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NFL To Focus on Fan Data for Revenue

The NFL already has plenty of data for its product, but it wants more, and wants to see it used better. To help it out, the league has tapped former Ford Motor executive Paul Ballew to be its new chief data and analytics officer, according to CNBC. Ballew will be in charge of the NFL’s advanced metrics and will also help league teams better capitalize on fan engagement and in-stadium experiences. In addition, he will pitch in to help improve player health.

NFL Looks to Capitalize More on its Fans

By some estimates, the NFL lost $4 billion in revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which canceled fan participation at games. However, national partnerships buoyed the league, allowing it to collect around $1 billion in sponsorships, according to consulting and valuation firm. Despite the absence of fan attendance at games, the NFL earned $1.62 billion in 2020 through these deals, compared with the $1.47 billion it earned a year earlier.

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More money is on the table, though, and Ballew wants to help the league get it. He told CNBC in an interview this week that the NFL has untapped partnership deals it hasn’t explored that focus on efficient stats around protecting players and studying consumer activity on game days. He added, “There is a great opportunity to improve the fan engagement even further and make it more personal. That’s what marketing is all about these days – it’s about personalization.”

Ballew’s Successful Track Record in Data

Ballew left Ford in 2019 and moved to Canadian food retailer Loblaw Cos. There, he was in charge of the company’s data and analytics division, and his combined experience is expected to give the NFL a huge boost. In joining the league, he takes over for Iwao Fusillo, a former league executive who switched to General Motors. Ballew reports to Chris Halpin, the NFL’s chief strategy and growth officer. “It’s a sign of our commitment to data analytics and our view that’s essential in a digital world,” Halpin said of hiring Ballew.

The NFL gets its data and analytics stats from Amazon and data capture tech company Zebra. Both are publicly traded with multibillion-dollar valuations. Ballew told CNBC that his primary goal is to keep players healthy, which he asserts can be accomplished using the league’s internal metrics. He will also be responsible for creating new ticketing models and game scheduling, as well as creating greater sponsorship values in accordance with fan activity.

Big Data is Driving All Industries

Entering a post-COVID-19 environment, even as more cases begin to emerge, companies in all industries are beginning to focus more on data metrics that are derived from consumer activity. Previously, the focus had been on the use of simple demographic information, including gender, age, location, etc. The NFL is no exception and is getting support from league teams. The San Francisco 49ers are participating in a data study, having partnered with software company SAP to analyze metrics around their stadium activity.

The NFL also wants to help its network partners maximize impressions and improve advertising dollars, a goal it will achieve through a $100-billion media rights deal it secured earlier this year. NFL content is already asking around $6 million for Super Bowl ads, and that is likely to increase with the help of improved metrics.

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“That’s one of the outcomes of doing this better – you improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our partners, whether that’s sponsorships, media, in-game activities, all those things that go along with it,” Ballew asserts. “A great data analytics organization is not there just to measure but to help partners continue to improve efficiency and activation of their sponsorships,” he added.

The NFL also hopes to glean more insight into data coming from sports betting and has teamed up with tech firm Genius Sports for that purpose. It is now able to receive and distribute enhanced metrics to sportsbooks, including FanDuel, DraftKings and others, which will enhance sports wagers. It will also help Genius recuperate its investment in the NFL.

Erik is a writer and a sports nut who has had the good fortune to be able to experience a wide variety of world sports action up close and personal. He enjoys staying on top of the changing world of athletics and capitalizing on his writing skills to offer a unique take on what's going on in the ever-changing athletics ecosystem.

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