How Technology and Big Data Are Transforming the NFL

By: Andrew Dresner

Imagine being immersed in an NFL football game when the game is in a timeout or experiencing a stoppage in play. I am not talking about the captivating commercials. Now, because of big data collection, you will have nearly unlimited access to videos and statistics, purely customizable to the game you are currently watching. This is not just looking up a player’s height and weight on Wikipedia, but now you’ll have access to the NFL Vision Database. While this is a feature that will be available for a fee, this is a one stop shop for die-hard football fans as well as fantasy football owners to further immerse themselves in football each week. Within this NFL Vision Database you will have access to video clips of each recorded statistic (Mind Blowing Stats), tagged to the player and sortable by variables such as playing surface, stadium, and weather condition.

In addition to fan experience, the NFL intends for this technology to trickle down to inform personnel and coaching decisions. The NFL is eager to use this big data collection to aid in making smarter scouting decisions and make data-driven personnel decisions, as well as to gather information on opposing teams. The scouting department will use information gathered from a prospect’s freshman year in college. Predicting the potential success of a recruit requires combining many different data sets: characteristics of previous players, both successful and unsuccessful, those who have spent time in the league, metrics from the NFL combine, where athletes perform on field agility tests, and college metrics, to represent the pool of potential talent. Simply put, the more metrics scouts can incorporate, the better understanding they have of a prospect. At the end of the day, each NFL executive or scout are trying to predict the future success of a prospect and the more information they have to draw from the better. Similarly, the effect of data can be seen already on the sidelines of each NFL team. For this past NFL season each team used Microsoft tablets for in-game adjustments. A tablet will be used to display down and distance tendencies, as well as take a pre- and post-snap pictures of the opposing offenses or defenses. Lastly, each in-game analysis can be customized to show the data that each particular coach would like to see. For example, if Bill Belichick wants to know how many times they ran the ball to the right side with Shane Vareen, he can organize his technology to reveal those clips.

Finally it’s important to note that the NFL has been using big data for many years, but only recently have the NFL and its executives decided to create an independent platform for all 32 teams to gain access to it. The future of this technology is very exciting. In as soon as next year, the NFL would like to focus this technology on player safety as well as on-field and sideline technology to eliminate the amount of game-changing blown calls. This data has the ability to increase the popularity of the game to an even higher level than where we are at today.


23 thoughts on “How Technology and Big Data Are Transforming the NFL

  1. Sam Ventresca April 11, 2015 / 12:34 am

    Being a big football fan this new technology is a new exciting feature that the NFL can offer. I have always been interested not only in following my favorite team, the patriots, but also following the whole league and learning statistics. Also I’ve always enjoyed the NFL draft and if this new technology is available to fans I wouldn’t mind acting like a scout here and there. This new technology will make fans feel part of the game more than ever before.


  2. Ryan MacLeod April 11, 2015 / 12:30 pm

    This “Big Data” aspect in Football, or sports in general, is extremely interesting and useful. I think that teams and players will obviously have a major use for it. Fans as well can use this information to update their fantasy teams or make their weekly picks of who’s going to win which game using Big Data. Big data will pretty much create a business on its own in that fans and teams will most likely have to pay for a service and platform to access the data. Great post, it will be interesting to see how the NFL and other sports league implement this over the next few years.


  3. Chris Girard April 13, 2015 / 9:31 pm

    I have also been a big fan of the NFL for many years. I feel that the NFL along with other major leagues such as the MLB and NBA are often on the front line when it comes to improving the fan expierence through new technology. As many of the people who enjoy these sports are younger people these leagues need to have the ability to adapt and implement new ideas and technologies to keep pace with our ever changing world. I believe that these new technological advances will make the fans feel as though they are a larger part of the game and keep them more involed in what is going on.


  4. David Collins April 14, 2015 / 11:49 am

    The NFL is a cash cow, and attracts millions and millions of people. Using big data is a great way to latch onto those fans, and give them one more reason to stick around. I think there are plenty of people who watch and follow baseball simply for the statistics and the ability to dig deep into the effectiveness of every player and matchup. The NFL giving the everyday fan the opportunity to track trends and statistics on the go is in excellent move. Of course, this is going to be targeted to fantasy players, as Andrew mentions, but the skeptic in me knows this is also targeted at gamblers. Gambling brings in a ton of interest for the sport, so the more that someone thinks they have “an edge on the game,” the more likely someone is to make a bet and tune in to watch.


  5. Zi Wang April 14, 2015 / 7:11 pm

    Although I am not a big fan of football as well as just know few information of NFL, I think “Big data” that is definitely a great tool to improve this sport no matter who like teams, coaches fans etc. Because of the advent of technology, I think that all sports not only compete during the games, but also competition of preparation. Therefore, “Big data” can offer a great tool to help teams to achieve their goal.


  6. Joe Greco April 14, 2015 / 8:11 pm

    As an avid NFL fan and an avid sports fan in general I always find adjustments such as “Big Data” quite intriguing. I have noticed the NFL coaches such as our very own Bill Bellicheck using them on the sidelines, I believe the “Big Data” will start a new trend across the four other major sports (NHL,NBA,MLS,MLB). I also concur with David when he says that this will also help target gamblers, because they will know the trends set by certain teams and will help them to submit an effective bet.


  7. Yafen Liu April 15, 2015 / 8:11 pm

    Actually, I am not a big fan of NFL. But, from my point of view, it is really profound for NFL to use Big Data to improve its performance. On one hand, as for coaches and even leagues, Big Data helps hem with better management, planning and forecast, which in turn, helps NFL perform effectively and efficiently. On the other hand, fans could benefit from this technology as well. They could catch up with the newest news and feel like they are engaged in the game as well. Obviously, better performance and fan experience means more popularity. It is really exciting to see how Big Data works in the future.


  8. Sasha Letourneau April 16, 2015 / 2:31 pm

    I think it is a great idea for the NFL to use this database that people can access for a fee. Die hard fans are always looking for the best new way to get information about their favorite players or teams. It will really help get players names out in the media which is great for the NFL.


  9. Mattia Lanzi April 17, 2015 / 2:17 am

    I am a football fan and in my opinion this a great way to involve fans to follow and evaluate statistics. Fans can find information and statistics about their favorite team or players. This new technology makes any fan feeling like part of the game and directly involved in their favorite team.


  10. Chris Lantagne April 17, 2015 / 8:26 pm

    I think the concept of big data would be incredible for a lot of sports like baseball, but especially F1 racing. Pit crews could use big data to get key facts about the car such as tire pressure, fuel ranges, aerodynamics or engine performance. Big data could very well swing the results of a race. If you’re nearing the end of a race for example you could predict whether or not you can make it without needing to stop for new tires or fuel.

    I remember seeing in 2012, during the Monaco Grand Prix, they had used big data. Sebastian Vettel had crashed toward the very end of the race and rather than not finishing the race the pit crew used big data to find out what needed to be fixed on the car. Through big data the pit crew was able to determine that, despite a damaged bumper that affected aerodynamics, it was possible to finish the race. Even though he got nowhere near first place he still placed in the race and received valuable points. A lot of crews in F1 use big data to get estimates on where they’ll place in the race before it even starts.


  11. Brandon Gobbi April 18, 2015 / 8:55 pm

    This is a pretty neat idea and it just shows what we are coming to with technology. In my opinion this will be very useful for the ones playing fantasy football. This will also be huge for coaches and members of the front office to keep track of player development and to keep track of how a player is performing on the field. This is really going to be huge for the game of football. This will impact both fans and the teams.


  12. Billy Muldoon April 20, 2015 / 4:49 pm

    Keeping up to date with my favorite teams is something I care a lot about, which is why I feel that this new technology could be a huge success. I personally know many people as well who would love this new concept, especially for fantasy football. I love the idea of being able to get any information I want about my favorite players and teams when I want.


  13. Andrew Dresner April 21, 2015 / 12:41 pm

    I wanted to add another article link about big data. The following article was published before last years superbowl. It talks about how big data will affect the big game from a prediction standpoint. One media management company has created a prediction tool that has been able to predict NFL games with a 69% accuracy purely using big data. Quick but interesting read.


  14. Michael Scuderi April 23, 2015 / 10:50 pm

    As a big fan and long-time player of football I think it is smart to do big data on the NFL that way you can pick up trends more efficiently. But what I also would like to see more of is tracking big hits to the head and also possible concoctions to make more of an effort to keep the players safe. Also this big data could definitely make some money with the football community. Their are so many hardcore football fanatics who have fantasy teams and are trying to find stats all day, they would pay big money to have this kind of information at their finger tips. I see the NFL and a perfect and appropriate place to us big data and hopefully big data can over time change the game for the better.


  15. Kendra Van Pelt April 27, 2015 / 5:07 am

    Interaction is great for any company – any company that relates to their customers, to try to get onto the same level as them and truly understand their needs and wants, generally has a successful business (or hopefully getting there). Although the NFL is already a huge and has a multi dollar industry surrounding it, it is still just like any other company – it wants to increase its sales. The NFL has chosen to go about that in a fashion that should produce more interaction, thus drawing the consumer in. I think letting this be a consumer option will greatly impact the success of the NFL – more so than it already has. It would cool to see this new system used a lot in calculating how to reduce impacts that lead to concussions.


  16. Meghan Saldutti April 28, 2015 / 12:53 am

    I am not much of a football fan so to me this sounds like an excellent idea of the NFL itself as well as their dedicated fans. This feature will allow fans to have full access to their favorite players which will make fans more intrigued and knowledgeable about their favorite players as well as favorite teams. For footballs this is a thrilling feature so dedicated fans can become even more dedicated.


  17. Andrew Arcidi April 28, 2015 / 12:55 am

    I think this is a pretty cool idea and if brought to the NFL could have a massive impact. I think it will affect coaching, drafting and how fans see certain players due to being able to see clips of that player during timeouts rather than having to watch commercials about a random product. I think anyone in fantasy football will want to buy this to be on top.


  18. Patrick Breslin April 28, 2015 / 5:17 am

    This big data idea being introduced to football is an interesting tactic to expanding the leagues fan base. Our world is becoming quickly advanced in technological means and the NFL is keeping up with it. I believe this access to insider information is going to be huge with die hard fans as well as fantasy football enthusiasts. This addition allows for the fans to make a greater connection to the league and the game of football they love so much. I think its really cool that more information is being provided to the public, and everyone is going to want it to have an edge up on what’s going on in the NFL. Although I wont be surprised if controversy with teams and coaches is derived from this extra information.


  19. Ryan Zdanwich April 29, 2015 / 1:31 am

    I always found it funny when certain prospects are predicted to be phenomenal in any sport and sometimes considered a fluke once they hit the professional leagues. With all of this big data, they will be able to have better predictions on the future success of players, and reduce risk of recruiting a “bluff” player. However, predictions are predictions, and they aren’t 100 percent accurate, as they never will, but it will help out teams substantially.


  20. Jeff Marcoux May 5, 2015 / 7:37 pm

    I’m all for this technology- in particular, in-game tracking of each individual player. Not only would this create new types of advanced metrics, which would absolutely change in-game decision making, but it would create a new fan experience whereby fans could choose which players to follow live. If this technology was to trickle down into the NCAA we would see a change in drafting philosophy. I think the entire NFL combine would become relatively useless- anyone can run in a straight line under perfect conditions. (The data gathered from the combine is rarely a solid indication of future performance.) Big Data is great as a supplemental decision maker, but there are intangibles that can’t be calculated (i.e. mental fortitude, coaching, etc). Sometimes you have to trust your instincts.


    • Andrew Dresner May 7, 2015 / 8:04 pm

      Jeff I couldn’t agree more with that. I think the effect Big Data will have on coaching is more revolved on informed decision making. As a coach the more prepared you can be for any situation that could arise is crucial and if this will help with that than I am all for it. The ability to lead, organize and manage is something that data won’t specifically ever be able to measure but putting W’s in the win column will always help.


  21. Charlie O'Connor May 6, 2015 / 7:25 am

    I siding with Jeff too, the further implementation of technology will only enhance the game for both players and fans. I wonder if the NFL will start its own fantasy football league platform incorporated with the app. If so, ESPN, CBS and Yahoo better figure out how to stay relevant. The article talks about how the NFL is starting to go digit in every aspect of the organization. Claiming HIPPA compliance and players safety the driving force, I think they’re being a tad misleading. The future of technology is endless and the NFL wants to get on the gravy train asap, I’m sure we’ll be seeing ads galore on the app. I agree with Jeff in that it could quite possibly make NFL combines useless and would absolutely change the way players are drafted, maybe even recruited. Could this be the start of the MoneyBall strategy in the NFL?


  22. Xiaolong Yang May 7, 2015 / 6:50 pm

    Although I am not a fan of NFL, but I know big data information is very important for sports. Accurate data analysis is always more dependable than experience.


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