For the past three years, IBM has collaborated with Eli Manning, a two-time champion, to raise awareness about our partnership with ESPN. This partnership involves the use of powerful AI models, created with watsonx, to analyze large sets of data and provide insights for ESPN Fantasy Football team owners. Eli has not only helped promote these insights but has also explained the technology behind them, making it accessible to millions.
We have achieved this through the creation of videos and various social media content that combines celebrity, humor, and technology. During this process, we have gotten to know each other and had fun along the way. This is why I receive many questions about Eli from friends and colleagues. They ask what he is like (he is down to Earth), if he is funny in real life (he is sneaky smart and very funny), and if he actually plays fantasy football (he does). Lastly, many wonder how much he knows about technology, IBM, and watsonx. Instead of answering this question on Eli’s behalf, I decided it would be better to hear it directly from him.
Noah Syken: In terms of technology, how would you rate your level of expertise?
Eli Manning: I would give myself a solid 8 out of 10. Data has always been integral in football, particularly for quarterbacks. When I played, I sought out statistical data to better understand opponents and gain an edge for our team. However, the methods of collecting, analyzing, and utilizing data have changed. Professional football teams are highly technologically advanced and heavily invest in technology to turn data into insights for coaches and players.
NS: What do you know about AI? Did you use it as a quarterback?
EM: Not really. Some people in the organization played around with AI after I retired, but it was still in its early stages. I only learned about AI when I began working with IBM. I spent a day at IBM Research last year, where Dr. [Talia] Gershon educated me about hybrid cloud, cybersecurity, AI, and quantum computing. I may have only understood a fraction of what she explained, but it’s more than what most people know.
NS: Based on your understanding, how do you think AI will impact football?
EM: Teams will become smarter and faster. When I played, we spent a lot of time studying film to analyze opponents’ plays. This will always be a part of the game, but with AI, video becomes data. An entire game can be instantly broken down and analyzed, even in real-time. AI can also gather insights from injury reports and expert opinions from millions of articles. When combined with expert analysis from coaches and players, these AI-powered insights are extremely powerful.
NS: Indeed, it is powerful. We are starting to incorporate video analytics in the world of tennis, presenting great opportunities there. What have you learned from playing ESPN Fantasy Football with the AI-generated insights provided by IBM?
EM: I learned that I am better at playing actual football than fantasy football. It was a tough lesson. Although I believe I have a good eye for talent, fantasy football involves making numerous decisions every week. I have come to rely on IBM’s AI-generated insights in the app. I have witnessed the remarkable results when quality data is combined with powerful AI. It helps identify the ideal player for my team from the vast pool of available players and predicts a player’s performance on any given Sunday. This technology is bound to revolutionize the management and coaching of real football teams, as well as our daily lives. So yes, I learned a lot from interacting with IBMers. Do you think they learned anything from me?
NS: Of course, they did. Talia learned how to throw a tight spiral.
EM: Haha, I’m sure that will come in handy in the lab.
Learn more about how IBM assists ESPN in delivering AI-generated insights for fantasy football.
Noah Syken, Vice President, Sports and Entertainment Partnerships, IBM