On an NFL Sunday afternoon there are typically at least 11 games being played, sometimes with as many as eight occurring at the same time. With all this action happening simultaneously, how does the league and its broadcast partners in FOX and CBS figure out which games to show in which markets? In a world where technology has progressed to the point where data crunching can aid in predicting everything from auto sales to health care needs, is it any surprise that data crunching can help us figure out which football game we reallywant to watch on a Sunday?
"When I was younger, I was enamored by what you could learn from analyzing all that data and using it to make better decisions," says Andy Tabrizi, CEO of the technology firm Recentive. Taking his personal passions and turning them into a business ultimately led Tabrizi and Recentive to working with the NFL to help the league in a number of different ways -- one being the process of "mapping" where all those Sunday afternoon games will be seen.
Several years ago, Recentive began working with the NFL's Club Business Development department on team business and fan engagement initiatives. Then, three years ago Recentive's work with the NFL expanded to include working with the broadcasting department on scheduling and TV projects. One project that has become a centerpiece to Recentive's work with the NFL is the Sunday scheduling.
"To the average fan, the process of mapping out which games will be shown where on a Sunday afternoon might seem pretty simple," said Mike North, Vice President of Broadcasting at the NFL. "However, it starts with the creation of the playing schedule in March and April, and then we adjust week to week depending on team records and storylines. It's not always as obvious as the Vikings will be shown in Minnesota and the Colts in Indianapolis. Every week there are huge portions of the country where it is not so clear and the league and the networks want to make the smartest possible decisions."
These decisions are significant for a sport whose games are without question the most valuable programming in the television industry. With the advertising dollars on the line, maximizing the eyeballs on any given NFL game is an important job.
"Recentive's software platforms provide real-time forecasts that help the NFL to understand future outcomes and ultimately impact and better predict what that future will be," continues Tabrizi. "With the broadcasting department our job is to help the league get the right games to the right fans at the right times and ultimately support the league in getting NFL fans more of what they are interested in."
While Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are two of the most valuable players in the NFL, Recentive's MVP is a machine learning platform, Ubiquia, which helps the NFL and its broadcast partners to very quickly understand the implications and outcomes of every possible scheduling scenario.
Using predictive analytic insights from Ubiquia, Recentive's platform processes over 1,200 different data sources and its prediction accuracy is over 98%.
"There are hundreds of billions of ways to configure the season and Recentive's software enables the NFL to find the proverbial needle in the haystack, a primetime and Sunday afternoon schedule that gets NFL fans more of the games they want to watch," said Tabrizi.
"Everything we do in this effort is to be sure NFL fans have the best options on a Sunday afternoon," continued North. "We know that what matters to fans in Des Moines, IA is different than what fans in Milwaukee, WI or those in Charleston, SC care about. Recentive's technology empowers us and our partners in FOX and CBS to understand those factors in real-time as they evolve over the season and how they vary market by market."
Ubiquia analyzes a multitude of data sources and each of those inputs are significant in different ways and in different circumstances. Ultimately executives at CBS & FOX have access to Recentive's recommendations as they decide which games to send to each of their 200+ stations across the United States.
The factors involved in the mapping decisions vary from week to week and what was key a few weeks ago may no longer matter today. That's what makes Recentive's work with the NFL so important.
Tabrizi points to one of the NFL's bright young stars to help illustrate his point.
"Kyler Murray played at OU and has a significant fan base in Oklahoma," says the CEO of Recentive. "As a result, the Cardinals are a draw in Oklahoma now and in certain cases a big enough draw to be the game shown there that week. But it's never just one thing and it changes with the matchup, week etc. The NFL is an incredibly dynamic league and we help keep the league up to the minute on what matters to its fans."
During the season, North and the rest of the broadcasting department rely heavily on Recentive to provide guidance to FOX and CBS to make the best decisions for their business and for fans across the country.
"To say we couldn't do it without them really is an understatement considering on any given Sunday there are over a million possible ways to configure the day from a TV mapping standpoint," said North. "Should someone take one minute to forecast the viewership for each of those possibilities, it would take them nearly two years to do so – and that's just for one week! Ubiquia forecasts the outcome of all million permutations in less than 1 minute."
By generating optimal television maps in seconds, Recentive helps the NFL and its partners make smart business decisions while at the same time providing fans with more of what they want to watch on Sunday afternoons.