The origins of American Football date back to the 1860’s. The National Football League (NFL), which was created in 1922, is the entity that organizes the sport of American Football into 32 teams that millions of people watch. Simply put, the business model of the NFL is to provide fans with access to American Football in exchange for money. In 2016, the total revenue of the National Football League (NFL) is predicted to be over $7 billion. The two primary channels through which it makes money are ticket sales and broadcasting rights sales. These are the two pillars of the operating model, or the way the NFL delivers its value proposition to its customers, the viewers. Of these two pillars, the majority of the revenue comes from broadcasting rights sales. Digitization is affecting the NFL in many ways including coaching strategy, player safety, and player development. However, given that the largest slice of the revenue comes from broadcasting rights sales, it is appropriate to look at the implications of digitization on the viewing experience. In short, digitization and the Internet of things is revolutionizing the way viewers consume American Football.
More traditional digitization (i.e. camera quality, streaming capability, etc.) has already changed the operating model by enhancing the television viewing experience through an increasingly impressive array of cameras that make it almost better to watch football at home on a television. This has resulted in more viewers, which eventually results in more money from broadcasters. Additionally, viewers are brought further into the game with instant replays and more reviews of plays, inciting emotion and active debate, which make the viewing experience more visceral (the Dez Bryant play of the 2011 Cowboys-Packers divisional playoff anyone?? Read about it HERE. Watch it HERE). Finally, game streaming, drone cameras, and goal line pylon cameras are all technology improvements that have enhanced the viewing experience.
Recently, however, a movement toward digitization and an Internet of Things has hit the NFL. The biggest recent change has been the installation of RFID chips in all NFL player pads (and in some player mouthpieces). These chips transmit the player’s position, speed, acceleration, and distance traveled 85 times per second to an embedded stadium sensor system that records the data for analysis.  These data are first utilized by broadcasters, who can integrate them into real-time game analysis. The data is also instantaneously transmitted to the on-field medical staff in case of an injury. Finally, the data are recorded for use by coaches, players, and eventually fans. Digitization is also affecting players more than ever with things like advanced helmet communications and advanced data analytics software. These digital additions significantly alter the NFL’s operating model because it allows for the football experience to be delivered in a new, interactive way. For example, the data gained from these chips can be integrated into fantasy football applications and can feed real-time stat trackers that fans use to follow their favorite players. Furthermore, these advances also enhance player safety which further ensures the relevance of football in the future. Finally, these digital innovations help the players and coaches perform better by arming them with extraordinarily useful strategic statistics. Digitization is enhancing the business model by strengthening the viewer relationship with the game and arming the relevant stakeholders with more data to provide a more compelling football experience.
These advances are just the beginning, and the NFL can take additional steps to further upgrade the viewing experience. For example, with the development of high-speed streaming capability, the NFL could introduce helmet cameras to bring the viewers literally on the field to see what it’s like to run through the offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys or what it’s like to throw a 70-yard bomb to Jordy Nelson. Another way to bring the Internet of things to the fingertips of the viewers is to provide real-time, in-game, access to nontraditional player data. Examples include player speed, acceleration, force of a hit, or force of a block. Imagine a lifelong Seahawks fan being able to track Russell Wilson’s speed, real time, when he scrambles out of the pocket. To have that access would only strengthen the appeal of football to potential fans.
The NFL has an opportunity to take its business model of delivering a compelling football game to interested viewers to an entirely new and interactive level. Digitization provides tools and data for both sides of the value proposition – the fans and the teams. The digitization of the NFL is a virtuous cycle. It will lead to an even greater capability of teams to execute their strategy by increasing player safety and coaching effectiveness, and it will strengthen the relationship between the viewers and the game-all leading to happier players and happier fans. Go Bears. (794 words)
 The National Football League, “Chronology of Professional Football” (PDF file), downloaded from NFL website, http://static.nfl.com/static/content/public/image/history/pdfs/History/2013/353-372-Chronology.pdf, accessed November 15, 2016.
 Bloomberg, “NFL Revenue Reaches $7.1 Billion Based on Green Bay Report,” http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-24/nfl-revenue-reaches-7-1-billion-based-on-green-bay-report, accessed November 16, 2016.
 Harvard Sports Analysis, “The NFL’s Current Business Model and the Potential 2011 Lockout” (PDF file), downloaded from https://harvardsportsanalysis.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/the-nfl-business-model-and-potential-lockout.pdf, accessed November 15, 2016.
 Statista, “TV Viewership of the Super Bowl in the United States from 1990 to 2016,” https://www.statista.com/statistics/216526/super-bowl-us-tv-viewership/, accessed November 18, 2016.
 Fox Sports, “Dez Braynt’s Crazy, Controversial No-Catch Happened One Year Ago Today,” http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/one-year-ago-today-dez-bryant-didn-t-catch-it-against-the-packers-011116, accessed November 18, 2016.
 Geekwire, “NFL adopts startup’s technology to detect concussions in real time,” http://www.geekwire.com/2012/nfl-concussion-software-created-seattle-tech-company/, accessed November 18, 2016.
 Datafloq, “The NFL Gets into the Internet of Things Game,” https://datafloq.com/read/the-nfl-gets-into-the-internet-of-things-game/1593, accessed November 17, 2016.