Saturday, December 28, 2013

High Variance Strategy in NFL Coaching - Maximizing the Kick Return Game

Last year I put together some analysis of NFL kick returns. I was really motivated by one big question – Why do teams return kicks?

Initially, I wondered if returning kicks was even the optimal decision for teams trying to win football games. I wondered if the risks of turnovers and poor field position meant teams really should prefer a touchback to bringing the ball out of the end zone.

As a brief review, that’s not the case. Returning kicks is, on average, better for scoring points than taking a knee in the end zone as the returns leave your team with better field position. If you look at it in terms of expected points generated on kick returns vs. generated on touchbacks – the distinction is clear: (Note: this analysis relies on the concept of expected points based on field position – which I’ll assume readers have already seen and grasped)

This data comes from the first 16 weeks of this NFL season, over 2400 kicks. It’s also consistent with last year’s data.

So returning kicks is good, but think about why it’s a good idea. Although it presents better average field position, the average return nets only about four yards of position (and only two yards if the ball is brought out of the end zone relative to a risk-free touchback).

Linking back to material my brother has posted – the upside is directly tied to variance. Returning kicks is much more of a high-variance strategy.

Below – is an illustration of all returned kicks through Week 16 this year. The histogram shows the distribution of expected points.

You see the giant spike between 0.3-.04 which equates to a return between the 18 and 22 yard lines, that’s the most typical result (remember a touchback is worth 0.34 expected points). But there’s also an extremely long tail of positive performance, and these outliers can be worth a lot more (even a touchdown). Those outliers are what make kick returns worth the risks (injury, turnover), which is exactly what we mean when we talk about high-variance strategies.

A touchback has zero variance. That result is predictable and constant. But a return, that could be a whole bunch of possibilities.

OK – so let’s take the idea that returning kicks instead of taking touchbacks is a high-variance strategy as a hypothesis. Now, if that’s true, we would expect to see a couple different trends in the data. Generally, we would expect less talented teams to return kicks MORE often than their better opponents. Weaker teams should be pursuing higher variance plays in an attempt to pick up ground on those other (stronger) squads. In an example – you’d expect the Jaguars to try everything to beat the Broncos because Denver is extremely talented and playing a conventional game will leave the Jaguars at a big disadvantage. That could mean any number of things, more shots downfield, 4th down conversion attempts, surprise onside kicks, and we could expect – more kick returns.

So…is that something we actually observe in the data? Are weaker teams pursuing higher variance strategies in the form of more frequent kicks?

To test this, I went back and looked at my favorite kickoff metric – percentage of touchback eligible kicks returned. This counts the number of kicks that were returned out of the end zone as a proportion of the total number of kicks fielded in the end zone. Obviously – teams will return all kicks fielded short of the end zone, so we need to exclude these. The real decision point is whether or not teams bring balls out of the end zone – this is our true high variance strategic choice.

The data set it built off of play-by-play information, which is the best I can get. Unfortunately, there are a large number of touchback kicks where distance is not recorded and it isn’t specified whether the kick was fielded or kicked out of the end zone. After some initial eyeballing I’m confident these are kicks out the back of the end zone (Matt Prater of the Broncos had a lot of them as an example). So our set of kicks is a little smaller than you might expect. But there are still 950 kicks in our sample.

Then, I took all the NFL teams and split them into three performance tiers based on point differential. Teams with the highest point differential are members of the first tier, teams with the worst scoring differential are in the third tier. Below are the teams and their tier positions.

You can see the usual suspects in both the first and third tiers. And to me, this is where we’d expect to see the biggest change. These third tier teams – they have to do MORE to compete against first tier teams. Alternatively, first tier teams, one might argue, don’t need to take additional risk by sending their return man out of the end zone. If we look at touchback eligible kickoff return percentage across the different matchups – we can see if there’s any difference in the way teams behave. Do third tier teams return more kicks when they face off against first tier teams? Do first tier teams (who don’t need to pursue high-variance strategies) return fewer kicks?

Hmm…there’s almost no difference in return % whether the worst teams are facing other crappy teams or the best teams. That seems a little odd…as we had guessed the worse teams SHOULD be returning more kicks when they face better teams. This indicates that this doesn’t happen.

It’s also not a result of sample size, as most of these cells are large enough (80-120 observations).

As another check, I looked at touchback eligible return percentage relative to specific team talent (via point differential) on a team-by-team basis. I did this to see if there were any teams that really seemed to be demonstrating aggressive tactics at the individual level.

Again, this doesn’t appear to support our thinking that poor teams are pursuing higher variance strategies by returning more kicks. At best, it’s inconclusive. There are a couple teams, like the Vikings, who really push the envelope – but there’s not a major correlation between team talent and return percentage (correlation is roughly -0.15)

Strange, but maybe identifying high-variance strategies before the game starts and following them blindly isn’t really what coaches of less-talented teams spend time on. Is there another way we can test our hypothesis?

Another theory is that if teams aren’t determining to return more kicks as part of pre-game strategy, maybe it’s something they pursue once they fall behind on the scoreboard. This wouldn’t even have to be exclusive to poor performing teams – any team that’s fallen behind might be more likely to run back kicks to try and break a big play to help catch up. What if we examine touchback eligible return percentage by in-game score differential?

The chart below illustrates the return percentage across a set of different score bands, ranging from down by more than 14 points to ahead by more than 14 points.

Again – there doesn’t seem to be any real connection between the scoreboard and aggressive kick return tactics. A team down by more than two touchdowns is just as likely to return a kick out of the end zone as one who is tied. If a kick return out of the end zone is indeed an aggressive play with a higher reward – teams don’t appear to be pursuing it MORE when they need to make up ground or LESS when they have a large lead. (As an aside, I absolutely cannot explain why having a small lead seems connected to a dramatic drop off in returns. I’ll chalk that up to some data wonkiness unless someone has a great insight there.)

But the broader concern remains. Shouldn’t teams which are behind or less talented need to take more chances to win? Why aren’t they doing that and bringing kicks out of the end zone?

My initial guess, though I’d welcome other speculation, is that teams the organizational structure of coaching almost inhibits something like that from happening. This comes with the obvious caveat that I’ve never coached in the NFL (so sure, Bill Belichick or someone else can dismiss all this out of hand as mom’s basement musings – but screw them). But if you’re the special teams coach of an NFL team – your work includes a thorough evaluation of your special teams and your upcoming opponent. All that work and planning becomes a little less valuable if a head coach just says – ‘Hey, I think we should return any kick we get in the end zone’

If the special teams coach is to maintain any kind of control over what his squad does – a simplistic rule like ‘run them out when we’re behind’ may not be sophisticated enough to justify all that pre-work and planning.

But that’s just a thought, based on the idea that coaches know their teams and customize approaches based on their own teams’ skills and the matchup with the opponent. Of course, when you actually look at the data, teams don’t really appear to be all that successful in managing their return game. Below is an illustration of touchback eligible return percentage, but this time charted against the average return position (i.e., return ability).

While we’d expect to see some correlation here – to show that teams with good return games return more kicks and teams with poor return teams take more touchbacks – that’s only true to the degree of a 0.2 correlation.

Some teams seem to get it – the Bills are really bad in the return game, but they rarely return kicks out of the end zone (on a relative basis – still over 50%). At the other extreme are the Vikings. The have Cordarrelle Patterson and, as such, they return kicks out of the end zone over 95% of the time!!!

On the flip side, look at Washington and St. Louis, teams with mediocre return units that run kicks out of the end zone 90% of the time. The Chiefs and Ravens seem odd as well – teams with great performance who could stand to run some more back. Now, maybe the Redskins are pursuing a high variance strategy, and maybe the Chiefs a more conservative one, but the overall results remain inconclusive.

At the end of the day, I come back to the idea of coaches and control over their special teams. For any team to read any of this and think about employing a ‘high-variance’ strategy – it really requires an admission of the role of chance in the outcome of a football game. Running every kick out of the end zone is a strategy based on the concept of inherent variability in outcome. Some returns may get stuffed, and others may go for big returns, but you can’t be sure when one or the other will happen. That view, to me, is fundamentally opposite the idea that with the right scheme and flawless execution – you can create the optimal outcome.

One of those ways of thinking supports the coach as the ultimate authority, while the other incorporates more probabilistic thinking. That gap is why I think we haven’t seen any patterns to support our hypothesis, and no clear evidence of high-variance kick return strategy consistently employed in today’s game.

Monday, December 23, 2013

NFL Coaches on the Hot Seat - A final look at our model

There's only one week left in the NFL regular season, and while a good number of coaches are focused on getting their teams into the playoffs, there are another set of coaches who are left to sit and wonder whether or not they'll still have a job after the season is over.

Those are the coaches I focused on when developing the logistic regression model behind my NFL Coaches Hot Seat Index. And even though there's one week left of action (plus tonight's MNF game), I felt as though the results this week would really be enough to give us a final outlook on who might be staying and who might be going.

To refresh - a brief explanation on the model itself. I was always disappointed with the NFL coach hot seat rumor mill that would creep up over the second half of each NFL season. Not because I don't like speculation, but because it was never really based on anything concrete, anything objective. With that in mind, I gathered historical data on NFL coaching performance going back several decades, and ran some analysis to find statistically significant factors in when coaches get fired.

The two factors I found, and the ones that found their way into my predictive model, were point differential and win change from prior year.

I ran the first analysis after Week 7 of this season, when team's had enough action to give some initial impressions. But now, with most teams having played 15 of 16 games, it's safe to say we have a much clearer picture.

The chart below has our updated data. The model estimates the odds (out of 100%) that a coach will be fired, given his team point differential and expected win change. The win change number is still an estimate (as per Football Outsiders) given more games to play.

This chart is also a little different from the prior version, as I've included not just the Week 15 results, but also the Week 7 results. This will allow us to see which coaches really improved over the second half, and if any got noticeably worse.

Lastly, I included a 'Hot Seat Zone' rating, which is just a basic red-yellow-green color coding based on some admittedly arbitrary cutoffs. If you're a 'Green' rating, you have a less than 10% chance of being fired (some would argue none of these coaches would ever get fired, but it has happened - most recently with Lovie Smith of last years' Bears team. Smith's team recorded a point differential of about +100 and improved by 2 wins, but he was still let go.)

If you're in the 'Yellow' zone, your odds of being fired fall somewhere between 10% and 40%. Certainly not as safe as the Green Zone. Last year, three of 15 coaches in this zone got fired (that's 20% for those scoring at home. Chan Gailey, Pat Shurmur, and Norv Turner)

Last but not least, the 'Red' Zone - which is just about as hot as you can get. Last season, four of six coaches in this zone were canned (Romeo Crennel, Mike Mularkey, Andy Reid, and Ken Whisenhunt).

So where have our coaches shaken out this year?

You'll notice only five coaches fall in the 'Red' Zone this year, but with two exceptions. Gus Bradley is up there, but as noted in the table, he'll likely earn a pass as a first-year head coach. So he (and other new coaches) are excluded from our ratings. Were Gus in his second season, his odds of being fired would be a sweat-inducing 45%, although it's important to note that Gus and the Jags also improved his odds the most of any coach over the second half of the season from a 76% likelihood after Week 7.

You'll also notice that the 'Red' Zone has already seen its first victim, Texans' coach Gary Kubiak. Heart condition be damned, the Texans let Kubiak go earlier this year - when his odds of being fired were already over 50%. I left the stats as is, because it didn't make sense to keep predicting an event that's already come and gone.

Besides Kubiak - who has the most reason for concern. Mike Shanahan of the Redskins, Mike Smith of the Falcons, and Leslie Frazier of the Vikings. These names aren't all that surprising, although other coaches like Tom Coughlin and Greg Schiano may have climbed their way out of danger, these other coaches continued to see poor performance over the last 8 weeks.

Now remember, this is a projection of what might happen to these coaches after the season, based only on historical data. This doesn't include the fact that Mike Smith got a vote of confidence from his owner, or that everyone in Detroit might be sick of Jim Schwartz.

But by and large, these numbers should give us a pretty good indicator. And as an Eagles fan, it's nice to see Chip Kelly showing a big improvement over the second half. After last night's Bears game, I'd doubt you'd find any Philadelphian would would put his odds over 7%, most would tell me I'm nuts. But then, if the Eagles lose in Dallas next week, I'm sure I'll hear from folks who'd want it at 100%.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Marketing Alcohol and Spirits - Commercial Choices

Granted, I don't watch a lot of commercials anymore. Not since I started watching everything on DVR or on-demand. But even with a dramatic reduction in commercial viewing, that doesn't mean I'm not aware of developing trends.

I started noticing alcohol commercials. Not beer commercials, which are a distinctly different genre, but commercials for hard alcohol. I started noticing them because they all seemed to be the exact same, with slight tweaks.

Doing some YouTube research quickly confirmed the trend and the dramatic shift in marketing tone/tactics for certain hard spirits.

As a point of reference. I've included a couple older commercials below. The first, a Jack Daniels' spot from 1990

Seems like a standard commercial. Emphasizing the history, the quality of production - extolling the virtues of the beverage.

Now, another one, different in tone, from Bacardi (from some point in the 90's)

This one is all about partying and having a good time. Again, seemingly pretty typical. What you'd expect.

But when you consider commercials for the same brands now - there's a clearly different tone and way of messaging.

This is a commercial for Bacardi now.

Yeah - definitely some differences in tone right?

When I've been seeing liquor commercials - there are a couple clear things I've noticed:

- Oriented around a single dominant male character
- Dark lighting
- The character is a man of 'great experience' - by this I mean it's clearly established that he knows what he's doing without specific exposition to tell us that. To borrow a term from my book on the history of action movies, this is the 'man who knows indians' from old Westerns.

It's interesting that the commercials do this last bit in one of two ways. Either by leveraging a celebrity frontman with an established track record (see the above example with Javier Bardem), or a fictional character with some mystique.

Here are several more commercials for hard alcohol that have been on recently. See if you agree on the trend:

Here's one for 1800 Tequila:

And now Jack Daniels:

Moving on to Jose Cuervo:

And Chivas Regal:

This one, for Jameson, is a bit more story to it, but similar

I left out some others (notably the Captain Morgan series, in part because they're so long), but all of these have a very specific pattern.

They all focus on one main individual, trading on their prior experience. In some cases, Ray Liotta or Kiefer Sutherland, these are clearer histories. The others are a bit more obscure, but both the smoke monster from Lost (in the Jack Daniels ad) and Tywin Lannister (Chivas) have a specific track record of bad-assery. This is why they were chosen.

All these men have killed people (in Sutherland's case, like a million different terrorists).

But it's clear in the messaging of all these commercials. To be a badass - drink this drink. The commercials have moved so far away from describing the product that it's pretty clear it's all about the name on the bottle (and not necessarily about having a good time).

All of these, to me, can trace their lineage back to the oldest example I can remember, the successful Dos Equis campaign with the 'Most Interesting Man in the World'.

Those commercials, part of a stunningly successful campaign, seemed to establish this framework. An older knowledgeable man, with great experience, drinks Dos Equis. We don't get a reason why - it's just the way it is. So too with all these spots, which just leverage the history of their actors/characters to skip the part where you establish the back story.

I wonder if any of these campaigns have truly proven effective. After all, not every dark mysterious man can be the Most Interesting Man in the World.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Movie Theater of the Future

AMC (the leading U.S. movie chain) is currently preparing for an IPO, and as part of their materials filed with the SEC, they outlined their expansion plans for the next five years.

It was pretty interesting to look at the outline of what they expect to deliver, because as the dominant player in movie theaters, it's a pretty clear indicator of where the whole market is headed (plus, the theater two blocks from us is an AMC, so it will likely be highly relevant for us.

The report detailed nine different revenue growth strategies AMC will use to grow within their existing theaters. Essentially, what they're going to start up-selling us to or using as a justification for higher ticket prices. And the details are expectations for the next five years, so its also meaningfully close (I'd recommend checking out the report if you're interested in the movie industry at all, at least I found it interesting)

Below is what they published as expectations over the next five years. The lowest row in the chart is the number of screens AMC is planning to get to in the next five years (it's broken down by region, but that's not important here and the image was too wide if I included all the labels). The row right on top of that is the incremental revenue expected per customer, in case you were wondering.

What you'll notice is that a lot of these strategies still have lots of room to grow. In many cases, only a couple hundred of AMC's ~5000 screens are covered. If you look at them in order of expected expansion in 5 years, it's a pretty good sign to what you'll be able to do when they reboot the Dark Knight in 2017.

"Innovative technology featuring 120+ drink flavor options; Customer customized" - This one is a bit of a yawn, because it only means installing Coke Freestyle machines that you already see at certain restaurants all over the place. Yes, it allows you 120+ permutations of soda, but having tried a ton of them, it's clear there's a reason Coke never tried to sell Blueberry Sprite. Soon they'll be everywhere, but that just means we'll all have to wait behind the most indecisive of us as they explore all their options.

Guarantee of pre-selected seat; Arrive just-in-time and anxiety- free Pre-selected seats will be available at half of AMC's theaters within 5 years. It's a nice idea that I've never had the chance to use. What it will likely mean is that a good portion of the theater's 'best' seats, are going to be allocated to pre-select (and likely, with a price increase). That's good for people who show up late, not so much for those of us who like getting their early.

Motorized, plush recliners with leg rest; Relax at the push of a button Now we're talking. AMC wants to roll out nicer chairs? I'm all for it. Unlike the first two items, this is something I'd actually want to see. Of course, it's something that requires them to physically re-model theaters and take them dark for a bit. But I'd like to see nicer seats and the ability to recline sounds pretty compelling (as long as they keep people from ruining them)

Full service bar serving premium beers, wines and mixed drinks; Enjoy before or after movie I actually think the theater near us has this already, but I've never really considered it when we go to the movies. If we want to go to a bar, we do. Still, nothing wrong with putting in a huge margin business where they have the space.

Casual, in theatre dining provided via seat side service; Conveniently satisfies consumer need for "dinner and a movie" Less excited for this one. I'm a huge fan of popcorn at the movies, but the idea of having a full dinner delivered just strikes me as weird. Call me old fashioned. However, this is also only going to expand to about 500 screens, so only 10% of their space. I don't think I'll have to be too worried about someone getting a chicken quesadilla delivered next to me

Shopping experience featuring broadened menu offerings, including made- to-order options Like the prior comment, I'm not a huge fan of the concession expansion which now includes all kinds of meals. Hot dogs and pizza are sacrilege to me. But again, small numbers here.

The last couple ones are basically bringing in Imax or expanding 3-D. 3-D is the furthest along and is mostly tapped out, I'd argue in part because the movies that actually can take advantage of it are rare and people are sick of getting screwed with an upcharge that doesn't do much.

But regardless, it's cool to think about how the experience will change. Of course, studios will likely be still cramming the screens with existing franchises and reboots to guarantee big openings. No details in the IPO document that talk about how to fix that.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

NFL Coaches Hot Seat Index (or, Who is Going to get Fired)

So the Eagles had another especially depressing loss to the Giants this week. And with such a depressing loss, it got me thinking of another depressing outcome, watching your team stink to the point where they fire their coach.

So, this was something I wanted to wait on until much later in the season, but with Greg Schiano working as hard as he can to get fired as soon as possible, I needed to put it out a bit early.

One of the things I hate hearing about as the NFL season progresses is all the discussion around the coaching ‘hot seat’. It’s not that I mind the speculation, but all of the discussion centers on conjecture and the occasional ‘anonymous source’ (the exception being Schiano where the sources have noticeably opted to forgo anonymity!)

As I was thinking about it, I really wanted to see if we could make this a bit more objective and data driven. So with that as the goal, I gathered some data, did some analysis, and am now ready to introduce the NFL Coaching Hot Seat Index!

The Coaching Hot Seat Index is a model that, at any point in the season, will give you the approximate odds of an NFL coach getting fired after the season!

It’s based on a collection of data on all NFL coaching seasons since 1980. I broke the data down and for each coaching season, identified whether a coach was fired or kept their job (with some adjustments for retirements etc.)

With over 900 observations (and ~200 firings!), I started looking for factors which were significant in predicting whether coaches got fired or not. I tried lots of things, number of wins, playoff appearances, having the last name ‘Kotite”, all to see what was really significant in predicting when a coach will get fired.

I ended up with two primary factors, which were by far the most significant in predicting a coach getting kicked to the curb.

- Total point differential (points scored-points given up)
- Change in team wins from prior season (current year wins-prior year wins)

Those shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. (Note: I’m disappointed because I couldn’t examine another factor I wanted to see, the difference between Expected Wins at the Season Start and Actual Wins at season’s end…I wanted to use gambling lines to get at it but didn’t have nearly enough data to look at it. I still think it would be a more compelling variable)

But anyway, with those two factors, and using (or, abusing) a technique called logistic regression, I arrived at an equation to give us the odds a coach will get fired. Logistic regression is basically something you can use to help predict the likelihood of a binary outcome (a coach either gets fired, or he doesn’t) based on some variables (in this case, his team’s point differential and win change from prior season).

In the end, the result is the percentage chance (out of 100%) a coach will be fired after the season. The higher the odds, the more likely the coach is going to be filing some unemployment papers right around the Pro Bowl.

But I couldn’t just create a model and throw it out there without testing it a little. So I created a first draft of it, using only data from 1980-2011, and used that model to ‘predict’ the 2012 season based on its point differential and change in team wins (which, obviously, I already knew). When that passed the sanity check, I updated the model for 2012 and used it on teams from this year.

Those results are included below, with coaches sorted by their ‘odds to be fired’

Not a bad first result. Romeo Crennel, Mike Mularkey, Andy Reid all got canned, and those were the coaches with the highest likelihood. The model obviously isn’t perfect, as the plenty of coaches can still get fired, but at least there’s a structure and some logic here (we can also rank the coaches from safest to least safe!!!)

So this is interesting, and now we can apply it to the current season, and see what 2013 coaches are most likely to be fired!!!

Now, I had to make a couple assumptions, because this model is based on a full season of performance, which of course we won’t have. But we do have a good sample and some reasonable projections of performance we can use as proxies.

For point differential, we can use a teams’ current point differential and pro rate it out for 16 games. This doesn’t account for changes in either a team’s performance or strength of schedule, but it’s not unreasonable.

For win difference from last year, we can take an estimate of the team’s full season (which I’ve borrowed from Football Outsiders Playoff Odds report, which runs simulations to calculate average team wins) and then just check the difference from 2012 wins.

So, at this point in the season (NOTE: Updated to include Week 8, initial post was with Week 7 data, so some details below have been edited), which coaches have the highest odds of getting fired?

Well – it’s no surprise to see the Jaguars on the list, but we may have to make an exception for first year coaches as they typically get more than one season to right the ship. We’ll give Gus Bradley a pass (although no one can argue their performance is historically bad…it’s no wonder the odds are higher than anything seen in 2012)

Gary Kubiak is ranked as second most likely, which doesn't seem unreasonable given he's been with the Texans for so long and hasn't had any real success in the post-season (even if injuries have played a big role in that). With the situation unsettled at QB this year, maybe the organization makes a change to bring in a new administration and pick up a new QB in the draft.

Tom Coughlin is number 3, although we’ll unfortunately need to update that after the Eagles managed to lose to them this week now that we've updated the model. The Giants' performance has been really bad, and any coach without Super Bowl rings would likely be on their way out. But Coughlin will likely overcome the odds with all the goodwill he’s built over the years. Plus, you already started to hear some talking heads mentioning that the Giants could still make the playoffs. Unfortunately, I think we've got more of him in the years to come.

It's hard to imagine any coaching firing odds without Greg Schiano, and very surprising to see him down at number 6! I think we can all agree the odds calculation actually UNDERRATES his odds of being let go, and it does raise a question of variables we don't account for in our model (for example: being a huge jerk). This guy might want to think about booking some tee times in late November if he continues at his current pace. But for now, he's only at #6 on our list

Some of the other coaches on the hot seat are Leslie Frazier, and Mike Shanahan, who should also probably get their acts together if they want to stay employed. Shanahan in particular, has Dan Snyder to worry about.

From an Eagles perspective, Chip Kelly doesn’t seem to be in too much danger (although as I said, we probably should eliminate all first year coaches as a general rule). Of course, this assumes Kelly behaves competently, unlike the absolute sh*t show we just saw against the Giants (which my brother is probably already dissecting)

Of course, from a FORMER Eagles perspective, it looks like Andy Reid has done quite alright for himself in the move to Kansas City.

I’m just saying.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hard Knocks Odds - Which NFL Team will be on HBO next?

Like any huge football fan, I’m an avid follower of HBO’s Hard Knocks franchise. The documentary series that follows a team through its training camp in preparation for the upcoming season had me locked in ever since it showed Chad Hutchinson and Richmond Flowers’ singalong at Dallas Cowboys camp in 2002.

So it was with great interest I noticed the news a few weeks ago, that the NFL could now compel a franchise to participate and let HBO filmmakers into their camp.

Sure, head coaches will hate it, but as with everything else, this is the same capitalistic monetization machine that pays them massive salaries, so I’m sure they’ll deal with it.

But the league has decided that, assuming no teams volunteer for the spotlight, they’ll be able to assign a team (which of course precludes them from allowing owners to vote one of their own onto the show in a live-TV spectacular extravaganza…it would be great to see the politics of the owners spill out on live TV…but for now that’s a bridge too far).

This news immediately got me thinking about who the league might pick. Naturally, I wanted to evaluate the situation.

Now the league issued a couple ‘exemptions’ which allow teams to decline the opportunity under one of three conditions:

1. If the team has made the playoffs in either of the prior two years
2. If the team has hired a new head coach
3. If the team has appeared on Hard Knocks in any of the last ten years

Condition three makes sense, and I suppose I can understand condition two under the theory that new coaches have enough crazy stuff going on. But condition one seems a little strange to me. Are we assuming NFL teams don’t already have enough incentive to win? And are we thinking that fans are less likely to be interested in watching playoff teams?

I’ll chalk this one up to politics, and NFL franchises pushing back on the concept of being forced to participate. So fine.

We’ll start with our 32 teams to choose from, and work our way down to the most likely suspects.

So, condition one. We’ll eliminate our playoff teams. First up, we’ll take out the teams that were in the playoffs last year:

Atlanta Falcons
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Denver Broncos
Green Bay Packers
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Minnesota Vikings
New England Patriots
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
Washington Redskins

Now unfortunately, that wipes out a whole slew of marquee teams. No RGIII, no Peyton Manning, no Harbaugh brothers…but those are the breaks.

So 20 teams left. Our next filter is for teams that make the playoffs this year. Now, we can’t be sure exactly who is going to make the playoffs this year, but we can play the odds. Using Football Outsiders playoff odds report, we can take any team that seems more than likely to make the playoffs this year (which I took as over 50% probability as of today)

The only teams that met that criteria (and weren’t in the first group of cuts) are:

Kansas City Chiefs (97%)
Chicago Bears (56% odds)
Detroit Lions (53%)
Philadelphia Eagles (59%...unfortunately)
New Orleans Saints (86%)

Now, all four of those teams won’t make the playoffs because they’re all in the NFC, but odds are two of them will. And since we can’t be sure, let’s take them all out of the equation.

Down to 15 teams.

The next filter is to take out teams under a new head coach. Well, unfortunately for our estimate (and fortunately for the coaches), no one has actually been fired yet. But we can put a pretty good bet on who isn’t going to be around next year. Although I won’t bust out my logistic regression model to give us the odds of getting fired (I’m waiting for later in the season for that), there are a couple clear candidates.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (I’d almost say this is an inevitability)
Carolina Panthers (Ron Rivera could be gone if his team doesn’t beat the odds and make the playoffs)

I realize it’s a short list, but most of the terrible teams this season don’t seem likely to make changes. The Giants have already given Tom Coughlin a vote of confidence (although he may retire), the Steelers aren’t likely to get rid of Mike Tomlin, and the Jaguars and Bills just hired new guys.

So we’ve only pared the list down to 13. Ugh. Progress has slowed.

But then we can take our third condition. Having appeared on the show in the last ten years. At least this one doesn’t include any kind of estimate.

Dallas Cowboys (who also are almost 50% to make the playoffs)
Miami Dolphins
New York Jets

We’re down to ten candidates. If this were the Miss America pageant we’d be coming back from commercial to see the swimsuit competition.

The final ten contenders for Hard Knocks 2014 (which is probably already a Bleacher Report slide show)

Arizona Cardinals
Buffalo Bills
Cleveland Browns
Jacksonville Jaguars
New York Giants
Oakland Raiders
Pittsbugh Steelers
San Diego Chargers
St. Louis Rams
Tennessee Titans

So, in all likelihood, it will be one of these franchises…but which one? Let’s count them down…

10. Pittsburgh Steelers
9. New York Giants

Big time franchises with huge fan bases and recent successes. These would obviously be top of the list of Roger Goodell and crew. So why don’t I think there’s a chance in hell? Because you always hear about these owners involved in league matters. The Rooneys and the Maras. I don’t think there’s any way Goodell screws them over and sticks them with this coming off such crappy seasons. I feel like he’d see them too much and could stomach the thought of those awkward conversations

8. Buffalo Bills

These guys are playing some home games in Toronto. Not exactly a dynamic following.

7. San Diego Chargers
6. Oakland Raiders
5. Arizona Cardinals

I think all these teams would have interesting storylines to follow, and would make for pretty good shows. But look at HBO’s track record. There’s never been a team on Hard Knocks located farther West than Kansas City. I know NFL Films is involved in the production, and they’re based in New Jersey. While I’m not sure where HBO Sports is based, seems like Hard Knocks has a bias against the Pacific time zone. Sorry guys.

4. Tennessee Titans

Number four by process of elimination. I can’t say I know all that many Titans players, period. Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt might not even be on the team next year, which would rob the show of some glamour.

3. St. Louis Rams

I like the Rams for the show for a couple reasons. We’d get to see all their crappy running backs battle it out for the number one spot and the ire of fantasy owners everywhere. We’d also get the inevitable ‘Can Sam Bradford finally put it all together?’ storyline (to which the answer would be, ‘No’). Another sign in their favor, they have an extra first round pick this year from the Redskins. Hard Knocks loves following rookies.

2. Cleveland Browns

Don’t sleep on Cleveland. This would be a pretty good show. This a team that’s showing some life this year, a team that will inevitably have QB drama coming into next season, and a team with a couple extra high draft picks. Now, their front office is notoriously secretive in bizarre ways as Chuck Kosterman’s experience shows, so they might sooner take cyanide capsules instead, but I think they’re a very possible target.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

Come on, it’s almost too obvious! The Jaguars new owners are exactly the type of people who could be really interested in Hard Knocks. It’s not like the team has managed to bring in lots of interest on its own. Although they’re the worst team in the league, they just hired Gus Bradley as a new coach this season, so unless they fire him immediately, they can’t do that again. They also seem inclined to do modern things (witness their in-game efforts to cater to fantasy football players at the stadium). Can I name 10 guys on their team? Absolutely not. But would I love to see the Khan Krew for a few weeks? Sure, they look like fun, even if they never ended up signing Tim Tebow.

Friday, August 30, 2013

What Drives NFL Attendance?

Although the NFL’s recent settlement with former players over concussion litigation is rightly dominating the conversation as we build to the 2013 season, it has also called attention to the overall economics of the league.

More specifically, we’ve been reminded just how much money these guys make.

The billions of dollars raked in by the NFL each year is a testament to a variety of factors. The game is naturally exciting, it has become entrenched as an American cultural ritual, it gives sportscasters a context to talk about Tim Tebow 24 hours a day.

But it’s also because the NFL owners are collectively some pretty savvy businessmen.

Which is why I find a lot of recent headlines a bit surprising.

There was a recent article on how the NFL is expanding its efforts to put microphones in with players and coaches to pick up their comments during the game. Unlike mid-game interviews with baseball managers or hockey coaches, we can assume these would be more spontaneous comments (i.e., you would actually WANT to hear them).

Sounds fine to me, although you could only imagine the potential for more Riley Cooper-like scenarios.

Of course, there’s a catch, the owners plan for this material to be available ONLY for people at the stadium.

And that’s where I have a problem.

It’s no secret that advancements in the televised football product have vastly outpaced those with the live experience in recent years. HDTV, the RedZone channel, Quadboxes have made the NFL on TV the absolute focus of my entire Sunday. The experience of actually going to a game hasn’t changed all that much, unless you feel that 65,000 fans trying to get a smartphone signal is a big change.

The NFL seems concerned about this, witness the following from Cowboys executive (and therefore evil) Stephen Jones on the effort to get players mic’ed up:

“We don’t need to take five years; it needs to be sooner rather than later,” said Stephen Jones, the Dallas Cowboys chief operating officer who is on the eight-member working group.

Jones did not place a timetable on the initiative but emphasized that there is urgency on all projects designed to get fans into stadiums. Other than player health and safety, the league’s top priority is ensuring that its stadiums are full.

That’s the league’s top priority? I know these guys are smart businessmen, but I just don’t think that makes any sense, for several reasons:

- NFL teams make most of their money from media rights, not ticket sales
- NFL attendance is not down
- The major driver of attendance for an NFL franchise has nothing to do with some incremental in-game experience technology

NFL owners should focus on what will make them the most money (on this, I think they’d agree). And what will make them the most money is by improving the product for people like me, people who watch the games on TV. Obviously, you can make a better product for both TV viewers and in-stadium fans (and that’s what they should be doing), but when you restrict access to certain options, you’re effectively shutting out one group at the expense of another, and I think the NFL owners have it backwards.

In short, I’m making my case for why I think we, the television audience, should get the good stuff, instead of those guys/girls actually going out for the game.

Point 1 – NFL money comes from TV

Efforts to improve the in-game experience at the expense of the TV experience seem a bit odd to me, because that’s not where the money is. Based on leaked financial documents from the Carolina Panthers organization, we can see that’s the case (I also looked over some materials from the Green Bay Packers, which are similarly aligned and eliminate the possibility that the Panthers are a complete anomaly.)

Below is a chart of the Carolina Panthers 2012 revenues by source as a percentage, in total they had ~$200M in revenue. You’ll notice the giant blue bar towards the bottom, that’s TV/Radio.

Yeah, so TV is important. And while it would be silly to argue that you should care about the ~45% of revenue that’s from in-game, let’s not pretend that these guys aren’t primarily in the business of a televised product.

Point 2 – NFL attendance is not suffering

I saw a few articles on this over the last few years, talking about how for a variety of reasons (economic downturn mostly) NFL attendance was falling and it was a huge deal (i.e. everybody panic!)

Of course, most of these articles didn’t have anything more than a line or two of actual information to tell us whether attendance was rising or falling (I forget if the stuff was Bleacher Report-type nonsense or actual journalism, but regardless, it was out there)

And if you actually look at the data, it’s true, there was a dip in attendance. But let’s put things in the proper perspective with a game called ‘Fun with Charts’

Below is an illustration of the NFL’s cumulative attendance percentage (% of total capacity) over the last five seasons.

So it did actually go down from 2008-2010, and has come back since then.

But there’s also the issue of perspective, take another look at the chart, this time with a complete Y-axis

Doesn’t seem quite so bad does it?

In fact, looking at things from 2009, I’d argue attendance has been effectively flat. It did seem to come down post-2008, but that’s something that would need more investigation (because pre-2008 data isn’t complete as a number of teams seemingly didn’t report attendance as per ESPN’s records)

So, if you look at the data, attendance isn’t really down at all for the league as a whole.

Point 3 – Attendance isn’t about new bells and whistles, it’s about one thing, that thing Al Davis always talked about.


The absolute without a doubt most significant factor in how a team does in attendance is whether or not it wins games.

This should not be earth-shattering news. If you want people to come to the games, show them the W’s.

All the in-game food ordering technology or other new tricks aren’t going to make a damn if you still have to watch the Raiders lose every Sunday (Sorry Al). That’s a picture that emerges pretty clearly from the data.

I took all annual attendance numbers for each franchise for each of the past 5 seasons (as a % of total stadium capacity, 160 observations in total) and compared them against how many wins the team had in the prior 5 seasons to see if there was a clear relationship between the two. So for example, the Eagles had a 2012 attendance at 102.3% of capacity (nice work guys) and over the previous five seasons (2011-2007) had 46 wins (average of 9.2 wins a year).

So, when we put all that together, is there a clear relationship there?

A correlation of 0.53, so I would say so. Quite simply, when you win games, people will show up.

I also checked it against the prior 3 years of wins to see if more recent performance had a different impact

A correlation of 0.54.

Now you could make a number of adjustments here for things like playoff success (super bowl wins probably means more people at the game) or new stadiums (which I believe bring people in immediately but quickly wear off without the W’s to back it up), but I haven’t because it’s not that interesting.

Major point is that for all the owners talk about needing to make sure fans come to the games, you really just need to make sure you’re winning some football games.

So why all this talk and emphasis on improving the in-game experience? Like I said before, I think the owners would be served best by focusing on driving growth in their media rights and access and selling more stuff there.

From this, it does seem like that might be a better place to drive innovation. However, there are some potential drivers of why this is their focus, and I think both of them are likely true:

A - These owners need something to do, because the TV/rights product stuff is driven by headquarters: This is the probably the most likely scenario. The NFL itself is the one in charge of things like rights negotiations, granting access to new platforms, etc. One owner can’t necessarily impact that himself, so local efforts may be the best way for him to do anything.

B – The owners want to keep the fans in the seats, yes, but what they actually mean is that they want to keep fans in the seats as they raise prices!

This is, in my view, what the owners actually mean when they say they want to keep attendance up. They want to keep it up in the face of increasing prices, and every new concept is an additional reason to keep paying for tickets. While I can’t find anything definitive, going into last season Team Marketing Report found that the average NFL ticket was up ~3% last year, and you saw the attendance numbers, no real change.

So unfortunately, this means that we’ll likely continue to see owners finding new cool technologies and not letting the TV-viewing public get access to them.

But when they tell you it’s in the name of keeping people coming to the games and keeping attendance from dropping, don’t believe them. It’s so they can continue to raise prices.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

NFL Offensive Contribution Analysis - 1993-2012

It started with me looking over my wife's shoulder to see what she was up to as we sat on the couch.  She was busy on her laptop, and clearly wasn't giving Game of Thrones her undivided attention (but then, to her, it's just 'That Rape Show with Dragons')

But I noticed she was working with some really neat looking charts, and I asked her what she was using to visualize her data (she works in marketing analytics, so data is kind of her thing).

She explained it was a dashboard program called Tableau.

I filed that away, thinking it might come in handy for either my own professional or personal use.

Then, as I started to delve deeper into some NFL analysis, I finally found a good opportunity to start playing around with it.

My brother runs an Eagles blog,, and recently published a cool area chart showing the major contributors to the Eagles offense over the last few years.  It was a lot of fun to look at, mostly because the chart is a great illustration of the various eras the Eagles went through (although, it overlooked the Freddie Mitchell era)

That got me thinking, could I build something in Tableau that would allow anyone to look at that for their team and their favorite years???

After a couple hours fiddling around, I think I finally got the hang of it.

I pulled together every player season from Pro Football Reference from 1993, for any player who accumulated over 200 yards from scrimmage.  Now this means that it's mostly running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends.  I could have included total yards of offense as the metric, but it would have turned into a chart of quarterbacks and frankly, I thought this would be more fun.  After the 'fun' of teaching myself a little bit about how Tableau works, I think I got a pretty good start.

The dashboard below illustrates the yards from scrimmage for offensive skill players for each season from 1993 to the present.  Below the chart itself, you can select a specific team you want to see illustrated, and use the slider bars to see certain years (I apologize for the formatting of the slider bar numbers, that's something I haven't figured out yet).

But I thought it was a pretty fun way to look at a football team. Let me know your thoughts, and if people like it, maybe I can make some more. If I do, I'll be sure to publish the links on Twitter 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

TV Everywhere isn't an Authentication Problem, its a Use Case Problem

John Ourand's recent column in Sports Business Journal (which I unfortunately didn't pick up in my Twitter feed until today) talks about the disappointing results of TV Everywhere.

TV Everywhere has been the big push from cable companies for years.  A system of subscriber verification which would enable paying customers to access their programming outside of the TV and set-top box.

With continuing penetration of smartphones, and the expansion of tablet devices (which I don't think were even top-of-mind for execs when they launched TV Everywhere), execs figured this would be a big way to keep customers from cutting cords.

But customers aren't using it.  And while Ourand doesn't have hard data to back this up, the quotes from industry executives speak for themselves.  There appears to be broad acknowledgement that TV Everywhere isn't really big, anywhere.

But the execs in Ourand's article attribute it to one specific aspect of the interface, subscription verification, and that's where I disagree.  I really don't think that's the issue.

Don't get me wrong, user authentication for a cable subscription is incredibly painful.  Just ask anyone who tries to use HBO Go, which has a similar process.  Find your cable provider, click, and figure out what your login credentials are.  I have Comcast, and never use my login information outside of every six months when I have to call their customer retention group to renegotiate my pricing.  So it's a huge pain, agreed.

But I feel like that's not the biggest problem.  To me, there are two issues that keep me from watching TV channels on my devices:

1 - Horrible wireless network speeds
2 - No clear use case

The first one is obvious.  Whenever I walk home from my office, I try and stream audio on my iphone, typically from Stitcher or Pandora or Songza or whatever.  And it never, EVER, works.

That's because thousands of other people are doing the same thing.

Now I don't have the newest iphone, so I'm not on LTE, and maybe that would make it easier.  But the fact remains that I'm constantly in densely populated areas with everyone trying to stream content at once. I love when people send me funny youtube videos, and they almost always take forever to load.  Now you want me to watch streaming television programming???  Which is likely 10x as long as your average internet video?

That brings me to the second issue.  What's the use case for TV Everywhere?

It let's me watch TV wherever I am.  OK.  A fine theory.  Follow-up question - where do I want to be watching TV???

At home?  Sure, but I have a TV for that...a couple of them.  In all major rooms of the house.

But I guess I'm being obtuse.  TV Everywhere is a mobile solution, so naturally it's not going to be primarily used at home.  Fine, so where do I spend my time apart from my house?

At work?  Well, my clients probably wouldn't like it

In the car? Ha, we already have a Driving While Texting problem, I'm not going to compound that with a Driving While Watching SportsCenter problem

When I'm out with friends?  It's not like we're going to gather around to watch Homeland on my ipad

Tell me a place you would absolutely use TV Everywhere to stream live TV?

Maybe you would want to do it at an airport waiting for a flight that's delayed.  Maybe.

But I don't see a clear use case.  At all.  Now, if there were TV you absolutely had to see live, I could imagine it being used.  But DVRs have solved that problem.  No traditional content needs to be consumed as its broadcast anymore, and with massive HDTVs relatively affordable, who would choose to watch Game of Thrones on their iphone when they can wait until they get home?

The time I spend on my devices (iphone, ipad) outside of my house is marked by one major theme.  Whether I'm waiting in line, on the bus, in the elevator, it's always for brief periods.  I've become conditioned to use my devices to fit the time period and attention span required.  Checking email, checking Twitter, checking news stories...those all take less than 30 seconds.  I've never had the sudden urge to immerse myself in Westeros while I'm waiting for a burrito at Chipotle.

To me, that's the real reason TV Everywhere isn't getting used.

There's just no real good place to use it, anywhere.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why Self-Checkout Doesn't Work

There was an article in today's Wall Street Journal about Kroger, the major grocery chain, and their efforts to reduce waiting time at checkout.

Supermarket giant Kroger Co. is winning the war against lengthy checkout lines with a powerful weapon: infrared cameras long used by the military and law-enforcement to track people.

These cameras, which detect body heat, sit at the entrances and above cash registers at most of Kroger's roughly 2,400 stores. Paired with in-house software that determines the number of lanes that need to be open, the technology has reduced the customer's average wait time to 26 seconds. That compares with an average of four minutes before Kroger began installing the cameras in 2010.

Now, the article goes on to describe how Kroger uses that data, which tracks how customers move through the store, to predict how much staffing they'll need at the registers in half-hour increments.

I took particular interest in the article because I really really don't like waiting in lines.  It's the equivalent of a human traffic jam that'll take some time to clear, increasing the cost (in the form of my time) all so I can have a sandwich or buy toothpaste or get a question answered.

It's not all lines inherently bother me, necessarily.  If I go to a Chipotle at 12:30, I know it'll have a massive line and I know about how long it takes.  Plus, it's clear from the structure of the operations and the attitude of the employees that they're trying to get me through as fast as they humanly can (I'll bet that's even tracked back at HQ).

So, lines are OK if they meet two primary conditions:

 - The wait time is expected/known
 - The business/employees are actively working to make my wait shorter

Of course, for anyone who has shopped at a grocery store, you know that neither of those are necessarily true.

The second condition is rarely seen in practice.  Contrast the furious burrito-making at Chipotle (or the equally furious sandwich making at Subway) with most grocery store checkouts.  It's not always the fastest pace (although some chains have worked to track checkout clerk speed, but I think results have been mixed)

The absence of the first condition is a result of poor planning and inertia, at least with most supermarkets.  You usually have no idea how long you'll wait.

Any recent shopper knows the drill, walk around the checkout area, scanning the aisles for the best slot.  Who has a relatively empty cart?  Which line has the shortest queue?  Which clerk looks like the give the biggest sh*t?

Often these estimates are met with futility.  Like when the woman buying a solitary candy bar whips out a change purse and starts counting (Aside: If you look to make exact change for a purchase, please stop.  You are placing a larger inconvenience on everyone behind you, all so you can get the exact $1.09 for your Three Musketeers.  No one's life is improved by your choice)

The problem is a high degree of variation in service time.  Some customers will unpack their basket as fast as possible, pay with a credit card, and engage in zero extraneous communication.  Others seem to WANT to take as much time as possible.

This creates a problem when you have a dozen discrete lines like a traditional supermarket.  It creates a system that's inherently unfair.  Someone in one line has to wait much longer than someone in another.

Now, at one point supermarkets were pretty sure they figured this out.


The purported saving grace for the busy shopper, the self-checkout was designed to free us all of the tyranny of the lines (or, more accurately, free the supermarkets from the tyranny of hiring and paying employees)

I have to admit, I was smitten when they first rolled out the technology.  You see, having worked in a traditional supermarket in high school, I had a lot of experience bagging groceries.  And I knew that if I could just do it myself, I'd be all that much faster.

Of course, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

There are a series of practical realities that preclude self-checkout from ever being a reasonable solution (in its current form)

1 - Random weight items: Self-checkout is simple when the packaging is standardized, you just scan the bar code.  But with any random weight items (i.e., produce), they require a specific ID code, typically 4-5 alphanumeric characters.  Well, if you're an experienced clerk and know them all by heart, that's fine.  But for the rest of us, we're left to stumble through an alphabetical picture book that makes you feel about as smart as a 4 year old.  Find the apple.  Now find the onion.  Now find the broccoli.  It's literally a kindergarten exercise, but one that takes way more time than it otherwise would.

2 - Anti-theft nonsense: Of course, when you allow for 'self' checkout, you're implicitly allowing customers the opportunity the steal from you.  Like a slightly muted version of the honor system, you're giving customers the responsibility to manage their own purchases.  There's a social contract element to that, only the ingenious minds behind the self-checkout couldn't go that far, and put weight scanners in the bagging area, surely so they could ensure that one scan equals one package in the bagging area. 

Of course, whatever testing they had in place didn't do the job.  I have yet to go through a self-checkout that trusts me.  After I scan and bag my item, the machine will request me to put the item in the bagging area.  Caught in a weird catch 22, because I've already bagged it, I'll look confused for a second.  The machine asks again, seemingly growing impatient.  But what can I do machine?  I've already bagged it!!!  By then it's too late, the machine has signaled for an attendant (this is not a machine with compassion.  If it were on the parole board Red would still be wasting away at Shawshank)

This isn't to say that customers don't steal, here's proof.

They just do it in better ways!

3 - Bagging: Self-checkout also means you have to bag groceries yourself.  That's obvious to many people, but I've seen a number of folks roll through self-checkout without really understanding that they'll have to then corral all their stuff and get out the door.  Even for a bagging savant like me, it's no better than a push with the employee equivalent.

4 - Other absurd rules: To buy alcohol, I obviously can't use self-checkout, unless I have a 17 year old grocery clerk come over and verify the fact that I should've stopped buying malt beverages 10+ years ago

Add up all the ridiculous delays and poorly designed mechanisms, and you have a recipe for a LONGER wait time.  Some stores have caught on and are ripping out their self-checkout aisles (I'm sure others found some labor savings in making things more inconvenient for customers, and have stuck with it).

But if a chain really wants to reduce lines, it's honestly not all that complicated.

You need a mechanism that takes the key wait time driver (service time variance), and remove it as a driver.

How do you do that???

By having one line!

Just like airports, which have one line leading to multiple service desks, so too should supermarkets be designed.

Some places I've shopped at (Walgreens and Nordstrom Rack here in Chicago), have actually done this.  And it's much much better.  The one line is longer, but it moves much faster, and I never have to kick myself for getting in line behind someone who barely knows what planet their on.

All supermarkets should shift to this, right???

Well, sure, in a perfect world.  But unfortunately, that would take some investment in moving all the fixtures around.  Supermarkets would also lose out on a lot of valuable high-margin checkout aisle shelves.

And since there aren't really a ton of new supermarkets coming in to compete, there's a bit on an incentive issue...

So it might be a long time before I can comfortably take my place in one giant line at my local supermarket.  But then, I could just order the stuff online...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

HBO 24/7 - NFL Draft Edition

In my normal role as a management consultant, my projects often involve helping clients earn more money.  Sure, sometimes it's a bit more complicated, with fancier buzzwords thrown around, but generally, I help clients become more successful.

Today, I'm giving away a valuable money-making idea for free.

HBO 24/7 - NFL Draft Edition

Some of you may already know what this means (and are already nodding your heads in agreement).  But for others, some more detail is required.

HBO has produced and broadcast a couple programs that follow sports figures through the preparation for a major contest.  They follow NFL training camp in Hard Knocks, NHL practices in 24/7 - Winter Classic Edition, and boxers as they prepare for a major fight in another version of 24/7.

The programs are extremely well done, taking us behind the scenes of our favorite sports (assuming some people out there are into boxing).  They let us see athletes in a different light, and the program has gravitas like crazy thanks to Liev Schreiber's narration.

It also has moments of hilarity, like Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau shopping for Christmas presents.

What's also nice about this show is that it actually makes sports marginally interesting to my wife (who very much enjoyed the Flyers-Rangers 24/7 season)

So, given that HBO has had success with these documentaries, how have they not gone back to the well to tap the NFL Draft mother lode???

Since you'll never get participation from an actual NFL franchise to get inside their preparations for the draft, you'll have to go from the players angle.  But that's OK, these guys are actually interesting!

Why couldn't you identify 5-6 prospects of ranging talent levels (e.g., from potential 1st rounder to potential undrafted free agents), and follow them leading up to the draft???  There's so much preparation going into the draft on the player side, you'd have to be able to get good material.  And the culminating event naturally has a ton of drama anyway.

Let's not forget that ESPN and NFL Network are climbing all over themselves to put out more stuff on the draft.  NFL Network even has a show CALLED 'Path to the Draft', which is just more scouting and talking heads.  Why not put something a little more intriguing on???

ESPN's got several networks to air a show, and now with 30 for 30, an established documentary brand.  They just aired a documentary on the 1983 NFL Draft, which I watched intently, and that happened 30 years ago!!!

NFL Network, while it doesn't have the documentary production chops, certainly has the air time and could help open up a lot of access.

HBO could continue to expand its 24/7 franchise, although they might not have money to spare with all the CGI dragons they've got going on.  But I can't imagine Liev Schreiber is on an exclusive retainer.

Final summary - people would watch this show, and it would be better than endless talking head 'analysis'.  Admittedly, it would be more expensive, but I'm sure it could pull in more than its fair share of unique viewers.

So networks, there's your idea.  Go and make some money.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Yahoo Sports iPhone App

I saw this article today which details why Apple and Yahoo are involved in discussions.

The purpose of the talks: to make more Yahoo-branded apps default apps on the iPhone

Already, there are two Yahoo-branded apps on every iPhone – "Stocks," and "Weather."

The article goes on to describe that Yahoo Sports could be a potential content source for an app.

In short, I think that's a great idea.

Because as I started to think about my smartphone and how I use it, I started coming to the realization that I really don't do much with it in terms of sports.  I use my phone all the time, for just about everything.  But in the sports department, my experience still leaves much to be desired.  Most specifically, in the general sports news area, which I find particularly lacking.

And that seems weird to me.  Maybe I'm just not exploring new apps enough (I doubt it), but I'm a younger-ish male that's very into sports.  If you were running a marketing research study on sports-oriented young men, I think I'd fit the bill...

 - I have or have recently had digital subscriptions to multiple sports leagues (MLB, NHL)
 - I pay additional charges for increased sports programming in my cable package (RedZone, of course)
 - I have or have recently purchased a sports-related app for my smartphone
 - I participate in fantasy sports
 - I listen to online radio/podcasts relating to sports news and analysis

So yeah, I'd say I'm into sports.  But when it comes to general sports news, I really don't use my smartphone all that much and I'm trying to figure out why that is.  My theory is that it's because I don't have a good killer app for that use case (general sports news).  And so when reports indicate Yahoo might make one (and apparently their new Weather one is pretty good), that would make me happy.

But let's examine how I use my smartphone for sports...because I'm not sure I'm right.

I have a Sports folder on my iphone, and I have a couple apps in there. What apps do I have?  and What do I use them for???

 - Yahoo Fantasy Football: Technically a lie, because I delete it in the off-season.  But my fantasy league runs through Yahoo (don't they all?) and I use the app to obsessively update my scores each week.
 - 97.5 Fanatic: This is the app for one of the local Philadelphia sports talk radio stations.  I listen to it rarely, particularly when big news breaks and I want to hear what everyone back home is saying
 - Stitcher: This app also isn't technically in the sports folder, but the podcast radio application is one I use frequently to listen to ESPN's podcasts, so it's partially a sports app
 - MLB at bat: Used heavily during baseball season to listen to Phillies games, watch Phillies games, watch highlights, etc.
 - ESPN ScoreCenter: This is my general sports app.  It should be what I use to check up on scores, news, etc.  The only problem is, I hate it.

ESPN ScoreCenter has never really satisfied me as a general sports app.  If it were a girlfriend, I would've stopped calling it years ago and hoped I never awkwardly ran into it at a party.

But I still have it.  Why? Because it's ESPN...this is supposed to be their thing!  General sports news =  ESPN, it's an identity burned deep into my brain since I started watching morning SportsCenter in middle school.

But I really don't like using the app.  At all.

 - Every time I open it, it seems to take forever to load/update scores
 - I tried using their in-game push notifications, which seem like a great idea to keep you up to date instead of checking the phone every five minutes.  But I found I never really enjoyed them, and customizing when they get sent is kind of a pain
 - The thing has cross-promotions out the ying-yang.  I get that they have multiple properties/apps, but I'm really not interested in Streak for the Cash, thanks
 - There's no integration of video for each game's highlights.  MLB does this very well (and maybe leagues won't let ESPN do this)
 - There's not great integration with the ESPN personalities I actually want to hear from.  I certainly am interested in what ESPN personalities have to say.  I follow some on Twitter, I listen to their podcasts often.  Why can't I get their articles popping up in here?  What good is all this coverage if I can't access it?

From a company that once launched its own mobile phone and was at least attempting to be in the technology vanguard, why can't they do this better???

I don't particularly care why they can't, but if Yahoo Sports, who has a decent reputation as a news organization (see their investigative work into the Miami and USC cases), I'd be thrilled if they can put something together that will actually get me a more entertaining experience.  Then I could delete ScoreCenter from my app library.