How Big Data Is Changing Football on and off the Field

Published September 12, 2013   |   
Thor Olavsrud

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.

“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.”

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.

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