Artificial intelligence has been a hot topic in technology circles for years. Over the past couple years, thanks to an influx in investment capital (in 2017 alone, AI funding increased by 300%), brands have entered the conversation as companies look to capitalize on this rapidly improving technology.

To the average person, however, AI remains a mystery, something from a science fiction movie. There’s simply no incentive for non-tech geeks to pay attention (other than the worry of AI taking human jobs, but that’s another article). But thanks to a partnership between the National Football League and Amazon, that could be changing.

From checking baseball stats to betting on Vegas spreads, sports have long provided a common ground between data and culture. Today, nearly every major league sports franchise employs an analytics team, and events like the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference are growing in popularity each year.

Your favorite sports team is already using AI behind the scenes. But Next Gen Stats, a campaign powered by Amazon Web Services, is showcasing the tech to millions of football fans on prime time TV each Sunday.

Next Gen Stats (NGS) is described as “the capture of real time location data, speed and acceleration for every player, every play on every inch of the field.” NGS connects with thousands of data points collected by sensors in the stadium and affixed to player uniforms to create advanced stats and new insights. According to league CIO Michelle McKenna Doyle, the NFL now collects more data each week than in its previous history since 1920 combined.

NGS works by taking historical player data and running it through Amazon’s machine learning model, which outputs predictive formations, routes, and events. Perhaps most impressive is the ability to predict, mid-play, the likelihood of any action being successful based on player matchups and field position, which update on a fraction-of-a-second basis. For example, according to NGS, one of Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Nick Foles’ most impressive touchdown passes in last year’s Super Bowl was completed despite only an 18% probability.

Next Gen Stats deepen the fan experience by adding fodder for analysis and player evaluation. But perhaps more importantly in the grand scheme of things, they signal a wider cultural understanding and curiosity around machine learning.



AI is the future of customer experience.

Football is just the beginning. Innovators in fields ranging from government to visual art are looking for ways to harness AI technology. For brands, the possibilities of using data to improve the customer experience are endless.

Powerful CMS tools like Acquia and Sitecore allow brands to personalize their website experience according to user behavior and audience segmentation. Conversational interfaces like chatbots and smart speakers (including Amazon Alexa, Siri, and Google Home) use AI to facilitate real time interactions between brands and customers. It won’t be long before brand guidelines – long the domain of colors and typography – start including automation rules as standard issue.

How is your business using customer data? Are you proactively finding insights in past behavior to inform future decisions? There is no need to invest in expensive AI technology (not yet). You can start being a smarter business today by leveraging whatever data is available.

Data can’t tell us exactly what to do. Nick Foles completed his touchdown pass despite high statistical improbability. But in today’s hyper-intelligent business world, marketers would be wise to use every tool at their disposal, and data insights driven by statistical analysis is quickly becoming one of the most powerful tools we have. 

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