MSBA Students Deliver Business Insights to Corporate Sponsor in MSBA Datathon

Hanesbrands, a Department of Business Analytics and Statistics corporate partner, provided the 2023 Datathon challenge problem.

December 20, 2023

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s 2023 Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) Datathon charged teams of graduate students with applying sophisticated analytical models to extract insights on a real-world business issue and then presenting their findings to a panel of judges. To give the students a sense of operating under a business deadline, the teams had only two days to prepare their modeling results and develop their presentations.

Hosted by the Haslam College of BusinessMSBA Program, the Datathon was held in collaboration with Hanesbrands, a Department of Business Analytics and Statistics (BAS) corporate partner. HanesBrands provided the 2023 Datathon challenge prompt.

The Challenge: Exploring a New Advertising Channel

As a leading apparel company, HanesBrands’ aims to produce affordable and fashionable clothing options from ethically produced, high-quality materials for a diverse customer base. Targeted media campaigns enable HanesBrands to efficiently satisfy and expand its customer base by buying advertising in the right areas, for the right audiences. To pursue more precisely targeted advertising, the apparel company is studying Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) advertising.

DOOH is a fast-growing advertising channel that adds a digital element to traditional advertising, such as billboards and other signage seen in public places, transportation routes and commercial spaces. Unlike traditional advertising, DOOH advertising allows for greater interaction with its audience through animations, changing images and geo-targeting.

HanesBrands plans to expand into the DOOH media channel and will launch two DOOH advertising tests in 2024. For the Datathon, the MSBA student teams were tasked with analyzing significant quantities of business- and market-related data to support HanesBrands’ decision-making process for its entrance into DOOH advertising.

Real-World Business Practice

Throughout the competition, Maggie Lancaster and Samantha Coe, two Hanesbrands representatives, contributed valuable industry insights in keeping with the BAS department’s hands-on approach to teaching. The participating students benefited from the HanesBrands personnel’s input while exploring the rich data sources they provided from diverse channels. The teams applied statistical methods, machine learning algorithms and visualization techniques to assimilate, analyze and model the intricate data relating to HanesBrands’ business and customers and the overall market. Chuanren Liu and Robert Mee oversaw the Datathon and served as faculty advisors during the challenge.

After completing their analysis and modeling, the teams delivered presentations on their results before a panel of judges. Along with Coe and Lancaster, Mee and Liu also acted as judges for the competition. Students in the two winning teams included Brennan Riddle, Aria Sajjad, Ian Leonard, Steven Thompson, Tomas Rodriguez Marengo, Luke Schwarzentraub, Charles Deaton, Jarett Smith and Kent Lansden.

Benefits of the Datathon Competition

Liu, a BAS associate professor and Melton Faculty Fellow, called the Datathon an opportunity for MSBA students to apply the skills they have learned in the program in a real-business scenario.

“Our students learn multiple methods for deriving insights from large data sets as well as presentation techniques to deliver these insights to stakeholders in a straightforward, understandable way,” he said. “Being able to use data from HanesBrands to address a project the company is working on and present their results to company representatives on a deadline was a great learning experience for them.”

Mee, the William and Sara Clark Professor in Business, added, “Through the competition, our students had the chance to demonstrate their analytical skills and practice their presentation techniques for company officials with a vested interest in their results. We are quite proud of the energy and ingenuity they brought to the challenge.”

Alex Holmes and Steven Maxwell “Max” Thompson, two of MSBA students who participated in the competition, noted its value both as an educational experience and as a differentiating factor in job interviews. Holmes described participating in the 2023 MSBA Datathon as a “dynamic journey.”

“I applied advanced analytical techniques to solve a real-world challenge presented by HanesBrands, showcasing not only my analytical skills but also emphasizing the crucial role of effective communication and teamwork in delivering impactful insights under realistic business pressure,” Holmes said.

“Being able to work with real-world data to solve an ambiguous problem — all in a limited time frame — really helped our team put the skills we have been learning to the test,” Thompson added. “This is exactly the type of experience that we can speak about with future employers to showcase how we can bring value to their company.”

About Haslam’s Department of Business Analytics and Statistics

The Department of Business Analytics and Statistics’ mission is to create knowledge through research and to disseminate that knowledge through its degree programs. The faculty uses the results of its application-focused research to educate students on how to effect positive change within organizations by emphasizing soft skills such as communication and team building alongside the targeted and effective use of analytics. The department’s continually evolving curriculum draws on state-of-the-art theoretical and practical content from the fields of statistics, machine learning and operations research.


Scott McNutt, business writer/publicist,