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Volume 22 No. 19
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Numbers adding up in NFL’s data push

The NFL dipped its toe into the “Big Data” waters last year when it hired Iwao Fusillo from American Express to be senior vice president for data and analytics.

Now, the league is touting marketing results from its new approach and officially filed for a patent to cover how it uses analytics to gain key insights.

“It’s a generally known trend that sports and entertainment don’t have the same level of sophistication [that] financial services, health care or telecom has in data and analytics,” Fusillo said. “Most sports and entertainment companies are satisfied by taking a more traditional focus on game attendance, meaning ticket purchases and merchandise purchases as a measure of fan engagement, and they stop there.”

Since Fusillo came on board, he has structured the NFL’s data and analytics into three areas: marketing to fans, making the game safer to play, and programming linear, digital and social media.

On the marketing side, Fusillo started to pull information for television and digital viewership, in addition to game attendance and merchandise purchases, to figure out the best ways to get fans to sign up for Game Pass or fantasy.

“We believe this is a first in being able to pull all of those insights together both for the NFL and more broadly across any of the sports leagues,” he said. “In the 2018 season, which was our first season using this new method, we saw significant uplift in our marketing effectiveness — in fact, a doubling of response rates in the direct marketing arena. If you look outside the sports and entertainment industry, it’s almost unheard of to see a doubling of response rates. Usually direct marketers are fighting for 10 to 20 percent improvements.”

Results were even gaudier when the league partnered with individual clubs, Fusillo said. “The average return on investment when we partnered with clubs with this new capability was north of 300 percent,” he said.

On the media side, Fusillo’s team is collaborating with colleges such as Queen’s University in Canada on various projects. “We are using TV viewership data and a number of other data points that we have here at the NFL to figure out how to best rank different programming options for the different windows,” he said.

Fusillo launched an NFL Punt Analytics Competition at the Super Bowl and an NFL Big Data Bowl at this year’s combine to come up with ways to improve player safety and develop different ways to play and coach the game.

“If you think about financial services, health care or telecom, every interaction that a corporation has with its consumers is directly recorded,” he said. “In sports and entertainment, some interactions are recorded, a ticket purchase, a merchandise purchase. Others that are extremely important to our industry are not recorded at an individual level, like TV viewership and digital streaming.

“The uplift that we did for the 2018 season was quite significant. But we are filling in, particularly around ticketing, merchandising and viewership, even more insights than we have today. In two seasons’ time, we’ll be quite world class at this.”