The Data Chief | Episode 76

How to find and retain data team talent with the VP of Analytics at the Milwaukee Bucks

Sumathi Thiyagarajan

VP, Business Strategy & Analytics

Milwaukee Bucks and Fiserv Forum

Current EpisodeEP76: How to find and retain data team talent with the VP of Analytics at the Milwaukee Bucks

Episode Overview

In this episode of The Data Chief, hosts Cindi Howson and Sonny Rivera interview Sumathi Thiyagarajan, the VP of Business Strategy and Analytics for the Milwaukee Bucks and Fiserv Forum. Sumathi discusses being a data leader in professional sports, building a data team from the ground up, and leveraging insights to continually provide the best fan experience.

Key Moments: 

  • Making the transition to a professional sports team (2:42)
  • The evolution of Sumathi’s role and team (4:58)
  • The growing importance of data across the NBA (10:02)
  • Unique challenges Sumathi faces in her role with the Bucks (12:01)
  • Creating personalized fan experiences (14:38)
  • Using data to increase the team’s visibility in the marketplace (18:12)
  • Finding (and keeping) strong data team talent (22:31)
  • Building a talent pool through a successful hackathon (26:20)
  • Coaching and developing a diverse data team (29:07)
  • Addressing the challenges of fragmented data (33:50)
  • Driving innovation for the Bucks (and across the NBA) (37:35)

Key Quotes:

If we say we care about data, it makes sense for you to be at the table, right? I will say, I got lucky in that I'm working in an organization that puts their money where their mouth's at.

I tell my team all the time, all we have to do is promise and deliver.

I get frontline visibility to high-level leaders from literally week one. Everybody's collaborative. Everybody's willing to work together. So the opportunity for growth is huge.

What is our value proposition? And what are we uniquely positioned to do that no one else in the company can do? And it's simple. Our statement is know, use, and scale the data.

The power of sports is so contagious. So how do we capitalize on that beyond just the immediate city?



Sumathi Thiyagarajan joined the Milwaukee Bucks as their inaugural Vice President of Business Strategy and Analytics in Nov 2021. In this capacity, she builds, develops and leads a forward-thinking business analytics team to harness the power of data, applied analytics and technology to drive results.

Prior to this role, she served in various leadership positions within Marquette University, including the Sr. Director of Strategy & Operations for University Relations, Director of Program Management in the Office of the President, and Marquette’s program manager in Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute ( Across all of these roles, she worked closely with senior leaders within the various units and functions across campus, leading a range of strategic and operational initiatives, supporting task forces and implementing grant programs. Prior to Marquette, Thiyagarajan’s experience spanned over 10 years across many healthcare sectors (consulting, health systems, medical devices & non-profit) developing strategies, defining goals, measuring performance and implementing plans.


Get even more insights from data and analytics leaders like Sumathi on The Data Chief.