I’d like to assign The Last Dance documentary as pre-work for my course on sports analytics. The documentary does a masterful job of highlighting how sports create the stories that create the special thing we call fandom. The intense, passionate subcultures that connect people and sometimes move the world. The Last Dance is a case study on how fandom is created.
There are many techniques that can be used to study fandom. We can use statistics to understand fan behavior from archival data or laboratory studies to investigate fan psychology. There are also multiple perspectives. We can study fandom from the perspective of what happens on the field or from the perspective of the fan communities.
Documentaries like The Last Dance truly highlight the value of non-traditional techniques. In some ways, documentary storytelling is similar to research techniques used in fields like anthropology. The anthropologist, like the documentarian, develops a deep understanding of the subjects, interprets the observable data, and then communicates the findings and conclusions. The goals and audiences differ, but at the heart both are about story telling - storytelling to make sense of the observable reality.
I’m a “quant” by training. My skillset includes many techniques for breaking down and understanding data. But this tool kit always comes up short (the key is that I know it will). The Last Dance is a beautiful example of the human element that completes and magnifies the stories.
Hear our final thoughts on that human element in The Last Dance here:
Also streaming on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.