult as time wore on. The idea of guest hosts was a genius one (attributable to either Spence or Simon) as it allowed someone with a much better knowledge and passion for a sport to lead for a particular month (while also taking on the admin of curating the dataset).

The running of a website was the largest part of admin that we faced; I put the initial website together using wix and then it went almost a year without being updated again before the introduction of Chris Westlake after TC19 in Vegas. Chris has been a superb addition to the team and does a great job looking after and updating the website — a true unsung hero!

Something that often goes unmentioned is the monetary cost of running a community. We’ve always split the cost of the domain name and wix fee between the co-leaders, while there have been additional outlays for prizes at conferences and various sportsvizsunday stash. We’re not talking huge amounts of money to to sustain these, but it’s something to consider.

The community sessions at the Tableau Conferences are among some of the best attended, and we have been fortunate enough to be involved in some part since Conference in New Orleans in 2018. That was the first time Simon & I had met Spencer in person and we were designated one of the ‘story points theatres’ which seated around 50 people. In what would turn into a #sportsvizsunday pre-presentation tradition, we made a series of last minute changes and were shocked to see a queue forming outside the theatre.

The presentation went down okay, with the highlight being the miniature branded American Footballs thrown out to the crowd at various moments. That formed the basis for all our future conference slots. With an emphasis on fun, our sports themed sessions are definitely one of my highlights of running the community and we definitely had a lot of laughs developing our on stage chemistry.

Conferences also provided an opportunity to meet and speak to those that regularly participated in the community, either after the session or bumping into them along the long corridors at the conference centres. Given the nature of the community, it has been really nice chatting to other sports fans about their favourite sporting moments, teams and experiences.

A huge thank you has to go out to Jordan Scott & Caroline Yam for having us present at the conferences and making sure the events run smoothly, hopefully the tradition of having SVS at the Tableau Conference continues!

I’ve found that my bountiful enthusiasm on starting sportsvizsunday has gradually waned over the past few months and have come to the conclusion that someone else’s energy is better placed to take things forward. In Bo Plantinga and Kate Brown, there are two fantastic somebodies to do just this and I’m really looking forward to the ideas and energy that they will bring!

I’ve recently started a new job which is consuming a lot of my focus, and have been working on a couple of other side projects that mean I haven’t been devoting the time to running the community that it deserves. That said, I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to be part of running a data community and for those considering being a part of one in the future it was definitely worth the admin cons.

Conferences: New Orleans (Left), Berlin (Middle), Vegas (Right)

Founder of SportsChord. Interested in sports analytics and visualization.

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