Fantasy Football Secret Weapon: IBM Predictive Analytics

IBM's predictive analytics has proven to be not only a way for enterprises to make better business decisions, but to give fantasy football players a leg up in their leagues.

If you are one of the 21 million people who will sign up for fantasy football this year, IBM's predictive analytics could be the secret weapon you need to win in your league.

According to Hetal Thaker, a product manager at IBM and long-suffering fan of the Detroit Lions, using IBM's predictive analytics technology has boosted her game, leading her to win three times in the last five years. Yes, she's a girl and she's been using IBM's technology and whipping the boys at their own game. Short of conjuring up Barry Sanders to come back and suit up for her beloved Lions, Thaker has to rely on IBM predictive analytics to see her team win consistently.

In an interview on IBM's new Predictive Perspectives blog, Thaker said, "Before using predictive analytics, I won once in 11 years. By applying this technology, I've won three times in the last five years. Nothing like dominating the league and holding bragging rights."

And the girls are bringing it even more than the guys, Thaker said.

"Girls, at least the ones in our league, tend to be more analytical," Thaker said. "They look at the data and read news stories. Some even make flash cards for the draft. Men tend to read a few things here and there, but think they know everything and end up drafting with their gut. That's not to say there isn't some degree of gut with the girls ... also known as a football player's 'cuteness factor.'"

Yet, when Thaker realized she was always going back to historical data, such as evaluating performance in previous seasons or injury history, to determine her picks, she quickly realized there are products and technologies she could use to not only automate the analysis all of this data, but gain a better probability on-and predict-who would succeed.

Moreover, IBM's text analytics tool allows Thaker to quickly analyze this data and categorize it. For example, she is able to get the latest news reports on all the players right before her draft and quickly auto-categorize the information into negative-critical injuries or suspensions-to positive-good preseason performance or good supporting cast. With these more accurate player profiles, she can now enter the draft with more confidence in who she thinks will yield the greatest output.

Thaker said textual data is the most important to her for analyzing players. According to Thaker:

""It's really the textual data, such as injuries or past behavioral information, which can greatly improve my models and make them more accurate. Just like in the business world, combining structured information-transactional or demographic data-with attitudinal data-opinions, likes and dislikes-equates to having greater knowledge of a customer so an organization can create better marketing campaigns and targets. Textual information is very rich and provides deeper insight, but is also the hardest information to analyze, so it's often excluded. I had the good fortune of having a robust text analytics tool that allowed me to quickly analyze this data and categorize it.""

With 21 million people taking part in fantasy football, it is big business with the likes of ESPN, the National Football League (NFL), CBS Sports and Yahoo, to name a few brand names sponsoring fantasy football platforms and monetizing the opportunity. It also is big entertainment and helps drive the popularity of pro football and the NFL brand.

Yet, while this is a fun look at what is possible with the power of data analysis, businesses should sit up and take notice, Thaker said. Any industry can benefit from using predictive analytics to improve marketing campaigns, identify fraud, reduce crime or find cures for diseases.

Thaker said businesses should take note and tap into the data analysis wave. Of the power of data analysis, Thaker said: "The uses are endless, even fantasy football. But, in all reality, if I'm able to put together a winning strategy for football, then why aren't more organizations-or my league members-taking advantage of this? We all want to win, so why not create the best possible competitive advantage and ensure you're making the best and smartest decisions."