Big Data & Analytics Heroes

Michael North

Senior Director of Broadcast Planning and Scheduling, National Football League (NFL)

Michael North, senior director of broadcast planning and scheduling for the National Football League (NFL) and this week’s Big Data & Analytics Hero, asks the all important question: "How do you…find that one grain of sand?” North shares how they utilize data to deliver compelling match-ups on the best days for viewing with the help of IBM systems

How have big data and analytics impacted how you do your job today?

You know who plays who based on standings and a rotation that we use but who plays when, that's the real job: who’s on Monday night football, Sunday night football, who is on Thanksgiving, who opens at home, who gets the early season bye, who’s traveling to London and so on. How do you find those 20 or 30 best games every year and ensure they land in national television windows where all our fans can watch them, while also ensuring that all 32 team schedules are competitively fared? It's a real challenge

Not that long ago, the league was creating one schedule by hand, each year and that schedule really was the best that we could do. So, about 10 years ago, we started working with IBM in terms of a new solution, a new way to solve a problem for the NFL, and, instantly, we were able to create more and better schedules using IBM software and hardware than what we ever thought would have been possible.

How are big data and analytics changing your business strategy?

The manual process by which we used to create the schedule literally took 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 10 weeks, and we’d really be lucky to get one schedule done. Now, with the software, the hardware and IBM’s help, we’re cranking out dozens of schedules in hours instead of weeks, so insight into what actually goes into a schedule has been a night and day gain for the national football league over the last 10 years. We are considering factors that go into our schedule that we didn’t even think about before, factors we didn’t even know about. Now they are part of the data that helps us determine where to search and find that one needle in the haystack

How will big data and analytics continue to impact your business processes?

The next step for us in terms of the schedule creation process is moving beyond simply the measurables that we know today, such as television ratings. By all means, television is a big driver of our process and our league, but there are a myriad of other metrics that go into what creates a quality NFL season, which include: listenership on radio and online, website traffic, twitter usage, highlights sharing, on demand and, more than anything, attendance. The league has spent a vast amount of time and money developing a tool by which we can analyze each of these schedules, half a million of them now. Where as only ten years ago we might see one, now we’re seeing half a million schedules each one with pros and cons each one with benefits and drawbacks. How do you take the best of each of those schedules, eliminate the worst of them and try to find that one needle in a haystack that one grain of sand? We’ve been very fortunate that IBM has been helping us comb though this beach and find that grain of sand each year.

Capitalize on the big data opportunity within your organization today

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