Help us win: Analytics in football and business

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As I have mentioned in a previous blog post and webinar, I am a big fan of the interplay between sports and scientific analysis. I am also a life-long fan of the Denver Broncos. So, it is no surprise that I am ecstatic over the Denver Broncos being one of the latest teams to hire a Director of Analytics, Mitch Tanney.

Analytics has been slower to penetrate football than many other sports for a number of reasons: Complex interrelationships among positions, long tenure of coaches and ownership reduces innovation, traditional lack of in-game data for most positions, financial success of all teams, etc. We are beginning to see that change, and I think there are a lot of parallels between the use of analytics in football and in complex business-to-business organizations. Some of these were nicely highlighted in this interview with Mitch Tanney, the new Director of Analytics for the Denver Broncos.

Here are three take-aways from Mr. Tanney’s interview that offer great perspective on successfully integrating analytics into any organization:

  1. “Help us win”: This is how Tanney describes the role of analytics for the Broncos. It is another piece of the puzzle to help coaches and management to make better, more informed decisions that will yield more wins. It can’t be a silver bullet that magically makes all other knowledge obsolete. It can’t be something for geeks to sit around and argue about. Key decision makers have to truly believe that analytics can help them win, or it can’t succeed. 
  2. Leverage the Innovators: Everything big starts small. Innovative ideas start well outside the mainstream. Find those people already innovating, whether they are in your company or not, and work with their ideas and passion to prove how analytics can be useful to your company. Tanney mentions all the good ideas he gathered from grad students, professors, and hobbyists while attending the MIT Sports Analytics conference recently. These are the people who have helped prove the power of analytics in football.
  3. Find new and better data. Data is the crude oil of analytics success. You can’t power the analytics engine without data, and you need to continually find new sources if you want it to keep running. Taney points out that 17-19 stadiums were equipped with payer tracking technology last year. This type of data is going to be necessary to extend the value analytics can have in football. What are new data points that would help your organization win more?

I believe these three things are very interrelated. The ultimate goal is always #1, but in order to prove it to management (and to keep proving it), we need to focus on #2 and #3. I wish you luck on your journey, and I hope to see the Broncos leverage analytics to stay at the top of the league!   

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