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April 27, 2016

What the NFL Teaches Us About Business Intelligence

Marius Moscovici

When people think of leaders in business intelligence, the National Football League probably isn’t the first to come to mind. After all, the league just hired its first chief information officer three years ago, and it’s more well-known for bone-crunching hits than for information technology.

Appearances can be deceiving, however. Today, the NFL is reshaping itself to look more like an enterprise technology company than a traditional corporation, and early results are promising. If the company that provides America’s most popular viewing experience can use business intelligence to improve its product and engage its customers, then other businesses should follow suit.

Data on the Gridiron

Data and technology are already reshaping the game of football on the field, in the weight room, and in the classroom.

Since the dawn of professional football, coaches have relied on intuition and stopwatches to gauge player improvement, but motion sensors now provide more accurate, trackable results. Radio-frequency identification chips in shoulder pads and around stadiums provide real-time location data regarding player movements. The data gathered from this technology let coaches analyze  player statistics in minutes, rather than hours, saving time in the film room and creating more opportunities to strategize for next week’s game.

Beyond strategy, improving technology could eventually allow coaches to track players’ biometrics and avert injuries. Off the field, the NFL recently began the transfer of every player’s medical records to a digital format to make recording and following injuries faster and more secure.



Coaches aren’t the only ones benefiting from the new technology. The NFL and Microsoft partnered up to the tune of $400 million over five years to bring the experience of interactive stats to fans as well. Through portals such as Xbox One’s NFL app, users get access to the Next Gen Stats platform that allows them to follow the paths a receiver takes on his routes and see the top speed of a running back’s breakaway touchdown. It’s like playing Madden NFL — only it’s real.

All this is made possible by the NFL’s partnerships with Zebra, the company building the sensors and devices, and Amazon, which hosts the live game data on its servers. Amazon then sends the data to coaches for later analysis, to fans for instant advanced replays, and to broadcasters for in-depth analyses from the booth on game day.

The league plans to continue to improve the tools it uses to deliver this new information — along with the delivery system itself. As the league irons out the kinks, it wants to target its biggest fans by monetizing its data further, giving the ones most interested in the sport the closest access to the information.

Reading the Playbook

What can other businesses learn from the NFL’s example?

With transparency becoming more important for businesses, adopting big data and then disseminating it to consumers through subscription services demonstrates a company’s willingness to be open. It will also help the business weed out its most dedicated customers for maximum return on investment in the long run.



If businesses truly wish to compete, they should aggressively adopt big data and invest in the necessary tools to monitor it. If the NFL has to use data to gain the attention of its fans, then what chances do other businesses have of surviving without gathering business intelligence?

And if nothing else, businesses need to understand the importance of data-driven decision-making. Better collection of data allows for objective analysis of personnel and performance, which not even the most unbiased manager can claim.

With the right data, businesses can even improve consumer and worker safety (as the NFL plans to do for its players). Injury prevention data aren’t just for hospitals. Owners of large vehicle fleets deal with accidents, and with accidents come injuries. Business intelligence can follow accident trends and help businesses reduce the dangerous situations their employees face. Major insurance companies already use big data to analyze their risks, so why shouldn’t companies look to those information streams to help reduce their own?

The NFL might look like a modern-day Colosseum of gladiators, but under the surface of the game lies a powerful, data-centric enterprise technology leader. Companies looking for innovators don’t always have to turn toward Silicon Valley; the NFL has a strategy, and with its early successes and promising future, this game plan might well end up in Canton, Ohio.



About the author: Marius Moscovici is the founder and CEO of Metric Insights. He founded the company in 2010 to transform the way business intelligence is performed so organizations of any size can quickly and easily deploy powerful analytics. Marius has more than 20 years of experience in analytics and data warehousing and was previously the co-founder and CEO of Integral Results, a leading business intelligence consulting company that was acquired by Idea Integration.


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