Apr 25 2013

The Growing Role of Sports Analytics in the NFL

Business intelligence is key to improving a professional football team’s chance of winning.

When most people think about the elements that fuel success in professional sports, few might stop to think about the role business intelligence plays in helping teams craft winning strategies.

The NFL is betting big on sports analytics. Representatives from more than half of the NFL teams were sent to the Sports Analytics Conference at MIT Sloan this year and many teams have created departments dedicated to studying all kinds of analytics, including player injuries and game planning, according to a report from the Houston Chronicle.

The idea of using data and statistics is hardly new in sports. After all, kids have been keeping track of baseball players’ statistics through trading cards since as far back as the 1930s. And high school football teams have been rolling film projectors into classrooms and studying game footage of the opposing team for years.

But there’s no denying that sports data is an entirely different beast today. The speed with which game data can be accessed is approaching real time and the amount of information available is unparalleled.

Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak believes there’s been a huge shift in the last decade when it comes to data-driven decision making in the NFL.

“I know as a coach we go back and look at everything that's available to us going into the next season. I prepare our whole training camp off of the time we spent on the goal line and in the red zone. I think it's getting more and more involved,” he said to the Chronicle. “Obviously, there's much better information for us nowadays than there was 10 or 15 years ago and we need to use it.”

In the startup world, there are a number of companies that have sprung up to help professional sports harness data in a more meaningful way. For example, SportsData provides accurate, instant, play-by-play data that is accessed by major customers like NBC Sports and Bloomberg Sports.

As technology and sports become increasingly intertwined, the old stereotype of jocks and geeks living on different planets is becoming ancient history. More than ever, the NFL is turning to so-called geeks to provide the insights and technology needed to boost their on-field performanceThis includes everything from using digital playbooks on tablets to accessing state-of-the-art analytics tools that slice and dice nearly every variable of the game.

Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but what if wearable tech and big data could be combined into some kind of Google Glass-like smart football helmet? The race to tackle tech on the gridiron couldn't be in a more exciting place.

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ajguel/5218689969/sizes/l/">AJ Gruel Photography/Flickr</a>

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