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"All the metric pages and all of that, I mean I have no idea. You'd need to ask that to a smarter coach than me."
Bill Belichick

At a press conference in November of 2017, Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots, seemed pretty dismissive of "advanced metrics websites"[1].

And Bill Belichick wouldn't lie to you, would he?

Market Research Reports Inc. estimates that the worldwide market for sports analytics will be worth 15.5 billion in 2023.[2] Catapult Sports provides the Buffalo Bills with clothes that include gyroscopes, magnetometers, accelerometers, and the like so that coaches can quantitatively measure player performance (and improvement).[3] The Landry-era Dallas Cowboys (1966-1985) were pioneers in sports analytics and that team made the playoffs in 18 of 20 seasons and won two Super Bowls.[4]

Do you really think the most successful franchise in NFL history isn't paying attention to the numbers? Don't let Bill fool you: the Patriots, coach Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft have made ample use of data analytics to help them build one of the most dominant (and lucrative) dynasties in sports history.

The hidden weapons behind Patriots stats

Boston Common Ducks with Jerseys REALToDo CRM small
Photo by Taylor Threadgill / https://realtodo.com/author/tay/

Quantitative analysts, commonly referred to as "quants", use mathematical models to drive their decisions. Though quants originally arose in the field of economics, nowadays they're being tapped for a variety of industries.

Why am I telling you this? Because of a man named Ernie Adams.

Ernie Adams: the quant behind the curtain

Officially, Ernie Adams is the "football research director" for the New England Patriots. What does he do? Well...no one seems to know. The Patriots are notoriously secretive about their inner workings and Ernie is no exception. Here's what we do know[5]:

  1. He and Belichick played football together at Phillips Andover Academy.
  2. He started working for the Patriots in the 1970s in an unpaid position and eventually ended up preparing scouting reports for the team.
  3. In the past, he's worked as a municipal bonds trader and started his own investment business.
  4. He's been Belichick's advisor since 2000...and even before that, he worked for Belichick in Cleveland.

Seriously, try Googling the guy - he's a ghost. But the next time you're staring slack-jawed at your screen as the Patriots pull off another fourth quarter comeback, it's probably safe to assume that Ernie had something to do with those mysterious half-time adjustments.

Yet Ernie Adams is far from the only man on the Patriots' data analytics team. In fact, the next one isn't a man at all.

Jessica Gelman and Kraft Analytics Group

If you need more proof that Belichick and Kraft are avid proponents of data analytics in sports, look no further than the Kraft Analytics Group (KAGR). Named after Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, KAGR was founded in 2016 as a spin-off from The Kraft Group. KAGR creates data analytics software for sports and entertainment organizations and may possibly expand their reach to college sports in the future.[6] Their software helps companies manage and visualize data, as well as predict future performance.

And yes, the New England Patriots are a KAGR customer.

Jessica Gelman graduated cum laude from Harvard College with a BA and followed that up with an MBA from Harvard Business School. She co-chairs the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. She's listed as an advisor for the Sports Innovation Lab, a sports technology company. And Ms. Gelman is currently the CEO of Kraft Analytics Group.

But wait, there's more

Hiring an outside firm to analyze your data and give you actionable insights is valuable, but to get the most of data analytics, data-driven decisions must become part of the company culture. Over the years, the Patriots stats team has added an intriguing roster of numberphiles:

  1. Bill Belichick: Known variably as the "Dark Lord" or "Evil Emperor" outside New England, Belichick holds a bachelor's in economics from Wesleyan University. He routinely makes controversial decisions (e.g., in the NFL draft) that some theorize are strictly by the numbers. More on that in a second.
  2. Matt Patricia: Two, always there are. Matt Patricia, defensive coordinator and owner of the manliest beard on the Pat's sideline, also holds a degree in aeronautical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
  3. Sean Harrington: Senior Software Engineer for the Patriots, Harrington turned down a job offer from Google to work with the franchise. In his own words, he runs a "software team" for the Patriots [7] that crunches numbers for the coaches, scouting department, and training staff.

Victory and revenue from data analytics

Sports analytics in football - REALToDo CRM
Photo by Ben Hershey / Unsplash

So at this point, you're probably wondering how the Patriots have used their skilled staff to give them an edge. There are sparingly few instances where the Patriots have outright admitted to their use of data analytics. But if you look at the history of the franchise, there's no lack of evidence. Let's review how the Pats have used stats to win games and earn revenue:

New England's first Super Bowl victory

In 2002, research lead Ernie Adams and Bill Belichick to identify Marshall Faulk as the linchpin in the Los Angeles Rams' offense; they exploited this fact to guide the Pats to their first ever Super Bowl Victory. Their insight into the Rams was so uncanny that, as recently as 2017, Faulk insisted that the Pats must have recorded their opponent's practice (though there's no proof that this is the case). [8]

Strange (but statistically sound) trades

Because the Patriots are often NFL front-runners, they get some of the last picks in the draft. This is done to help balance out the league: teams that did poorly the previous year get earlier picks. So staying on top means picking wisely. You can bet the Pats are using some statistical analysis to compare pros and cons of picking up players.

The franchise routinely trades away their first-round draft pick in exchange for picks in later rounds. Economists Cade Massey and Richard Thaler say this is a sound, data-driven decision, since first-round draft picks are generally overvalued. They assert that second-round draft picks are, on average, 15% more valuable for the money and can sometimes be almost 25% more valuable.[9]

Fourth and fifth-round picks are flipped for veterans. This means trading lesser-known players, with an average success rate around 15%, for safer bets. [10]

The Pats also aren't shy about moving every which way across the draft boards, or waiting till late in the game to make a pick. Allegedly, the franchise makes picks on a unique system of player valuation. Whatever their methods, the Patriots are likely leveraging data analytics to spend less money and make smarter hires.

Smarter scouting and machine learning

Before coming to work for the Patriots, Sean Harrington was developing an automated system for analyzing football game film. It's also suspected that Harrington had discussions with a University of Illinois research center on their "AutoScout" prototype, which was presented at the 2014 Sloan Sports Analytics conference.

Harrington has stated that his work for the Patriots involves machine learning and analytics jobs. While we don't know exactly what those jobs are, we do know that he's busy during the NFL draft season and attends the NFL combine each February to gather data. Given his pedigree and previous work, it's possible that he's using his data analytics skills to evaluate prospects.

Earning and keeping fans

It's easy to keep fans when your team keeps winning. But what happens when New England inevitably declines?

Jessica Gelman and the Kraft Analytics Group keep track of ticket holders that miss games, how many games they miss, and why they miss those games. They've slowly built up a set of data that should help them weather the inevitable downturn of the Patriots franchise.

"We know that when that turns - and hopefully it doesn't turn for a really, really long time - that we'll have built up a really strong relationship on points that go just beyond the wins and losses to keep people engaged and a part of our active fan base," said Kraft.[11]

Do your job

Belichick's go-to slogan wasn't always as popular as it is now. KAGR analyzed social media channels and product purchases and found that the data indicated the catch-phrase was gaining significant popularity. Those insights drove the franchise's decision to create more merchandise revolving around the mantra, which added revenue and increased fan engagement.

How can I start using data analytics in my business today?


Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator / Unsplash

While making decisions on intuition can certainly work in the short term, data-driven decisions will likely result in more favorable outcomes over time. If you're a small business owner, you're probably looking at this case study and seeing opportunities for your own company.

Just like the Patriots, you can incorporate data analytics into your business. Doing so can net similar benefits, like greater customer engagement, better margins, and added revenue. If you're in a competitive market, data analytics can be a game changing element to add to your strategy.

Start gathering data passively

First step: start gathering data (even if you're not sure you'll need it). You should start with passive data aggregation - the goal is to maximize the amount of information gathered and minimize time and money dedicated to its gathering.

Google Analytics

If you haven't started using Google Analytics for your website, start now. Be sure to hook up Google Analytics with your Google Search Console. If you use Google Adwords, also make sure to hook that up with Google Analytics.

Google Analytics gives you information on who is visiting your site, what they're interests are, demographics, what pages they're visiting, and so much more. And you can start gathering this data in a matter of hours, after which Google will continuously aggregate information on your users. You can take a look at our non-technical "Lead Generation Insights with Google Analytics" article for some more details on how Google Analytics can help you.

Customer relationship management (CRM)

Just like the Patriots keep track of fan interaction and player statistics, you should be keeping track of customer interactions. If you have a customer relationship manager (CRM), use it. If you're a real estate agent, we've compared a few popular CRMs in our article "Real Estate CRM Comparison 2018".

Yes, I know CRMs can be a pain and you have that Excel spreadsheet you've been working with forever. Here's the thing: CRMs enforce structured, consistent data. And your data will be much easier to analyze in the future if it's consistent. In lieu of a CRM, at least keep your data as organized as possible. By doing this, you're passively building information on your customers that might be useful for future analysis.

Process automation

If you're copying and pasting things throughout your day, consider using Zapier to automate that process. For instance, if you have a subscription option for your website that loads users into one system, the contents of which must be copied and pasted into your CRM, check if Zapier has a way to automatically record that user in your CRM. By automating this process, you're saving yourself time and increasing the amount of data you can feasibly collect.

Identify a project

Why did I suggest that you start gathering data before identifying a use for that data? Because you might think of a project later - and if you haven't been gathering information for an appreciable amount of time, you won't have any data to use for that project.

It's important that your project is simple and easily measurable. You want to find a project that has the potential for big returns if successful (e.g., increasing sales in a particular demographic). This will help other members of your team recognize the value of data analytics, so that you can invest more time and energy into it in the future.

Start by asking yourself questions like:

  1. How do you acquire clients?
  2. Which leads convert and what are their defining characteristics?
  3. Which leads don't convert and why?
  4. Which customers remain loyal and why?

Use your data to answer questions in a clear, quantifiable way. Those answers should guide your actions.

For example, if you learn that 50% of your clients are coming from source A, but only 5% of them are converting, and 10% of your clients are coming from source B, but 90% of them are converting, you could evaluate why source B is such a good source of conversions. Find out why so few people in source A are converting and why so many people in source B are converting, then apply those lessons to increase sales stemming from source A.

In reality, your results will probably be more muddled than the above example. Remember to think critically on the results of your analysis, since data can be misleading when taken out-of-context. Stay objective and follow through even if the data disagrees with your personal biases.

Seeking out a professional

If you've realized some gains from your personal dabbling in data analytics, consider finding a professional to wring out even more value. Hire a data scientist or find a company that will analyze your data for a fee. Of course, these are pretty pricey decisions, so you'll want to figure out exactly what you can get out of a data analytics pro - and whether it's worth it to you.

UbiquiTools is working on the middle ground

UbiquiTools LLC is working on giving small businesses an affordable option for data analytics - we want to provide big data insights for small business problems. If you're a real estate agent trying to find a CRM, consider using REALToDo. It's a simple, easy-to-use CRM that processes your client data and tries to offer you actionable insights into client behavior. Visit the REALToDo CRM product page to learn more.

We're also developing tools for businesses in other sectors. If our "Real Sales" series of articles has caught your attention, feel free to reach out with your ideas, comments, and questions by emailing support@ubiquitools.com.

Don't be intimidated by big data and machine learning

There's a ton of jargon being thrown around in the news nowadays. You're probably familiar with the terms "big data", "machine learning", and "data analytics". There are entire companies built on these concepts, which leverage powerful data analytics, super computers, and world-class data scientists to edge out competition.

The honest truth is that, for the average small business owner, you don't need an Ernie Adams on staff to see real gains from data analytics. You don't need a Sean Harrington (although it would certainly help). All you need to do is start making smart decisions that are supported by data about your customers and business.


  1. http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2016/11/19/patriots-use-analytics-but-belichick-dismisses-analytics-websites/ ↩︎

  2. http://www.patriots.com/news/2017/11/02/tackling-tech-nfls-role-driving-sports-analytics ↩︎

  3. https://www.catapultsports.com/blog/buffalo-bills ↩︎

  4. http://onlinedsa.merrimack.edu/new-england-patriots-data-analytics/ ↩︎

  5. http://archive.boston.com/sports/football/patriots/articles/2008/02/03/adamss_role_its_top_secret/?page=full ↩︎

  6. https://www.boston.com/sports/business/2016/05/25/patriots-krafts-spin-data-team-standalone-business ↩︎

  7. http://blog.masslive.com/patriots/2018/01/sean_harrington_patriots_engin_1.html ↩︎

  8. https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/marshall-faulk-still-convinced-patriots-taped-rams-practice-before-super-bowl/ ↩︎

  9. https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/05/04/belichick-was-right-economics-and-nfl-draft/ZjjmgdskjLdFMNb7XxbCQK/story.html ↩︎

  10. https://www.si.com/mmqb/2017/06/27/nfl-analytics-what-nfl-teams-use-pff-stats-llc-tendencies-player-tracking-injuries-chip-kelly ↩︎

  11. http://www.wbur.org/morningedition/2016/12/22/kraft-analytics-group ↩︎


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About James Royce Threadgill

Founder of UbiquiTools LLC. Coder/creator of REALToDo real estate CRM. Chemical engineer that previously worked in gene therapy and green plastics before founding UbiquiTools.