Generic filters

How the NFL is Using Big Data

5 years ago

Your fantasy football team just went high tech.

Like many businesses, the National Football League is experimenting with big data to help players, fans, and teams alike.

The NFL recently announced a deal with tech firm Zebra to install RFID data sensors in players’ shoulder pads and in all of the NFL’s arenas. The chips collect detailed location data on each player, and from that data, things like player acceleration and speed can be analyzed.

The NFL plans to make the data available to fans and teams, though not during game play. The thought is that statistics-mad fans will jump at the chance to consume more data about their favorite players and teams.

In the future, the data collection might be expanded. In last year’s Pro Bowl, sensors were installed in the footballs to show exactly how far they were thrown.

Big data on the gridiron
Of course, this isn’t the NFL’s first foray into big data. In fact, like other statistics-dependent sports leagues, the NFL was crunching big data before the term even existed.

However, in the last few years, the business has embraced the technology side, hiring its first chief information officer, and developing its own platform available to all 32 teams. Individual teams can create their own applications to mine the data to improve scouting, education, and preparation for meeting an opposing team.

It’s also hoped that the data will help coaches make better decisions. They can review real statistics about an opposing team’s plays or how often one of their own plays worked rather than relying solely on instinct. They will also, in the future, be able to use the data on an individual player to determine if he is improving.

Diehard fans can, for a fee, access this same database to build their perfect fantasy football team. Because, at heart, the NFL believes that the best fans are engaged fans. They want to encourage the kind of obsessive statistics-keeping that many sport fans are known for.


Will big data change the game?

It’s hard to predict how this flood of new data will impact the game. Last year, only 14 stadiums and a few teams were outfitted with the sensors. And this year, the NFL decided against installing sensors in all footballs after the politics of last year’s “deflate gate” when the Patriots were accused of under inflating footballs for an advantage.
Still, it seems fairly easy to predict that the new data will quickly make its way into TV broadcast booths and instant replays. Broadcasters love to have additional data points to examine between plays and between games.

And armchair quarterbacks will now have yet another insight into the game, allowing them access (for a fee) to the same information the coaches have. Which will, of course mean they can make better calls than the coaches. Right?

Bernard Marr is a best-selling author, keynote speaker and business consultant in big data, analytics and enterprise performance. His new books are ‘Big Data’ ‘Key Business Analytics’