Business Analytics Students Team Up With New Orleans Pelicans

Zion Williamson

With Zion Williamson dazzling fans in his NBA debut, the New Orleans Pelicans are hoping to turn that buzz into season ticket sales.

With a string of victories after a slow start and No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson dazzling fans in his rookie debut, the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans are starting to fly, but will that buzz translate into ticket sales?

In January, the Pelicans kicked off a new project with students at Tulane University’s A. B. Freeman School of Business aimed at predicting how many ticket plan holders are likely to renew and identifying the factors that most influence renewal decisions. Over the course of the semester, students from the Freeman School’s Master of Business Analytics (MANA) program will analyze six seasons’ worth of ticket sales data to develop insights and help the team’s sales office improve its marketing to fans.

“Any information we can gather to assist our sales team in being more effective is a win for us,” says Kate McCabe, business intelligence manager for the Pelicans
and the New Orleans Saints. “Understanding our fan base, understanding what makes them tick, is really important. We want to understand their relationship with the organization, and the more information we can give our sales team, the better it will inform their efforts to improve that relationship.”

MANA Students

Master of Business Analytics student Griffin Young (MANA ’20), left, takes notes during a meeting at the Pelicans headquarters with Professor Xianjun Geng, center, and Pelicans Business Intelligence Manager Kate McCabe, right.

The Freeman School has worked with the Pelicans since 2019, when business analytics students undertook a project to analyze a variety of data sets and determine the factors that most influence fan turnout. The team used information provided by the students to help identify the optimal days of the week to schedule home games. Last semester, business analytics students worked with the team to study social media data across
multiple platforms to identify valuation strategies for the teams’ social content.

“This is our third semester working with students in the Master of Business Analytics program, so we obviously have been very pleased with the collaboration and
results,” says McCabe, who adds that the Pelicans recently hired a graduate of the MANA program to work in the team’s analytics department.

The Freeman School’s Master of Business Analytics is a 10-month program that teaches students how to analyze complex data sets and make data-informed business decisions. The program emphasizes applicable skills and training in industry-standard analysis and visualization software and builds on the Freeman School’s expertise in action learning by putting students to work on long-term analysis projects for real companies. In addition to the Pelicans, MANA students\ have worked on projects for companies including Phelps Dunbar, Premium Parking and Crescent Bank & Trust.

“In our previous projects with the Pelicans, students used regression analysis, visualization and machine learning techniques, whereas with this project they’ll be using cutting-edge predictive tools, such as ensemble methods,” says Xianjun Geng, instructor in the course and executive director of the Master of Business Analytics program. “The approaches may be different, but what these projects have in common is the opportunity for students to apply the knowledge and skills they’re learning and help a client better serve its customers, so we’re thrilled to have a partner like the Pelicans with which to work.”

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