Tag Archives: new england patriots

How Research Won The Super Bowl

Tuesdays With Coleman

In the week leading up to the Super Bowl, my colleague Jon Coleman hypothesized why New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick would be a great radio programmer. In the big game, it was Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson who got the better of Belichick in a 41-33 victory.

The post-game perception of Pederson was that he one-upped Belichick by stepping out of the box. Way out.

There was this post-game headline:

Doug Pederson Dethroned The Patriots By Taking Every Risk

Pederson has always been perceived as a risk-taker. Other Pederson headlines over the years:

Doug Pederson’s 4th Down Calls. Crazy, Or The Right Thing?

Doug Pederson’s Risky Decision To Kick A Field Goal Paid Off For The Eagles

Doug Pederson’s Go-For-Broke Style Could Give Patriots Fits

Risky. Crazy. Go-For-Broke.

Here’s the crazy thing.

What if Doug Pederson isn’t a risk taker at all?

By NFL definitions and perception of most, the Eagles coach is one who takes extreme risks. The NFL is later to the analytics party than some other sports. But like Major League Baseball (see: Moneyball), every NFL team uses research data in their operations. The difference between teams is how they use the data.

Most teams are using data for player evaluation and acquisition (the basis of Moneyball). They are using it for injury prevention, leveraging the data alongside sports science to keep players healthy.

What many teams have failed to adopt, according to Sports Illustrated’s piece, “Analytics and the NFL: Finding Strength In Numbers”, is game-day analytics that influence in-game decisions. Ironically, that 2017 article mentions that there’s little evidence of the Patriots’ investment in analytics and that Belichick “does it with intuition”.

That’s how the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots.

With the Eagles up by 3 with 38 seconds in the half facing a 4th and goal from the Patriots’ 1 yard line, the safe route—the one seemingly without risk—would be to kick the field goal and likely take a 6 point lead into the locker room.

2017 Regular Season 4th Down Conversions:

NFL 2017 4th Down Conversions

A look into the numbers would show that going for it on 4th down wasn’t as risky as it may appear—the Eagles converted 65.4 percent of the time during the regular season (behind only the Jaguars and Saints, two other playoff teams). Plus, by converting the touchdown, the Eagles increased their win probability by 15%. The numbers said go for it, so Pederson did (with a trick play that had been practiced numerous times). Also note the Eagles attempted 4th down conversions twice as often as the Patriots.

Remember when Pederson went for it on 4th and 1 from his own 45 with 5:39 remaining trailing by 1? Going for it then looked even nuttier than the previous example, but believe it or not was the less risky play.

Leveraging their success in those situations, looking at the league average, and the fact that simply by converting that one single play increased their chances of winning by 7.3% made it not just the right play, but the less risky play.

Brian Burke of ESPN Analytics called that play a “bold, but calculated decision that paid off”.

Bold, but calculated.

In a clairvoyant article before the Super Bowl, The New York Times demonstrated how the Eagles used analytics to get there. What’s notable is that instinct is still very much part of the equation—it emphasized that “the Eagles have empowered Pederson to make decisions rooted in instinct or math, or both”. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie says of his coaches’ use of research, ““He can do whatever he chooses to do, but when you have the resource of data, why not?”

While sports has only started to use research as a tool to develop winning strategies over the past couple of years, radio stations have been doing it for much longer (our founder started providing insights in 1978).

Are you making data-influenced decisions in your strategic plan? Every day you have crucial programming decisions to make. How you present the audience with station components like music, personalities, contesting, and marketing – the foundation of our Image Pyramid – can be left strictly to intuition, or influenced by data.

Coleman Insights Image Pyramid

It’s possible while you’re programming on intuition alone, your competition is making data-influenced decisions.

It’s how even the great Bill Belichick got beat.

What if Bill Belichick Programmed Your Radio Station?

Tuesdays With Coleman

Let’s imagine, this Super Bowl week, what it would be like if New England head coach Bill Belichick wasn’t the leader of the Patriots.

In fact, let’s imagine him out of football completely.

What if Bill Belichick was the program director of a radio station?

What would those aircheck sessions look like?

Belichick would dissect each break into pieces like game film. Do you think Belichick would rely on the same few clichés PDs have used for decades, like “One thought per break” or “Stop puking”?

Or would Belichick explain to you not just what you did right or wrong, but why? Do you think he’d just tell you how you forgot to sell station benefits or would he get you to buy in to the strategic vision?

If Bill Belichick designed clocks in Selector or Music Master, do you think he would know the exact layout of every clock of his competition? Of course he would.

If Bill Belichick showed up to a station remote, what would he think of a station banner hastily hung behind a bored jock eating a cheeseburger?

I’m betting the display would be perfect, the jock would never sit down, and feedback about the radio station would have been solicited from every employee and listener that stopped by.

I’m also certain the jock showing up to the remote on Belichick’s watch would have known almost as much if not more about the business than the manager on duty.

Belichick says the only sign the Patriots have in their locker room is a quote from The Art of War: ‘Every battle is won before it is fought’”.

Many radio station personnel have long held the viewpoint that a certain amount of spontaneity is good, that perhaps too much preparation takes away from that “anything can happen” feel of a live show.


Sure, true spontaneity happens and can be great. But great programmers and personalities can give the illusion of spontaneity because they planned so effectively.  Spontaneity on the radio would be like Tom Brady rolling out of the pocket on a busted pass play.  He and the receiver would spontaneously find a new way to connect, but even that would be within defined boundaries of when and how to be spontaneous.

Preparation is always the key.

Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman explains it this way: “You never go into a week thinking you’re not prepared. Even if it’s the one play that the (opposing) defensive coordinator had when he was a graduate assistant at Louisiana Tech, you’re going to see that play and you’re going to be ready for it.”

Think about that for a minute. He’s implying the Patriots studied a play that an opposing coach ran once when he was a graduate assistant in college.

That’s preparation.

I have a feeling few things would ever surprise employees at a Bill Belichick-run radio station.

Morning shows would diligently plan the next day’s show, but they would also be prepared to adapt to any situation. They would have a strategy in place for hypotheticals ranging from how they would handle a tornado touching down during the show to what they would do if a celebrity like Bruno Mars called the hotline.

New England Patriots players talk about how Belichick will quiz them on strategy in the hallways and how nervous they get when he approaches with a question out-of-the-blue. Over time, players became less nervous. Because they were more prepared.

If Belichick programmed a Hot AC station and the competition added 20 percent more 80s, he’d have a plan for that.

If he programmed a CHR and the competition just launched a big new morning show, he’d have a plan for that, too.

Sports talk hosts would be able to anticipate every question from every caller on just about any topic before they called.

Do you work at a radio station where the answer to why something is done a certain way is, “Because we’ve always done it that way”?

One of the most important characteristics Belichick would bring to a radio station is always looking toward the future.

Belichick was asked in April 2017 if he was still celebrating the team’s Super Bowl win two months earlier (incidentally, that reporter would never work for Belichick).

“We’re on to 2017. No one cares about 2016 anymore. We talk about today, and we talk about the next game. That’s all we can really control.”

Great radio stations are prepared radio stations. Great personalities are prepared personalities. Great program directors are prepared program directors.

You don’t have to like the Patriots or be a fan of Bill Belichick, but you can adopt the most important tenet of his success – be prepared.