NFL Champions Big Data, Analytics in Professional Sports

In November last year Dr. Jeff Dominitiz, an economist with a lifelong passion for football, came forward with a tale of the how the N.F.L. tried, and miserably failed, to get with the times and make better use of modern analytics tools.

An N.F.L. team approached Dominitiz in 2006 and offered him the opportunity of a lifetime: analyzing player statistics for a pro team.  Within seven weeks, he was already looking for another job.

The PhD described how he was assigned to a solitary cubicle in the building that housed the marketing department, and that the coach was only made aware of the hire after the contract was signed, for fear that he would object to the higher-ups’ shot at converting data into decisions.

“It can’t just be money,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s got to be some concern about the impact on the rest of the organization. You could see it in them putting me in the marketing building, trying to have as little impact on the rest of the organization as possible.”

In Dominitiz’s days, the unnamed team that hired him was just another organization desperately clinging on to an outdated business model and a legacy of “gut feeling” assessments.  But in 2013, the N.F.L is now a shining example of how an industry can turn things around and make the most out of new business tools.

Teams are processing player data and viewer reactions to boost results on the field and grow the bottom line, while independent sites offer real-time game statistics for their visitors. Brian Bruke’s Advanced NFL Stats , Football Outsiders, Juice Analytics  and even ESPN offer visualized insight churned out by some of the very data scientists you’ll see at the Sports HackDay contest on Super Bowl weekend.

The hackathon will pit statisticians and developers against each other in a competition to win tickets for the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, a $600 value reward.

Football is not the only professional sport benefiting from Big Data: baseball is also shaped by this trend, according to MLB Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. John Furrier and Wikibon’s Dave Vellante interviewed Mr. October at SAP SAPphire 2012 and covered all the data-driven changes that are happening on the field (see the full video below).

Just three months later at VMworld, MLB IT director Cindy Cortel also made an appearance on theCube and provided us a unique a glimpse into her work.  She told SiliconAngle what her department has been up to in recent years, what kind of equipment they’re using, and the trends she deems most disruptive. Big Data was high on her list; a priority also shared by Formula One’s engineering team.