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Alumna serves up a feast of football analytics

Although the “hot dogs always taste better when you’re winning,” NFL research director Alicia Rankin ’91 told students, what football fans want most is to be appreciated.

Any diehard football fan will tell you that statistics are a vital part of the game. Passion for the game can transform even self-confessing math flunkies into stat-spouting machines that almost instantly calculate the likelihood of their team making it to the playoffs.

But what about the statistics behind the game, the dense array of numbers making the NFL one of the biggest brands in sports today?

That’s where Alicia Rankin ’91 comes in.

Rankin, the head of research and fan insights for the National Football League, has made a career out of collecting and crunching data to elevate the NFL’s brand.

Rankin recently visited the College of Business and Economics to tell students about her career path and how she spends her days—both in-season and off-season—at the NFL. Her presentation was part of the Guest Speaker Seminar Series of the CBE’s Perella Department of Finance. (Click here for list of previous seminar speakers.)

The numbers behind a brand

“Despite what many think, a brand isn’t just a logo,” Rankin said in her talk. “There’s a lot more that goes into it.”

Indeed, Rankin spends her days evaluating numbers related to every aspect of the NFL’s brand—from ticket-holders’ stadium experience to fans’ insights on social media.

The NFL currently boasts 182 million fans—the largest fan base in sports today—but Rankin hasn’t used this as an excuse to put her feet up.

“As the NFL commissioner will tell you, we’ve never rested on our laurels,” Rankin said. “We’re always pushing to try to improve the game, improve the value to season-ticket holders. We’re never satisfied.”

One question was on many students’ minds: How did the power blackout during February’s Super Bowl affect the NFL’s brand?

“It’s too early to tell, but I don’t think there will be any long-lasting impact,” Rankin said. “Ultimately, it was a one-time occurrence. If those types of things keep happening, that’s when your brand starts to take a hit.”

A common misconception, said Rankin, is that the NFL brand weakens when a fan’s team is losing.

“Our comment internally is that the hot dogs always taste better when you’re winning,’ Rankin said. “But fans really just want to be appreciated, regardless of wins and losses. They want to know that someone values the time and money that they’re spending on the NFL.”

Accounting major Ryan Lichtenberg ’14 said he plans to keep Rankin’s remarks on branding in mind when he starts his job search.

“What I took away from Ms. Rankin's presentation is the importance of branding, not only for corporations and organizations but for ourselves as well,” Lichtenberg said. “In a very competitive job market, we need to create the best brand for ourselves.”

Lichtenberg said he finds the chance to speak with business leaders informative and eye-opening.

“Hearing from successful Lehigh alumni helps us begin to gauge what type of career we are most interested in pursuing,” Lichtenberg said. “Some of the speakers have had bumpy roads while some have found the ‘golden ticket,’ but in the end, what they learned at Lehigh proved to be the greatest asset to their own brands.”



For information on upcoming lectures and programs, 
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Story by Adrienne Wright

Posted on Monday, February 25, 2013

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