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How Does ESPN’s Stats And Information Group Blitz Tonight’s 2020 NFL Schedule Announcement?

Here’s what happens after ESPN’s SIG team gets its first glimpse of the NFL schedule

(L-R) ESPN Stats and Information Group analyst Ciara Haines; content specialist Evan Kaplan; analyst Natalie Decker (Ciara Haines/Evan Kaplan/Natalie Decker/ESPN)

Tonight’s National Football League schedule release is annually one of the busiest nights of the year for ESPN’s Stats and Information Group (SIG). From researchers and stats analysts to analytics, content integration, and members of the BottomLine team (both English and Spanish), the undertaking involves more than 40 people – all of whom are now working from home.

Fans crave the details about the NFL schedule so once ESPN’s SIG team gets its first glimpse of the games, the race is on to get the information inputted, analyzed, and in the hands of ESPN’s Digital, Studio Production, Audio, and Social teams. The information is also used immediately during ESPN’s three-hour SportsCenter Special hosted by Trey Wingo (8 p.m. ET).

“Accuracy and speed are paramount,” said Vice President of ESPN’s Stats and Information Group, Jeff Bennett. “Everyone has their role and understands what they are looking for or calculating to ensure we are working efficiently. We double-check everything to make sure it’s accurate and then we publish. To us, every minute counts.”

Throughout the night, here’s a snapshot of what happens behind the scenes:

SCHEDULE ENTRY

    The 2019 49ers’ schedule as it appeared on air shortly after release last spring.

  • The Stats and Analysis team inputs all 256 regular season games followed by the preseason schedule in fewer than 20 minutes – one staffer takes each of the eight NFL divisions and enters those games into an excel sheet.

  • A Senior Statistics Analyst coordinates entry and imports the excel document into the ESPN database with the complete schedule once it is fully entered.

  • Four staffers verify the correct matchups, dates, times and network tags with each person taking a 4-5 week stretch of the season.

STORYLINES, FACTS, AND FIGURES

  • The SIG Content team – comprised of ESPN researchers and BottomLine editors in both English and Spanish – takes the schedule and identifies key storylines and notes.

  • Researchers look at each team schedule and try to identify noticeable trends: consecutive games against Super Bowl-winning QBs runs of games vs. playoff/non-playoff teams from 2019, key reunion games, teams with little/many 1 p.m. ET games.
  • There is also a focus on key national games (Kickoff game, Sunday night opener, Monday Night Football opening doubleheader, Thanksgiving games, etc.) and special games of interest (playoff rematches and players facing their former teams … Of note this year: Tom Brady will face fellow Super Bowl winners Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes).

  • Sports betting notes and numbers of interest are also compiled.

GRAPHICS

  • SIG builds a full-screen 2020 schedule graphic for all 32 teams and for the Monday Night Football schedule and any other relevant information graphics to support the SportsCenter Special.

ANALYTICS, NUMBERS, AND TRENDS

  • The Sports Analytics team takes a deeper dive into schedule analysis, finding notes that are harder to detect (i.e., distances each team will travel, back-to-back (to-back) road games, rest differences, games vs. teams coming off byes)

ADDITIONAL ROLES

  • Eight staffers worked on the prep packet created in advance of the schedule release and for tonight’s three-hour SportsCenter Special.

  • A couple of other members of the team also monitor SIG’s Content Inbox and Slack channels for schedule inquiries from ESPN reporters, analysts, and others.

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