The NFL wants to grow data and analytics to drive revenue, and just hired former Ford executive Paul Ballew to help

Key Points
  • The National Football League made $1.62 billion in sponsorships for its 2020 season, and wants to grow that while protecting players with better usage of data and analytics.
  • The NFL named former Ford Motor executive Paul Ballew as chief data and analytics officer, the league told CNBC.
General view of the NFL Shield logo on the field before Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium.
Kim Klement | USA TODAY Sports | Reuters

The National Football League has more than enough data around its product, but it wants to use it more effectively. Now, it's hired another executive to help on that front.

The NFL named former Ford Motor executive Paul Ballew as its chief data and analytics officer, the league told CNBC. Ballew will oversee the NFL's advanced metrics and help clubs capitalize on fan engagement, in-stadium experiences and improving player health – all of which will help drive revenue.

The NFL missed out on up to $4 billion in revenue as the Covid-19 pandemic cut into ticket sales last season. Still, national partnerships helped the league collect roughly $1 billion in sponsorships, according to IEG, a partnership consulting and valuation firm. The NFL made $1.62 billion in 2020, compared with $1.47 billion in the 2019 season. 

In an interview with CNBC on Monday, Ballew said the NFL could gain even more from partnership deals with efficient stats around protecting players and studying consumer game day activity.

"There is a great opportunity to improve the fan engagement even further and make it more personal," Ballew said. "That's what marketing is all about these days – it's about personalization."

After leaving Ford in 2019, Ballew joined Canadian food retailer Loblaw Cos., where he also led a data and analytics division. In jumping to the NFL, he succeeds former league executive Iwao Fusillo, who joined General Motors. In this new NFL role, Ballew will answer to Chris Halpin, the league's chief strategy and growth officer.

The NFL uses Amazon and data capture tech company Zebra Technologies as partners for its data and analytics stats. Zebra trades on the Nasdaq and has a market cap of $29.7 billion. 

Ballew said his main objective is keeping players healthy during the season using the NFL's internal metrics. He'll also spearhead ideas on new ticketing models, game scheduling and growing sponsorship values based on fan activity.

"It's a sign of our commitment to data analytics and our view that's essential in a digital world," Halpin said of hiring Ballew.

The NFL wants to be more personal

Entering a post-Covid environment, companies are leaning more on data metrics that collect actual activity from consumers, rather than simple demographic data like their age..

The San Francisco 49ers are one of the NFL clubs leading the way with data study. The team partnered with software company SAP to better analyze metrics around their stadium activity to help improve experiences.

After securing a $100 billion media rights deal earlier this year, the NFL also wants to help network partners, including CNBC parent company NBCUniversal, maximize impressions and grow advertising dollars. NFL content is already soliciting in the $6 million range for its Super Bowl ads, and that could significantly grow should the league make better use of its metrics. 

"That's one of the outcomes of doing this better – you improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our partners, whether that's sponsorships, media, in-game activities, all those things that go along with it," Ballew said. "A great data analytics organization is not there just to measure but to help partners continue to improve efficiency and activation of their sponsorships," he added.

"The more we can build fully developed profiles of fans, the more we can offer an experience that's most going to serve them and also not clutter our communication with them," Halpin said.

The NFL wants to gain more insight into sports betting data, too. Tech firm Genius Sports is the exclusive data partner of the league. If it can receive and then distribute enhanced metrics to sports gambling companies like FanDuel or Caesars, in turn helping to drive sports wagers, Genius can better recoup its NFL investment.

"Our database can be a competitive advantage in sports betting," Halpin said. "But also the information that we get back on our fans and what they do and how they bet will be informative and help with how we develop media products in the future."

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Disclosure: CNBC parent Comcast and NBC Sports are investors in FanDuel.