Did Amazon Web Services set the 2021 NFL schedule?
“Instead of Val building a schedule by hand. We have 5,000 computers each setting up schedules. So we have 5,000 Vals there, ”said Mike North.
WASHINGTON – The process of crafting the NFL schedule was laborious, with executives like Val Pinchbeck spending months writing games one by one on his board until there was a final product to be approved by the commissioner.
Making late adjustments or looking at alternate options with a great game moving from start to finish of the season wasn’t really possible for all of the complicated pieces of the puzzle to fit.
The 272-game schedule released by the NFL on Wednesday took a whole different journey with computers at Amazon Web Services trading trillions of possibilities on what day, what time, and on what network to play each game and officials from. the league looking at more than 80,000 of them before making a final choice.
“Now, because we have all the automation, we have all the hardware, we have basically 5,000 Vals,” NFL Broadcast vice president Mike North said. “Instead of Val building a schedule by hand. We have 5,000 computers each setting up schedules. So we have 5000 Vals there.
The process of creating the schedule begins at the end of the previous season and opponents and venues are locked for all matches. The league is seeking feedback from the teams on the applications as well as from the five network partners.
The final piece of the puzzle is put together after the Super Bowl with the champion hosting the season opener on Thursday night. Tampa Bay has been designated to host Dallas in this game.
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The league is trying to narrow down the trillions of possibilities by starting with around 80 “starting” games for prime time and other high-end TV spots such as double-title windows and calendar vacations.
“If you start from zero, go to 100 and hit the button, we could have all the computers on the planet and all the years of our lives and we would still never find the one,” North said. “We have to break the problem down into smaller pieces.”
Planners operate with a “leader in the clubhouse” mentality with a schedule always in a winning position until it is supplanted.
Every morning they get new schedules from the computers in the cloud and see if anyone is worthy of being the new boss, then they also instruct the computers by removing some of the boot sets or moving them to different places. to see if that helps eliminate. Other problems.
The process is repeated until the league decides on a final option. While they can review hundreds of schedules in a day at the start of the process, at the end of the day they might only get five, which could all be worth becoming the new boss.
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“It’s a constant dance,” said North. “Thank goodness for the amount of material we can get our hands on. Back then, if we had six computers running side by side, we thought it was space shuttle technology. And now there are literally 5,000 soldiers scattered across the planet, looking on a slightly different branch of the research tree, all trying to find the magical and mythical unicorn on a perfect timeline.
The NFL went from the manual board of the old days to rooms filled with servers the league had to buy and configure. Then in 2017, the league contracted with Amazon to use cloud technology to set the schedule, leveraging Amazon’s technology that uses predictive analytics to help create a more ideal schedule for TV partners.
The deal gave the NFL access to more computers at a cheaper cost, as Amazon does most of the work during off-peak hours when demand for its cloud service is low.
AWS goes through billions of possibilities, with the league looking at over 80,000 that are considered playable.
“The combination of performance and cost allows the NFL to actually generate many more calendars than any human could ever read,” said David Brown, vice president of Elastic Compute Cloud at Amazon. “It allows them to really find the perfect schedule. The NFL is capable of literally considering an endless number of possible entries, which has never been possible before.
The process was a bit more complicated at the start of this year as the programmers initially had to schedule 16 and 17 game seasons.
While the 17th game added countless other possible timelines to the equation, it also provided a factor that made it easier. Typically, games are assigned to networks with any game with an AFC team on the road going to CBS and with an NFC team on the road to Fox.
Each network loses some of these games to prime-time partners, but the NFL tries to keep it fair to CBS and Fox. The 16 games added this year are considered “free agents,” so the NFL could bring a premium game like Dallas to New England in Week 6 on CBS without Fox seeing it as a stolen game.
Coming from the new TV deal in 2023, all games will start as free agents, which will make the math equation easier, but also means all network partners will likely have the same demands for big games.
The teams’ requests fall into two main categories. There are usually over 100 dates that teams cannot play at home due to stadium availability or some other major event in the city, and then there are other types of requests.
Some teams like to play back-to-back games on the opposite coast and spend a week training on the road. Some hope to play on Thanksgiving night or Christmas this season, others ask not to. Warm weather teams want to avoid the cold late in the season and cold weather teams want to stay away from the heat and humidity in September.
And all the teams remember every light schedule from years past and make sure the NFL knows about them.
“Everyone has very long memories and very specific requests,” North said. “It’s a thankless job to try to thread that needle, knowing full well that we will never get there. So the whole exercise here is to create the schedule that disappoints all of the teams in the most minimal and even way possible.