Going Long: How Football is Taking Advantage of Big Data

Football fans, celebrate! The NFL season is back in full swing, and this year is shaping up to be the most exciting one yet. A big reason for that? The continued rise of big data within the sport.

In 2014, the NFL partnered with Zebra Technologies to create the “Zebra Sports Solution,” a program that captures high-speed player data and converts it into real-time statistics. Now, all 32 NFL franchises now use this technology. Players wear radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips in their shoulder pads and other tracking devices are installed throughout the stadium. These devices keep track of things like player motion, distance, and how far a ball is thrown. Installing sensors within game balls has only been used in the exhibition Pro Bowl and preseason games so far, but as teams get more comfortable with the data they’re receiving, it seems likely that game ball chips will become commonplace.

Coaches can use this data to make better decisions on the field. Maybe an opponent runs 75 percent of their plays to the right side of the field. A coach can make sure the defense shifts over that way. Or perhaps the opposing defense tends to get antsy and jumps offside more often than other opponents. A coach can instruct his quarterback to use creative snap counts to try and get some free yardage. Coaching staffs already watch hundreds of hours of video every month; having these additional insights may just help put them over the edge when it comes to securing a victory.

Big data is playing a major role in addressing safety issues, too. Riddell developed its InSite Impact Response System to alert coaches and athletic trainers when a player sustains significant single or multiple impacts during a game. Sensor pads are placed inside the helmet and linked with an alert monitor, which provides an easily-accessible database of information around player alerts. Each unit is also configured to the player’s skill level and position. The NFL hasn’t yet adopted these sensors, but as the league puts added emphasis on player safety, expect to see more developments in helmets and other equipment.

In the broadcast booth, these insights can create a better overall viewing experience. The Zebra Sports Solution integrates with graphics systems to showcase data during both live broadcasts and replays. Broadcasters can also use the insights to strengthen a point they’re making. For example, if data shows a team rarely passes on first down, an announcer knows to expect a run and can focus more on the interior play of the offensive line.

You don’t even have to be on the field to dive into this bevy of information, either. The NFL offers the same database to fans for a fee – die-hard stat geeks can keep tabs on every single player in the league as they craft the perfect fantasy football team. Want to know the percentage of passes Saints quarterback Drew Brees throws that travel more than 20 yards in the air? Curious how quickly the Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. gets off the line of scrimmage? If that sounds like paradise, you’ll have plenty of fun digging into the data before game day.

On the field, this data is delivered to teams through the cloud. The cloud can provide these big data solutions via a rapidly available platform that can scale with demand and make compute and storage changes as the project evolves.  Astute observers may have noticed staffs using Microsoft Surface Pro tablets on the sidelines to digest information in real-time. In addition to providing statistical updates, coaches can get multiple angles of a play via replays and can take a look at players’ speed and location.

The gridiron isn’t the only place where big data can thrive. Having the support of an MSP to help unpack and analyze all of the data at your fingertips can bring any enterprise to the next level. And you don’t even need to wear uncomfortable shoulder pads to take advantage of it.

David Lucky is a Product Marketing leader at Rackspace for the Managed Public Cloud services group, a global business unit focused on delivering end-to-end digital transformation services on AWS, Azure, GCP and Alibaba. David came to Rackspace from Datapipe where as Director of Product Management for six years he led product development in building services to help enterprise clients leverage managed IT services to solve complex business challenges. David has unique insight into the latest product developments for private, public and hybrid cloud platforms and a keen understanding of industry trends and their impact on business development. He holds an engineering degree from Lehigh University and is based out of Jersey City, NJ. You can follow David on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/davidlucky and Twitter @Luckys_Blog.