Earlier this week I blogged on how fans might help break the NFL's labor stalemate. So, let's assume that things will get worked out and we'll have not only a draft but also a 2011 regular season. How can business social computing help with the draft? I think two ideas are really interesting here: fan ranking of draft candidates and ranking of team needs by current players.
The draft involves trying to decide how a particular player will translate from college to a professional level. All NFL teams have skilled evaluators (scouts) that focus on this task. The challenge is that there are a lot of college players and several differences between the college and pro game. Meanwhile, fans are everywhere. Cumulatively, they have thousands of eyeballs watching all the games. Serious fans are already debating specific draft choices (both in mock drafts and after the selections). What if a team could get the input from fans in a more structured manner? What if they could list the players on their website and let the fans vote for them? Potentially, fans could vote for the round in which they think a player could be taken and provide supporting evidence like links to game film on YouTube or stories from local media.
The process of ranking players for the draft already includes dozens to hundreds of pieces of data on each player. But that data comes from a limited number of sources. Tapping into the wisdom of the masses might help teams uncover more great talents like sixth-rounders Tom Brady and Terrell Davis late in the draft.
Ranking team needs
The second suggestion would be to simply have existing NFL players rank each position (offensive line, running back, etc.) by how important the player thinks an upgrade to that position would improve his team. This would certainly need to be anonymous, and existing players are probably unlikely to recommend a team go find a replacement for their own position. But football is a team game, and the players know what parts of the team need shoring up. This process might not yield any stunning revelations. But, again, the players would be heard here, and management would know what kinds of moves would make sense to most players and what kinds of draft picks would require some explanation to the team.
Are you ready for some ... film study?
Speaking of providing helpful information to coaches, the last suggestion is all about making their lives easier. Currently, NFL coaches work extremely long hours every day of the week during the season (and quite a bit of the off-season). While they certainly get paid for their effort, the burden of the workload is enough to keep some very talented people from entering or re-entering the coaching profession (this is true at other levels as well). Part of what takes so much time is film study. After a game is done, a team needs to review film of their own play as well as film of their competitors in order to improve and prepare for the next game.
What if there were an army of independent film reviewers who were willing to help? A lot of fans would be willing to look through film of a competitor to see tendencies and formations. Admittedly, there are some challenges here - ownership/rights to the film, fan bias, and the question of whether the person reviewing the film really knows football. But imagine a system where a volunteer film reviewer puts together a summary of another teams' tendencies on third down and long yardage from different positions on the field and at different stages of the game. Then other fans could vote and comment on this - perhaps adding a clarification on how the team plays this situation differently at home versus on the road. That has the potential to be really powerful.
This isn't something that has to be done by one team. What if the NFL did this on their website? Anyone could visit the site and review some video. In a way, this might be an interesting test for the fan base of each team. Your fans already cheer for your team and make noise to disrupt opponents. Imagine how passionate they'd be if they'd had a chance to mercilessly dissect film of the opponents ahead of time. In any case, such a system would certainly give fans something interesting and productive to do while the owners and players sort out their next agreement.
Crowdsourcing collective bargaining negotiation proposals, draft candidate ranking, and game film analysis are all ways that social computing principles could be applied to football. Professional football has a huge and engaged fan base. From the incredible growth of fantasy football, to a record-setting number of Super Bowl viewers, to significant viewer ratings for the NFL Combine (testing of top prospects for the draft), it's clear that football has a fan base that cares and follows the sport closely.
The bigger picture is social computing can be applied to solve problems or improve performance in nearly any industry. The power of many smart people working together should never be underestimated. Here's hoping that football finds ways to benefit from social computing - and, more importantly, that your company does, too.
Mar 25 2011, 12:00 PM
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