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Why the NFL released an AI-powered game with Amazon

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Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the NFL are hoping a new game will resonate with Gen Z, winning them over with generative AI-powered stats.

In a joint effort, the two companies created “Playbook Pass Rush,” an online game that can be downloaded from the app store or on its website, allows players to create plays for offense and defense based on real-time NFL data, using a predictive functionality called pressure probability. The game launched on Nov. 9 and was developed by AWS with Amazon Titan technology. The financial and data sharing agreement between the two parties was not disclosed.

Generative AI is playing a pivotal role in shaping and refining marketing strategies for sports organizations, including the NFL, the NBA which is using AI to draw users to its app and the Los Angeles Rams which is using it to bolster advertising.

The interactive game hopes to educate fans, particularly Gen Z on how advanced statistics is used in real-time during NFL games, according to Ari Entin, principal of sports marketing at AWS.

The game will serve as a brand marketing tool to advertise pressure probability — which predicts the likelihood of each defender creating a pressure during plays, using four different AI models based on over 90,000 plays from the last five years of football, Entin said. This data set launched across NFL properties in 2023. NFL and AWS did not share how many players its game currently has.

“We’re pushing this game for awareness and because we want fans to better understand how the stat works,” said Mike Band, senior manager of NFL Next Gen Stats Research and Analytics, adding that a game is likely a better approach than asking fans to read about the stats.

The NFL is actively generating organic content about its game on social media platforms such as Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), and Facebook. Helmrich highlighted that players like Arizona Cardinals’ Kelvin Beachum, New York Giants’ Tyrod Taylor, and Cincinnati Bengals’ Orlando Brown Jr., who share an interest in AI, actively promote the game on their individual social media channels. Though its unclear how much NFL or Amazon is paying the players to promote it.

It’s unclear how much of NFL and Amazon’s advertising budget is allocated to these efforts as all parties declined to share budget specifics. According to Vivvix, with paid social from Pathmatics, the NFL spent a little over $44 million on advertising so far in 2023, up from $31 million in 2022, and Amazon spent a little over $4.1 billion so far in 2023, up from $3.8 billion in 2022.

Lauren Papes, an associate partner in the digital practice at Prophet, a growth strategy consulting firm, highlighted that this game also offers education. “It also increases fan engagement and provides short term cross-promotional opportunities or new revenue streams as more attention gets driven to the platform,” she said.

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