The NFL serves 32 teams with Tableau Online

The NFL’s media department tracks media analytics for all 32 teams. In the following videos, Business Intelligence and Optimization Senior Analyst, Allison Brown, explains how with Tableau Online, NFL’s digital managers can view real-time dashboards, providing one source of truth and facilitating greater collaboration between teams.

The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NFL organization.

The National Football League oversees America’s most popular spectator sport. The NFL’s media department is responsible for digital and traditional media analytics for the league's 32 teams. The NFL’s media team wanted to bring all 32 teams’ data together in one place without having to worry about server maintenance and infrastructure. They also needed a system that could keep up with the fans—with refreshed data delivered daily.

In video 1, Allison Brown, Senior Analyst, discusses how Tableau Online allows digital managers to see their teams’ data in one place. 90 percent of clubs log into Tableau Online at least once a week to view their data.

In video 2, Allison talks about how the media department can identify high-performing content, so they can use similar strategies across the league. With only a 17-week season, timeliness is huge. With Tableau, they can view media data in a scatter plot and immediately detect outliers.

Tableau: Can you explain your job at the NFL?
Allison Brown, Senior Analyst, Business Intelligence and Optimization: My team works for the media department at the NFL primarily. So we support all of digital and traditional media analytics for the league as well as the 32 teams.

Tableau: How have the teams reacted to Tableau?
Allison: The Green Bay Packers analytics person started clapping on the phone when we showed him the Tableau dashboard. The Philadelphia Eagles sent us an e-mail and said, "Man, Tableau is awesome." We had a couple more e-mails from other clubs and even within the league saying how great it was and what a big step it was for our digital reporting on clubs.

Tableau: What has Tableau allowed you to do?
Allison: So Tableau has helped us by letting us bring all of our data together in one place for all of our 32 teams. Each of the digital managers on the teams has access to our Tableau Online platform. And they log in and see all of their data in one place.

Tableau: Why did you choose Tableau Online?
Allison: We didn't want to have to rely on someone else in our company to set up our infrastructure and our servers and manage them. We wanted to be able to kind of control that by ourselves. And Tableau Online really enabled us to have complete control and now have to worry about server maintenance and infrastructure building and all that stuff.

And it's also one source of truth. So if people are trying to pull their own data sometimes, they might use slightly different parameters or whatever. And for us to be able to make it static and present it in Tableau and have everyone be looking at the same exact thing is very powerful for us.

Tableau: What other benefits have you experienced from Tableau Online?
Allison: Having the online piece and the mobile piece is really important because we do have a timeliness issue that we have to address. We don't want to put content out there that's a couple weeks behind. We want to know right away if a piece of content performed well. And it's almost useless for us to find out a couple weeks later that a piece of content performed well.

And these are things that, you know, people say, "Oh, why do you need real time? Are any decisions really being made in real time?"

And the answer is yes. We're changing things every single day. If you are an NFL fan, you probably know that from going to any of the team sites or the league sites—constantly, constantly posting content.

Tableau: How many people are accessing the Tableau Online media dashboard?
Allison: We've seen that 90 percent of the clubs have logged in once a week to our Tableau Online platform to check their dashboard and their stats.

Tableau: How would you describe Tableau to someone new to it?
Allison: When I've talked to other people about Tableau, I usually bring up just the inherent data visualization capabilities. So just having that built in and you can actually use it without having any knowledge of data visualization at all. It kind of does it for you. So I think that's a really strong selling point for Tableau and one of the great uses for it compared to other tools in the realm.

We've seen that 90 percent of the clubs have logged in once a week to our Tableau Online platform to check their dashboard and their stats.

Bringing data teamwork to the NFL with Tableau Online

Tableau: How important is data to your job?
Allison: We see the need and the desire for more data every single day. It's almost more than we can handle. You know, we have to go out and get more resources and I think this is industry wide, but it's becoming kind of the key to digital media and advertising and marketing. Everyone is really pushing towards more and more data-driven decision making.

Tableau: Has collaboration increased?
Allison: The collaboration we're seeing is really just learning from each other and seeing one piece of content performing well in one team and why doesn't another team try it out kind of thing.

And especially across the teams, it really enables them to learn from each other. You know, if one team produces a very engaging piece of content, we can pick that up pretty quickly using our Tableau dashboard and our data platforms and see, okay, this piece of content performed great, so why don't we implement this across the league?

Tableau: Can you give an example?
Allison: Okay, so one example was that one of the teams implemented a 53-man roster photo gallery at the beginning of the season. And this was something new that the clubs had not previously done.

And we saw that really quickly in Tableau visually on a scatter plot, that that piece of content was standing out. This was something that would have been almost impossible to pick out before we had Tableau.

So that was cool just to be able to even see that piece of content stand out right away without any data mining, without any work. Because we picked that out so quickly, we were able to tell the other clubs, hey, this piece of content really performed well. And they were able to go ahead and implement that before the start of the season.

So it was very timely. They didn't have to wait a month to figure out what the best content was. They had it almost right away and were able to create great content for their team as well as the first team who did it.

Tableau: And what’s the impact of that data visualization?
Allison: The impact of being able to pull those pieces of data out so quickly is really the timeliness. The NFL moves very quickly. We have 17 weeks of the season. And if you miss something, you know, it maybe doesn't make sense to put it out there a few weeks later.

So I think the timeliness is a big impact, but also just keeping our fans informed with the kind of things that they want to see. So we know that our fans really like to be up to date on who's on the team, who's playing this week, what are the injury updates? Are there new coaching changes? We know that our fans want to be able to look at their friend and talk about these things. So being able to see that reflected in the data analysis of the content is also very important for us.

Tableau: Where does your data live?
Allison: Right now, we're just using Adobe Analytics, their API into Excel. But it's not really a best practice. So we definitely want to get that into a database. But we are building out a SQL Server database to host this data and we have a couple different plans. But we hope to primarily power this through SQL Server.

Tableau: Has using Tableau enhanced your creativity?
Allison: Yeah. Definitely. Designing the dashboard was probably one of the most creative things that I've done while I've been working there.

So just making it look visually friendly, like something that they've seen before online or in graphic design was an experience. And it was definitely a creative experience. So, yeah, I think that was a little fun, creative activity that I did.

Tableau: Have you taken advantage of the Tableau community?
Allison: I'm a huge advocate of the forums on I think there are some amazingly smart people in there. And the community is so awesome, everyone responds really quickly. So if I ever have a question, I always go into the forum and post it and I usually get an answer within a couple hours.

Tableau: Where is data at the NFL headed overall?
Allison: I think the company as a whole is really moving towards being data driven. We're primarily creating content for our social media sites, for our websites, for our apps, for our connected TV. It's a lot of video, as you can imagine, for the NFL.

Tableau: What was life like before Tableau?
Allison: Data analytics for our team was a lot more manual to put together. So pulling all of our data into one source was a huge undertaking. We actually had just one resource who would spend a day at least pulling together this data. So it was a lot more manual work, a lot more iterative. You know, just repeating club after club rather than having it all in one place like we do now with Tableau.

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