The National Football League works to create a thrilling schedule each season for fans around the world, making sure to account for competitive fairness, multiple TV partners, stadium availability, holiday and international games, and numerous other factors.
How does the NFL do it? By using the power of Amazon Web Services cloud computing.
With 32 teams playing 272 games across 576 possible game windows, and 17 regular-season games for each team across 18 weeks, there are nearly 1 billion schedule options for each team. Taken all together, there are a quadrillion—1,000,000,000,000,000—possible schedule combinations that could occur.
“It’s impossible to even think we could do this by hand, like we used to not that long ago,” says NFL Vice President of NFL Broadcast Planning Mike North. “So we’re fortunate to be able to use AWS technology and its massive computing power to help search through an infinite space and find the best possible schedule each year.”
After analyzing more than 80,000 feasible, playable, and complete schedules, the NFL announced its 2021 season schedule this week. The league completed the process by using thousands of Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (Amazon EC2) instances.
In all, by using AWS, the NFL saved thousands of human hours—and an estimated $2 million.
The NFL harnesses thousands of AWS instances that work on different schedules at the same time, and it analyzes sets of rules needed to make sure the optimal schedule is found. But first, the league faces several limitations:
  • Maneuvering through more than 100 potential stadium conflicts based on other events for each team.
  • Minimizing the number of teams that have a three-game road trip or a road game after a road Monday Night Football game.
  • Minimizing the number of teams that play two consecutive road games to start or finish the season.
  • Adhering to Thursday game rules, which include time zone limits, manageable travel prior to a Thursday game, and spacing out the bye week from a Thursday game (which is considered a mini-bye).
  • Featuring compelling games during Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football, and Thursday Night Football games with marquee matchups.
  • Spacing out intra-division games throughout the season.
  • Accommodating a 17th regular-season game for the first time in 2021.
Those are just a few of the variables taken into consideration and programmed into the software that ultimately helps create the NFL schedule.
The possible schedule combinations for this year began running every day on January 4. The result: an exciting 2021 NFL schedule that begins on September 9 with the Dallas Cowboys taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Are you ready for some football?