When the Oakland Athletics first pioneered their “Moneyball” approach to baseball, they received a fair amount of scepticism. Today, however, using data to help you assemble the right team and get to know your opponents has become an ubiquitous approach across many different sports. We’ve reported on its use in basketball, football– and now, the NFL has spoken out about how emerging technology is changing the face of American football.
The first change? The NFL has its own CIO, Michelle McKenna-Doyle. “For the first time in its history, the NFL really decided it needed a CIO about two years ago, two-and-a-half years ago,” McKenna-Doyle stated at a conference on Friday. “It had various heads of IT that did various pieces and parts, but we had a very disparate technology footprint across our digital businesses and our sort of corporate, back-of-house type of businesses.” Like alot of CIOs, McKenna Doyle has overseen a shift from systems to services, from the mainframe, to a client-server model, and finally into cloud computing. “Believe it or not we still had some old applications that not that long ago were recently migrated,” she remarks. “Now, we’re all living in this third platform, which is really around all the analytics, big data, making sure it all runs on the cloud and the Internet of things.”
Although to say the NFL has been working with big data for a short amount of time would be inexact. Like many large institutions, the NFL have had big data for years, before big data became the buzzword it is today. What they perhaps didn’t have until recently was an understanding of just what this data could do for them. McKenna-Doyle outlined some of the ways the NFL are using data and new technologies to change the game, which included:
- NFL Vision- A data-driven platform which provides teams with data that can optimise scouting programs and provide insights into opposing teams. NFL Vision contains videos for each and every reported statistic; an agreement with the NCAA was recently struck, so that the Vision platform will now also include clips from the players’ college days. The public can also gain access to NFL Vision for a premium- something which die-hard fantasy team managers will undoubtedly be excited about.
- “NFL Now”- Although not yet officially named, “NFL Now” refers to a customisable app which will aggregate content on a particular user’s favourite teams and present them as a personalised channel. The app is expected to be released over the summer.
- Digitised Medical Records- In compliance with the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), all of the players’ medical records are now electronic. McKenna-Doyle highlights that whilst it’s not the most glamorous of these initiatives, it was a major and significant undertaking for the NFL.
- On Field and Sideline Technologies- McKenna-Doyle highlighted this field as a considerable focus of hers. “It’s a very crowded RF space in these stadiums and it’s not getting any better,” she remarked. “Frequency coordination, and continuing to develop these communication systems and have them encrypted, is a big part of my job.” Work in this field includes establishing wireless communication between coaches and players, and establishing a communications infrastructure which will seamlessly involve the league office in New York with all instant-replay decisions.
- Bye Bye Binders- Even casual observers of American Football will have noticed coaches and players consulting a binder of still photos of the last set of plays before a player hits the field. But these binders are on their way out, slowly being replaced by Microsoft Surface tablets. Although only still photos are currently permitted, it’s possible that coaches and players will be able to access video content from the sidelines in future
These innovations will change the game for everyone- for players, coaches and enthusiasts alike.