Q-and-A with ISyE Alumnus Drew Klaer: A Life in Sports
Drew Klaer (BSIE 14) is a young alumnus of Georgia Tech’s Stewart School of Industrial & Systems Engineering (ISyE). Hailing from Lawrenceville, Ga., and with two parents who are also Tech alums – his dad also graduated from Tech with an ISyE degree – Klaer says that coming to Tech was the natural choice.
From an early age, Klaer has been involved in sports, whether swimming and playing water polo in high school or managing teams in college. Now, he is making sports the focus of his professional career. Klaer recently sat down for a quick Q-&-A about his time at Georgia Tech, his work with the Atlanta Braves, and how he uses his ISyE skills in his current role with the Atlanta Hawks.
How did you get started in sports management at Georgia Tech?
I was roommates my freshman year with the guy who managed the basketball team. His best friend was Daniel Miller, the former Yellow Jackets center, and Daniel mentioned to the head of basketball operations that I wanted to be a team manager – although I hadn't told him that! I ended up getting an interview, and that’s how I got into sports. I haven’t looked back since.
You were the assistant head manager of the Yellow Jackets basketball team. What were your responsibilities?
I didn't know what I was getting myself into initially. I was able to travel across the country with the team and visit different arenas and coliseums. In addition to setting up for practices and rebounding for shooting, the basketball staff also let me do some statistics work, which was really interesting.
You introduced the player efficiency rating, which is a metric used in the NBA but not so much on the college level. What is it?
It's a per-minute metric of how well someone's doing. A lot of people look at overall stats, for example how many points someone got in a game. If someone scores 15 points and played for 40 minutes, that’s an alright performance, but if they only played five minutes, then that’s exceptional.
It’s really breaking out all those numbers: points, rebounds, assists, steals, etc., and putting them into one number. Then you measure that number against the league average. It helped us guide playing time.
And then when you graduated from Tech you went to the Atlanta Braves. What did you do there?
I was in an 11-month customer relationship management trainee program for the Braves. The program was spread across all departments, so it’s one complete season, and you're treated like a full-time employee.
At the time, the team was two years away from the move to SunTrust Park. I was doing a lot of work regarding how to take our existing member base and transfer them from Turner Field to the new stadium. Members choose their seats based on factors we didn’t necessarily initially consider. For example, most people at Turner liked sitting behind third base because the sun sets behind the third baseline. That way they would get the shade earlier. In SunTrust, now the sun is on the first base side, and the first base is also crowded because it’s the Braves’ side.
So then you went from the Braves to the Hawks. What do you currently do for the Hawks?
I’m a sales analyst, and I do all the reporting that involves ticketing. This means reporting to the executive level how well sales are doing this year, how we're pacing toward the goal, how sales compare to last year, and then breaking the sales down into sub-categories: How are season ticket sales going? How are new sales versus renewed sales going? How are flex sales of smaller packages going?
Philips Arena is about to get renovated, so I've done a lot of research for that, trying to figure out what spots in the arena sell the worst and where we can improve.
How do you use your ISyE skills in what you're doing now?
Every year before the season opens, I get the game schedule and create ticket-sold goals and revenue goals for every game. I work primarily with “R” software – an open-source coding platform. I use a lot of regression techniques to predict those goals.
The hardest part of my job is that we have limited relevant data. We only play 41 regular season home games – 44 if you include pre-season – and it's hard to compare one year versus others. The “product” changes because the team comprises different players every year.
What are you most proud of in terms of your work for the Hawks?
I'm proud of the trust I've created within the organization. There was a moment this year when I had set some lofty goals for certain games, and a lot of people wondered what I was doing. But I said, “This is what my model says; just trust it and you'll see.” We actually exceeded my goal. It’s great to see the model I’ve created work out.
Finally, do you have any advice for ISyE students who are about to graduate or young alumni?
Don't be afraid to take the small jobs. When I started out with the Braves, I made $9.50 per hour – which is barely above minimum wage – and my friends were wondering what I was doing with my life, especially since ISyEs can make a lot more right out of college. But I really wanted to get into sports, and this was the chance that came along.
When I was making $9.50 per hour, I gave up doing some things on the weekend that I couldn’t afford, but at the end of the day I learned a lot. I'm in a better place now as a result of having taken that job. You never know where opportunities are going to lead you.
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