Harvard Business School Case Study Login Yahoo
If the NFL were run like Google (GOOGL) or Amazon (AMZN), “Deflategate” probably never would have happened.
That’s the implication of a new case study instructors at Harvard Business School have developed to help teach students about the importance of analytics. Most football fans view Deflategate through their personal opinion of the New England Patriots: If you hate the Pats, they were guilty of cheating to gain an unfair on-field advantage. If you’re a fan, the whole affair was a non-event ginned up by a lesser team to overshadow a humiliating defeat. But the controversy over deflated footballs, it turns out, may also contain lessons about what makes organizations succeed or fail, and how to thrive as a business leader.
Deflategate, for football apostates and those with amnesia, occurred (or didn’t) during last season’s AFC championship game between the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts, on Jan. 18, 2015. The Colts suspected going into the game that the Patriots routinely deflated the 12 game balls under their control, to make them grippier. After intercepting a New England pass in the second quarter, the Colts tested the ball and found the air pressure to be lower than the minimum allowed in the NFL rulebook. The Colts alerted league officials, and the game referees tested the 11 remaining New England balls at halftime, plus 4 Colts balls. The Colts’ balls were basically fine, but the New England balls were all considerably underinflated.
Nearly four months later, an official NFL investigation meant to put the matter to rest instead helped immortalize Deflategate as one of the NFL’s most embarrassing episodes. The so-called Wells Report, written by attorney Ted Wells, found it was “more probable than not” that the Patriots and their star quarterback, Tom Brady, broke the rules and deliberately deflated the footballs. That wishy-washy conclusion was just incriminating enough to force the NFL to do something. So it suspended Brady for the first four games of the 2015 season. Yet the same wishy-washiness led a judge to toss the suspension after Brady appealed. Brady skated, while the NFL became, well, a case study in self-administered infamy.
The HBS case study points out that the NFL has been slow to adopt the sophisticated data crunching that has transformed other professional sports, as famously depicted in the book and film “Moneyball.” League officials say pro football, with 22 men on the field for every play, is more intricate than other sports and harder to analyze with raw numbers. Plus, most teams have been family-owned for decades, with little incentive to adopt modern management practices.
Such industrial-era management set the stage for Deflategate, then stoked the controversy instead of extinguishing it. Until the Colts-Patriots game, for instance, the NFL knew little about the dynamics of air pressure in a football and had ad hoc procedures, at best, for investigating an allegation such as the Colts raised.
“The NFL has very poorly designed processes for really understanding data,” says HBS professor Marco Iansiti, who co-authored the Deflategate case study along with researcher Christine Snively. “It’s pretty clear the refs, as representatives of the NFL more broadly, had no idea what the football pressure was supposed to be on the field."
The league only tested one-third of the Colts balls because the hurried referees had to get back on the field for the start of the second half. So there was never an even-steven comparison between all the Patriots’ and Colts' balls before the refs reinflated all of them.
The refs used two different types of gauges to measure air pressure, with neither designated the standard. And Wells himself said league officials had “no appreciation” for the significant effects temperature, humidity, spiking the ball after a touchdown, and other factors can have on the air pressure inside a football. The Wells Report concluded (if you can call it that) that external factors probably explained some, but not all, of the deflation in the Patriots’ footballs.
What the NFL is missing
When HBS students discussed the case this fall in a core class called Technology and Operations Management, they started like a group of raucous fans in a bar: The Patriots were either guilty or innocent, based on whether you were a fan. But Iansiti and other instructors steered the discussion toward the value of strong analytics and good data, in any organization -- which, the students concluded, the NFL lacks.
In business these days, this would be the equivalent of flying blind, without basic information on market prices, competitors’ products or consumer behavior in the real world, outside a lab. That’s why HBS teaches Deflategate in conjunction with another case -- Procter & Gamble’s (PG) longstanding effort to build a world-class system of analytics on every product in its huge portfolio. P&G managers at virtually any level can call up detailed metrics on market share, price changes, competitor moves and many other things, in real-time, in 180 different countries.
Digital firms such as Amazon, Google, Facebook (FB), and many others have the added benefit of user transactions right on their sites, allowing them to grab valued data and use it to forecast what consumers might do next. “How would a Google or Amazon have handled Deflategate?" Iansiti asks. “The NFL is missing out on very basic sources of data. That just wouldn’t happen in a real company.”
The NFL, of course, isn’t an ordinary business, but a unique “trade association” with 32 member teams. Still, it pulls in more than $10 billion in revenue each year, which would make it one of the 300 biggest companies in America, similar in size to Corning or H.J. Heinz. The upcoming Super Bowl 50 may be the most-watched TV show ever, as the Big Game has been many times before. And embattled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would surely benefit if his league became an example of how to do things right, rather than wrong. Maybe a future NFL commissioner is at Harvard right now, learning how to do just that.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.
Randy Haykin (born in Brooklyn, New York) is an entrepreneur, angel investor, venture capitalist and author who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Haykin is a co-founder and managing director of Outlook Ventures, which invests in growth-stage industry-transforming technology companies. He co-wrote the book Fuel: Catholic Men, Loving the Faith; A Small Group Guide, which was released by Ave Maria Press in 2008.
Haykin is a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business and visiting faculty of the University of Cambridge Judge Business School.
He graduated in 1985 from Brown University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in organizational behavior and management, and in 1988 from Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, where he obtained his Masters in Business Administration.
Haykin was the founding vice president of marketing and sales at Yahoo!, where he was responsible for building the company's marketing team, establishing agency relationships and generating initial business model and advertising sales for Yahoo. Haykin was also vice president of marketing at NetChannel, which was acquired by America Online in 1998. He also served as part of the core team that launched America Online's Greenhouse, a venture incubator.
In his five years at Apple Computer, Haykin was responsible for creating and launching the Apple Multimedia Program for developers as well as a line of retail multimedia and CD-ROM products. He was also responsible for the division's strategic relations, including the creation of the "New Media Center" program for higher education, with 10 other manufacturers and publishers. As the director of operations and business development at Viacom/Paramount's West Coast operations (the "Media Kitchen"), Haykin was in charge of online services and interactive team-building, corporate strategy and marketing.
He is founder of The Gratitude Network and The Intersection Event, a day-long event on innovation and its effect on the social issues. In 1995, he formed Interactive Minds, which was renamed Outlook Ventures, a software venture capital company. In 1996, he cofounded Electric Minds, a social space on the Web for current topics.
The Harvard Business Review covered Haykin's career in a December 8, 1997 magazine article titled "Randy Haykin: The Making of an Entrepreneur."
Haykin is an advisor and board member at Reply Inc.,Digital Chocolate, Embee Corp, LesConcierges, and CrowdOptic, Inc..
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