Friday, December 13, 2013

The Road to the National Championship

I'll start off with a small introduction. I'll be using this blog to explore my two life passions; data analytics and sports. I'll periodically be posting new visualizations that will mostly be sports related and talking about what I've learned along the way. Let's get started!

This first post is going to focus on developing visualizations that promote user immersion with a theme that relates to the data. As a proud Auburn alum, I have recently been thinking almost exclusively about the impending national championship game. If I was going to get a blog post done before January 6th, it needed to be somehow related to that! I've been involved with some friendly...and not so friendly debates on why one team or the other is going to win this game. Through these debates only one thing has become abundantly clear. I think Auburn is going to win and FSU fans do not.

We can debate all we want about whether or not Auburn is a team of destiny or if Jameis Winston can handle an SEC defense. Wouldn't it be better to have a more productive discussion? Let's skip all the nonsense and get to the numbers, because numbers don't lie! Enjoy the visualization and continue reading after to see some thoughts I had while creating this viz.

The first thing I wanted to do with this visualization was to capture an overall feel that would resonate with my audience. What says football more than a football field? I formatted vertical grid lines to get the appearance of the yard markers and dashed reference lines showing team averages to act as the hash marks. I created a dual axis line chart using X's and O's for data points on the line to create the look of a hand drawn football play. X's represent data points for defensive stats, while O's represent offensive stats and rankings. I chose black as the background to give the dashboard the look of an ESPN gamecast.

The use of the different stats created some unique challenges. I wanted to limit the weekly stats data to one visualization to preserve my football field theme, but some of my stats weren't playing nice. It didn't make sense to show higher rank teams at the bottom or lower total yards at the top. Additionally, I wanted to show Time of Possession as a percentage. To fix the problem I took advantage of a trick I picked up a few months ago from Alan Smithee's blog. This easy to implement solution can put the power of "Show Me" in to your Tableau Public user's hands by using a simple drop-down parameter, filters, and dashboard containers. Check out the article here.

I was incredibly happy with my dashboard after implementing all the basic functionality, but still needed to add some visual elements to spice things up. For the title I used the COLLEGED font I downloaded free from This site is a great resource to find fonts to spice up your dashboard text. I had to create this as an image to avoid any issues with custom fonts. Here is a great article from Peter Gilks on dealing with fonts when publishing to Tableau Server or Tableau Public.

The final thing I needed to do was provide users instructions on how to use the dashboard without disrupting the immersive theme I had worked so hard to create. Peter Gilks to the rescue again! Here is another great article where Peter discusses using custom shapes and tooltips to create user instructions that enhance the visual appeal of your dashboards and don't distract when they are no longer needed.

Hope you all enjoyed and this viz helps you deal with your belligerent FSU co-workers. You know who I'm talking about!

War Eagle!


  1. Great job Steven. The stats, the dashboard layout and the overall design are all incredibly well done. The fact that this is your first blog post and viz makes it all the more impressive.

  2. Excellent first post Steven, you may even get me interested in watching football :-) I should pass on the props too - Jewel Loree taught me how to do the hover for instructions feature, in fact I think she invented it!

  3. Thanks Ben and Peter! I really appreciate the positive comments.