How Far Data Has Come In Football Today

A few weeks ago we met with Jason Danielson, NetApp’s media and entertainment expert and Jonathan Kelly NetApp’s sports business solution architect to talk about data in sports and how it is changing the game in a variety of ways. With football season kicking into high gear, we figured there is no better time to look into how data will affect this year’s football season.

We talked before about how data is driving change in many types of sports at many levels. When we look specifically at football, why is data rapidly impacting the sport?

ANSWER: The impact of data to sports is such a relevant topic when you consider football because of the scale, investment and eyeballs on the game. It is heavily watched and data is used in so many ways from players, coaches, broadcasters, spectators, etc. Without data, football would be much less interactive and the fan experience would be dramatically different. In addition, game day analysis (coaching and scouting) would be severely crippled. The list goes on and on. Similar to what we talked about with the World Cup and the Tour de France, data is changing almost every aspect of football today. 

Let’s talk about history and where we are today. How is data leveraged currently for football players, teams, leagues, future players, etc.?

ANSWER: The easiest way to answer is with specific examples:

Game day analysis: In sports, not only is data used to find better players, but also to determine how they will perform. For example, coaching and scouting of current or new talent as well as pinpointing how a player moves against a particular opponent. These are just two popular uses of data today that were not possible in the past and are more widely known because of the movie Moneyball. In addition, many data provision services work with professional teams to supply analytics and numbers that influence their transfer strategies and purchasing decisions. The technology that enables this is critical to future forward business decisions for the teams.

Broadcast sports production: We see this all the time when watching. The data for spectator programming, replays, etc. brings viewers more value add, cool game data facts, and relevant real-time data sourced by broadcasters. 2014's Super Bowl XLVIII holds the record for total number of U.S. viewers, attracting 111.5 million viewers, making the game the most-viewed television broadcast of any kind in American history. That is data at record levels and an amazing opportunity for broadcasters. There is a lot of effort put into making the game available to those watching it live or those watching it remotely. The spectator data piece is newer and becoming very popular bringing an almost “Internet of Things” approach to sports today. 

Fans: The lifeblood of sports, they are spectators at the event and they are viewers at home, or on the go. How many fans watch football yearly? On average, 80 to 90 million people from the United States are tuned into the Super Bowl at any given moment. Similar to what we saw during other sporting events this year, fans are leveraging online social media more than ever to participate in the game and to share images, updates, etc. Fan engagement, even with players, using data is skyrocketing each year. Player tracker systems will let fans go deeper than ever to follow their players and become a part of the game throughout the season. All of this is often shared on many types of social networking sites. Just the videos uploaded alone are huge increases in the use of data today.

Game-day analysis is a hot topic, can you shed some additional perspective on how data is used in this instance?

ANSWER: In each game during the regular season, players want knowledge of the game and information on each team they face. Unless they take advantage of powerful real-time data to help plan plays, etc. all they have is instinct and the advice of their coach. Instead, players want to exploit gaps and holes in the other team’s defense, while simultaneously exploiting their own strengths. They want to do this in real time, on the biggest stage in live sports. The interesting thing with football as with other sports is that success and failure are immediately recognized on execution. Therefore, any data available to help ensure play is successful becomes extremely valuable.

In fact, this year, NFL players will wear sensors in hopes of gaining data to help augment the stadium experience. Although this will not be perfected for this season, the goal is to leverage this data coming out of live games for the future in many ways. This is an example of the Internet of Things and how it is impacting sports today.

Can you elaborate on what NetApp is doing with the NFL and how the NFL in particular is leveraging data or IT for the game?

ANSWER: While millions around the world follow the action on the field, the NFL works behind the scenes to provide continuous availability of critical game-day data managing challenges similar to those of many enterprise businesses—reliability, data protection, agility, and efficiency.

Take the Super Bowl XLVIII for example. NetApp provided the infrastructure essential to support the security credentialing of Super Bowl XLVIII personnel, covering everyone from the vendors working the stands to the world’s media covering every aspect of the game. The Super Bowl XLVIII staff needed real-time access to the parts of the stadium they were credentialed for, and there was simply no room for downtime or infrastructure problems. NetApp provided the storage stability and dependability needed for such a critical infrastructure.