ESPN’s researchers provide “SIGnature” insights into the NFL playoffs

“The best in the industry”

Ed Werder, ESPN NFL Insider, on working with the Stats & Information Group: “The people we have in our research department are the best in the industry. They set us apart with their unique information about players, team tendencies and the ability to place different accomplishments into historical perspective. I’m always amazed how how quickly they can answer a query. I’ve asked for data as a game is ending and usually have it before the locker room is open for postgame interviews. I truly believe a great piece of insight that I acquire from a player or a coach, combined with a single piece of statistical data, can make a compelling and unique point that viewers won’t find elsewhere.

[Research specialist] Vince Masi’s weekly NFL stat packet breaking down each game of the week is must-read material, and [researcher] Doug Clawson uses his initiative and resources to propose entire show segments for NFL Insiders and NFL Live. I never form my question lists for interviewing players and coaches before I read the material our Stats and Info department provide us.”

Heading into Sunday’s NFL Conference Championship games and Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7, there is an intense focus on football.

With seemingly every news outlet covering the NFL, finding fresh and unique insights is no easy task. Still, ESPN’s NFL Insiders and reporters have a distinct advantage: ESPN’s Stats and Information Group (SIG). ESPN’s in-house team — whose mission is to provide the fastest, most accurate and insightful statistics, scores, news and analysis — dives deep into the data of games to deliver a view into sports that fans won’t find anywhere else.

For instance, researcher Paul Hembekides‘ premise that the Denver Broncos don’t fit the profile of teams that have beaten the New England Patriots in the playoffs drove segments on both NFL Insiders and SportsCenter and is published on ESPN.com. The interesting take on the Broncos-Patriots’ upcoming AFC Championship Game duel also was featured during the “Nerd Notes” segments on Wednesday’s Mike & Mike – Hembekides is the primary researcher on the show.

Likewise, the group’s work previewing the NFC Championship matchup between the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals also has been of great help.

ESPN’s show teams and individual reporters, such as 18-year ESPN veteran Ed Werder (see sidebar), appreciate SIG’s expertise and unique insight.

Front Row asked Allison Loucks, associate director of statistics, to provide a look at SIG’s NFL research process.

How do you decide what to send in your emails to the NFL team?
Each situation is different – our stats folks are constantly coming up with great ideas and they are given the liberty to share with whichever groups they feel would have use for it. Most of the ideas are sent to our full distribution list, but ones that are more tailored will only go to certain show groups. We have a solid hit rate in these turning into show segments or Digital pieces.

How does it feel when you receive kudos from respected co-workers like Ed Werder?
It’s always rewarding to receive high praise from people outside our group, especially in such a public forum as those large distribution lists [Note: SIG’s NFL notes distribution list reaches more than 1,000 e-mail addresses for different platforms across ESPN, both domestically and internationally]. The kudos may have been in response to this week, but I feel like it was a culmination of the work the team has done this season. Our team continues to show that we’re more than just stat geeks – we’re able to use our knowledge and tools to tell great stories.

What’s SIG planning to produce for Super Bowl?
With it being Super Bowl 50, we had a significant side project to video track all of the previous Super Bowls, allowing us to create a database and apply metrics to provide differentiating content. Next week, we’re rolling out our best findings, highlighted by most heroic quarterback performances, most dominating wins, biggest game-changing plays and most exciting Super Bowls.

Bill Hofheimer contributed to this post.

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