Football and Analytics – Part 2
The current landscape of football analytics inside the NFL is ever-evolving. The presentation of the discussion started on a previous past on BSL.
Here are some recent examples of football analytics in the NFL:
- The Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick were early adopters of analytics. Ernie Adams has worked for the Patriots over the past 15 years in the area of data analysis. The late Browns owner Art Modell notably quipped: “I’ll pay anyone here $10,000 if they can tell me what Ernie Adams does.”(Costello 2015).
- General manager Thomas Dimitroff of the Atlanta Falcons claims to be a strong proponent of analytics in several forms. He said: “We use analytics to eliminate as much guesswork as we possibly can.”
- The Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens both announced efforts towards analytics prior to the 2012 season. Sandy Weil held the title of Director of Football Analytics for the Ravens before leaving the organization in 2015. The Ravens still have not announced his replacement, if one exists.
- In January 2013, the Buffalo Bills announced the formation of an analytics department (Rosenthal 2013). President Russ Brandon once worked in baseball and said about analytics: “It’s starting to spruce its head a little bit in football, and I feel we’re missing the target if we don’t invest in that area of our operation, and we will. It’s another layer of information… a spoke in the tire.”
- In 2013, then Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said: “We obviously use many statistics as we prepare for the draft…. I think it’s getting more and more involved. Obviously, there’s much better information for us nowadays than there was 10 or 15 years ago, and we need to use it.” As head coach of the Broncos, Kubiak worked with Director of Analytics Mitch Tanney on in-game decisions (Mason 2015).
- In Januray 2016, the Cleveland Browns hired Paul DePodesta, the New York Mets Vice President of Player Development and Scouting, and named him Chief Strategy Officer. DePodesta is strongly linked to the use of sabermetrics as a front-office tool in baseball for several decades. The Browns have hired other high level executives with analytical backgrounds including vice president of football operations Sashi Brown.
In February 2015, an article by Kevin Seifert categorized each NFL team by their level of commitment to football analytics (Seifert 2015). The level of commitment varied widely and movement for teams in this area over the past two years has been slow. However, anything that can be clearly demonstrated to help a team win has a high probability of being utilized. Then most likely copied in some form by other teams. Data analytics and visualizations can help unify the efforts of the many groups within a football organization. However, it must be clearly demonstrated that data analysis in this fashion adds value for decision-makers.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
The Business of Football
Football is big business growing by the day. The game extends well beyond the 60 minutes guaranteed at kickoff. From high school football to professional football, the sport engages year-round spectators. The game itself, the gameday experience, fantasy football and wagering draw interest from a wide-range of people. Upwards of 74.7 million Americans will participate in fantasy football in 2016, spending $4.6 billion (Belzer 2016). A recent Forbes article puts the value of the Los Angeles Rams to be approximately $2.9 billion.8 That is double the value prior to the franchise’s move from St. Louis early in 2016.
The Super Bowl has become a world-wide event. It has become a de-facto national holiday in the United States. The most recent Super Bowl had 110 million television viewers. A 30-second advertisement during the game costs $4.5 million. Commercials in Super bowl I in 1967 cost $42,000.
The NFL now has games live-streaming on twitter. Games span from Thursday night to Monday night each week of the regular season. The NFL schedule held 12 games from 1947-1960. The number jumped to 14 from 1961-1977 and has been at 16 since 1978. Past expansion of the NFL leaves a current pool of 32 teams in eight divisions. Put simply, NFL football games are the biggest part of the business. Winning in this business is important. Jobs of coaches and executives are directly related to wins and losses. Head coaches in the NFL have been fired at a rate of just under 25 percent each year since 2005.
Football is an emotional business for those whose livelihoods are dependent upon the product presented on the field. The very public stage of the game represents only a very small amount of time. Organizations have multiple entities functioning on multiple time scales. From 45 seconds on a play clock, to a game every seven days, to the annual draft – NFL organizations must successfully coordinate work on different time scales and at different times of the week, month and year. Analytics and visualizations can help unify these separate entities. Visualizations have the ability to speak loudly to a wide-range of people – all within a football organization. The information will assist decision-makers in this passion-filled sport. Analytics can help limit the possible adverse effects that emotions have on the decision making process.
Included in the business of football is the fan experience – analytics and visualizations can be used within an organization but they also can be created, measured, tracked and presented in a manner to increase the fan experience. That fan experience could be in real-time during a game where the presentation may be in a time history format. Or the fan may be interested in recalling past performances of two teams about to play each other. In both these cases, the analytics would be descriptive. By creating strong visualizations, the information moves away from the quantitative and into the qualitative as presented in GameMaps.
In the next installment, I’ll look more closely at the fit of analytics into the game of football.
Seifert, Kevin. (2015). NFL Teams Are Most Reluctant to Take Advantage of Analytics.
Taken from: www.espn.com.
Costello, Brian. (2015). Meet the “black ops” man behind the Patriots’ success. Taken from: New York Post Website.
Rosenthal, Gregg. (2013). Buffalo Bills to start advanced analytics department. Taken from: http://www.nfl.com.
Mason. (2015). Broncos Blog, Taken from: www.denverbroncos.com.
Belzer, Jason. (2016). Thanks To Roger Goodell, NFL Revenues Projected To Surpass $13 Billion In 2016. Taken from: http://www.forbes.com.