Leveraging Analytics and Envisioning the Future of VR at the Indianapolis Colts

By Alex Slawsby, Collin Robisheaux |  December 23, 2021

For decades, sports teams have relied on stats to track their performance on the field. Today, a growing number of teams are using more sophisticated data and analytics software to optimize their business performance as well.

Charlie Shin, Vice President of Data Strategy and Analytics, Indianapolis Colts

InnoLead sat down with Charlie Shin, Vice President of Data Strategy and Analytics for the National Football League’s Indianapolis Colts, to better understand how the team uses analytics to enhance business results today, and how it experiments with new technologies that may prove useful in the future.

Leveraging data intelligently  

Sports teams have lagged their corporate counterparts when it comes to using analytics to drive business performance. According to Shin, increased competition for revenue may change that.

“It’s not like sports is one of the only [entertainment] options, as it used to be in the old days,” Shin says. “I think that has really fueled the interest around the data on the business side, because now it’s about driving the revenues.”

Before, Shin explains, the use of analytics and data was focused on maximizing athlete and team performance while managing costs — especially related to a team’s spending on player salaries. But now, he says, “On the business side, [data use] isn’t so much about reducing expenses, but it’s about how do we maximize revenues and maximize profits.”

Shin and his team rely on analytics not only to understand the Colts’ most ardent fans who show up for every home game, but to map out the barriers that might be keeping other fans from joining them. For example, some fans might have young children at home; others might work on weekends. If the Colts can develop those insights, they can come up with constructive ways to engage those fans.

“Maybe we come up with a ‘flex pack,’ and it’s a season ticket, but they get to pick one game each month at whatever time makes sense for them,” Shin says. “That helps reduce that barrier that they might have… it’s just a matter of finding and understanding the [consumer’s] barriers, and then figuring out what we can do, using the existing data that we have access to.” 

A stadium with no capacity limit

New technologies can have a big impact on the fan experience. Tech projects such as ESPN’s NFL pylon camera have added depth to the viewing experience, but Shin says the arrival of virtual reality in the mainstream could completely alter the sports experience. 

I think [VR] is literally right around the corner…

“You could have huge European soccer fans [in North America], and it’s hard for them to go and watch those games,” he says. “But imagine if you’re able to feel like you’re at that stadium, and watching the game through this VR experience. What’s stopping organizations from being able to sell those tickets around the world, so you don’t have any limitations or capacity limit for your stadiums anymore?”

The Bud Light Party Zone at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“I think [VR] is literally right around the corner, in terms of making that possible,” Shin says. “And what does that mean, from a ticket sale standpoint? If everything’s been limited to within geographical areas, this means there are no geographic boundaries anymore.”

Though that kind of VR experience may be coming soon, Shin said a big focus for NFL teams right now is leveraging today’s assets to create new experiences at different price points. 

“When it comes to unsold seats that are further away from the field, how do you improve that experience and deliver a value… that could enable you to increase that price?” Shin asks. “So [Lucas Oil Stadium] has a seating section called the Bud Light Party Zone… From a location standpoint, it’s not field seats or club seats, but that’s not always what fans are looking for. Fans want to go and socialize and have fun. And they’re willing to pay a premium for that location so they can do that. So, how do you go about understanding that value that people are looking for, and then turn that into an experience that you can monetize?”