Being forward-thinking & anticipating questions
We were recently joined by Michael Lopez, Sr. Director of Football Data & Analytics at the National Football League, to discuss using data and analytics to enhance the game of football.
4:29 – The process of using RFID tag data
7:31 – What kind of decision making is your work driving?
9:00 – Do you analyze player’s health stats?
11:39 – How transferrable are sports analytics skills across leagues?
14:19 – Big Data Bowl and other community initiatives
19:20 – Structured vs unstructured data?
21:51 – Transition from academia to NFL
25:23 – Communication skills that have transferred over
29:22 – What data is captured from the RFID tags?
34:32 – How could someone get into the NFL space as a data scientist focused on health?
37:18 – How are you getting people to buy-in to analytics?
40:40 – How do you prioritize what your team is working on?
43:04 – Languages and tools used in analytics at the NFL
45:06 – Translator role in football analytics
49:09 – How does the NFL go about achieving the level of analytics that you do?
50:59 – Does GAIT analysis have impact on their performance?
52:59 – How do you evangelize new data points and explore things previously un-explored?
55:48 – Fantasy football
56:34 – What are you excited about in the year ahead?
Diving into a specific topic on communication —
27:38 “Sometimes we are answering the questions that we know they’re going to ask before they’ve asked them. And I think the best presentations we give are the ones where they’re asking a question and then just click Next, and it’s on the next slide.
Or they ask a question and I say, yep, it’s in the Appendix. Click a couple slides forward and say, here it is.
Because you have to anticipate the questions they’re going to ask.
Sometimes, we’re collecting data before they’ve asked us to collect data because we hear something in the media or we hear something that they’re asking in the replay room or their coaches are asking, and we’re like, we’re going to go build this.
They didn’t tell us to go collect data on quarterback slides, but we now know that quarterbacks are sliding more than ever before. We know quarterbacks are the most important position in football.
So last year, Andrew Patton basically led an NFL data collection processing quarterback slides. Because we knew that when we got to the offseason, somebody was going to say, “hey, how are quarterbacks sliding?”
Actually, we have that because we went out and collected it.
So I would say that it’s a combination of great data viz and then also being purposeful and forward-thinking with the questions that people are going to be wanting to ask.
Featured in this episode
Michael Lopez is a Senior Director of Football Data and Analytics at the National Football League.
At the National Football League, his work centers on how to use data to enhance the game of football, with a focus on competitiveness, pace, officiating, and player health and safety. Academically, his research is split between causal inference and the application of statistics to sports. He is an Associate Editor at the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, and has written for FiveThirtyEight, Deadspin, Sports Illustrated, and Hockey News. From 2014 through 2021, he worked at Skidmore College, first as an Assistant Professor and then as a Lecturer and Research Associate. In 2020, he was named the American Statistical Association’s Statistics in Sports Significant Contributor Award.