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The Future of Watching NFL

In Michael Lombardi's book, Gridiron Genius, he has an excellent rant about muting NFL games due to poor announcers. There was almost nothing worst than being excited to watch a game and the first audio to crack through is Phil Simms saying "Well, we talked about this during the week, winning teams run the ball." Thanks Phil...


Not all announcers are an instant mute, like Phil Simms or Dan Fouts. For example, you can turn up the volume when you get Tony Romo, who we thankfully get for this upcoming Super Bowl. Also, for me, Chris Spielman is extremely enjoyable as his passion for the game (especially defense) comes through on most plays.


As analytics drives more into decision making behind the scenes, I'm wondering how it will infiltrate into our television watching experience.


I see it happening in three ways:

1. Next Generation Stats

2. Advanced Metrics, such as Expected Points per Play

3. Formations, Matchups, and Injuries


Next Get Stats

NFL's Next Gen Stats are already making there way into games through AWS ads and this article by Jason Hiner from 2018 gives a great overview of the possibilities.


Player location, speed, acceleration, and a variety of other metrics are being captured since the NFL put RFID chips in players' shoulder pads in 2015. They are now on referees, end zones, and first down markers.


We can imagine how this will lead to a Money Ball approach within football, specialized per player, for free agency. Evaluating a set of WRs with comparable size and contracts? Well what does the Next Gen Stats say about their quickness (acceleration) and separation?


For us watching at home, this means many vague comments such as "This guy is the one of the best in the league at what he does!" can be replaced by "Albert Wilson has the top two catches, in the entire league, of yards after catch above expectation, and those scores were key pieces in victories over Oakland and Chicago." Check it out here with the small set of Next Gen Stats the NFL makes public, the Wilson example is under 'Incredible YAC'.


As people grow more accustomed to the advanced numbers, broadcasts should include them more-and-more to quantify performance and avoid vague commentary.


FYI: Next Get Stat's Twitter just had a great post about how the Rams don't have a LB that con cover Gronk.



Advanced Metrics To Quantify Game Situations and Plays

"This team is 4 of 10 on 3rd down conversions" is a good starting point however what was the distance and situation? A conversion on 3rd and 2 is quiet different than a 3rd a 15 conversion. Also, where was it on the field? A 3rd and 15 at the opponent's 30 may leave the play caller happy to 8 yards and more probable field goal try and a 3rd and 2 from the opponent's 30 that gets stuffed and forces a 50 yard attempt are both different situations.


With sites like FootballOutsiders.com and people like Aaron Schatz, Brian Burke, and Warren Sharp coming up with excellent new ways to measure player and team performance, advanced metrics are becoming common. Advance metrics that become standard, such as DVOA and Expected Points will make there way into NFL games.


Virgil Carter, the QB from the 70s (who was a key reason in why Bill Walsh designed what is now the West Coast Offense), ran the numbers for expected points for every down, distance, and position on the field in his graduate work. More on him in a later post, but as rules have changed the numbers update and give a value to every situation on the field.


While hearing "You can't take a sack there" is insightful, it could be improved with "By not throwing it away, that sack just dropped their expected points from 2.8 to 1.5." It quantifies the impact of each play versus expectation to show the high and lows of decisions and play outcomes.


Formations, Matchups, and Injuries

Part of why listening to Romo call a game is the last second commentary before the ball is snapped. For example, after a receiver goes in motion and the defense shows zone or man coverage, Romo might quickly say "OOOHHH Jim, he's got Gronk one-on-one up. Brady sees it!"


Taking Romo's great comments put you in the QB's spot. They can be elaborated into "James White is on the field and the defense is staying in base. White has a 70% success rate against base! OOOHHHH Jim!"


Finally, when teams lose key players or try to attack a backup on the other side. It is not likely we hear about it. Next Gen Stats or even a few interns monitoring the side line and creating a feed of who is in, the package, and if a key player is sitting out would tell a lot, such as "the Rams D is normally at a 58% stuff rate on 3rd and less than 3 but without Aaron Donald, who just left the game to get checked out, they fall to 17%."



Going Forward

All these stats are not necessary for many fans who passively watch and cheer, and maybe fall asleep on the couch. However, as the data becomes easier to get and present in a clear, concise fashion it will be used more and more. For the folks that want to hear it, for deeper insights or in-game wagering (whether you are the house or the gambler), the data streams will only grow.


As Gary Vaynerchuk mentioned a 24 hours sports channel in future ideas from his excellent book Crush It. I see that channel as being more impactful with new broadcasts that quantify situational data with passionate and insightful commentary. It could easily be streamed on a device, all the while keeping the larger broadcast on mute.


 

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