The NFL: Big Data and football

The NFL: Big Data and football

How the NFL uses Big Data in practice

Sensors in stadiums and on NFL players’ pads and helmets help collect real-time position data, show where and how far players have moved, and can even help indicate when a player may have suffered a damaging hit to the head.

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. The thought is that statistics-mad fans will jump at the chance to consume more data about their favourite players and teams. 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.


The technical details

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


Ideas and insights you can steal

It will be interesting to see to what extent coaches adopt the Big Data technology approach over and above their own instincts. Many business leaders are a lot like sports coaches, relying on their gut instinct and experience. And, while instincts and experience are absolutely important in business, I believe they should always be backed up by a healthy amount of data. Only then can you get a complete picture of what’s going on and make informed decisions.

You can read more about how organisations are using Big Data to drive success in Big Data in Practice: How 45 Successful Companies Used Big Data Analytics to Deliver Extraordinary Results.



Written by

Bernard Marr

Bernard Marr is a world-renowned futurist, influencer and thought leader in the field of business and technology. He is the author of 18 best-selling books, writes a regular column for Forbes and advises and coaches many of the world’s best-known organisations. He has 2 million social media followers and was ranked by LinkedIn as one of the top 5 business influencers in the world and the No 1 influencer in the UK.

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