How Big Data Is Changing Football on and off the Field

Big data is rapidly transforming the way we think, work and play. It is helping enterprises use their data to improve their processes, recognize anomalies and better connect with customers. The power of data is changing everything, often without our realizing it is happening. Case in point: football (and fantasy football in particular).

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Thu, September 12, 2013

CIO — While most sports fans probably think baseball—and more precisely, Moneyball—when considering sports and data, there is a quiet data revolution that has been percolating in the world of football for some time. Data is driving player training, play calling and staffing.

"When I played football, I was one of those guys, I thought it was all about just sweat and tears," says NFL legend and Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, former wide receiver with the San Francisco 49ers.

Big Data and Football

"I mean just going hardcore every day. But with the new technology that they have out there now, with the wearable technology, you could be smarter. It's going to monitor your heart. It's also going to tell you the distance that you have run and also it's going to tell you the calories and stuff like that," says Rice. "So now you have trainers that can design a fitness program that's going to be conducive to you, where you can prevent injuries and do all that stuff. I didn't do it that way, but I think the guys should take advantage of that."

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Teams are also using big data technology to guide their decision-making on the field. For instance, by tracking personnel formations, run-pass distributions by field segment and repeated and successful play tendencies, teams can determine which areas of the field are leading to greater success. They can then call plays that target those areas of the field.

Big Data Transforms the Television Viewing Experience

Perhaps one of the most noticeable effects of big data has been the transformation of the television viewer experience. Sensors all over the field are constantly streaming data that allow broadcasters to instantly show viewers the line of scrimmage and first down line.

The system requires highly accurate 3D maps of the field, the capability to sense the movement of cameras and their orientation all over the field and accept data streams from them all simultaneously and to sense when objects—including players and referees—cross those lines so the lines aren't painted over them.

"Instant replay, back in the day when I played, it was slow," Rice adds. "It was so slow that the team that had the ball, it took away the momentum from that team. Now you look at instant replay, it's so much faster and it's going to ensure that the officials make the right call at the right time. Look at tennis, what's going on with tennis. They have cameras that can follow the trajectory of the ball and also sensors on the line that can determine if the ball hit the line or if it went long."

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